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For example, what's the difference between:

She closed her eyes and thought about her life.

He was so confident and handsome women circled him like vultures.

And this:

Closing her eyes, she thought about her life.

Being so confident and handsome, women circled him like vultures.

Mainly, what effect they cause in the reader? When to use the former and when to use the latter?

  • I don't understand the question. You're asking what the reader feels during a certain type of grammar? – user6035379 Dec 20 '16 at 17:19
  • @user6035379 The two sentence structures describe different sets of actions in the first example. Alex is asking if a reader would react differently to "two actions in a series" vs. "two actions happening simultaneously." – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Dec 20 '16 at 18:35
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Gerund phrases describe continuous or ongoing action, or action that happens at the same time as another action. Past-tense verbs generally describe a completed action, or a sequence of actions.

Closing her eyes, she thought about her life.

This means that she's thinking at the same time as she closes her eyes.

She closed her eyes and thought about her life.

First she closes her eyes. Then she thinks.

It's not so much an "effect" as it is "describing actions in the order they occur."

In your second example, you have two problems.

1) Being so confident and handsome is more of an adjective phrase. Being is not acting as a gerund there.
2) You have a dangling participle. The subject of first clause is "him," but the subject of the second clause is "women."

It should properly read

Being so confident and handsome, he drew women to him.


(separately, vultures surround dead, rotting things to eat them... is that the image you were going for? Because seriously, eww. Is he a handsome, confident zombie?)

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    In addition to the problems with the 2nd example, putting "Being so confident and handsome" has the effect of putting more emphasis on it, as it comes first in the sentence. It also weakens the imagery of the circling (and yeah, vultures is probably not the right way to go there). – TriskalJM Dec 20 '16 at 16:13
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    Also, in the first example, you get the meaning "while closing her eyes." In the second, you get "because he was so confident and handsome," not "while he was confident and handsome." – MissMonicaE Dec 20 '16 at 19:43
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    @MissMonicaE "While he was confident and handsome, he had difficulty fighting off the vultures who wanted to peel the decaying flesh from his face." Yes, I see what you mean; that's a totally different sentence structure. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Dec 20 '16 at 19:52
  • @LaurenIpsum, yeah, now it sounds like "although." – MissMonicaE Dec 21 '16 at 14:29
  • @MissMonicaE That's generally the effect of using "while" in front of a descriptor rather than an action — it parses as even though or although. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Dec 21 '16 at 14:58
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While Lauren is correct about the grammatical difference, the actual impact on the reader is virtually nil. It isn't at this level that texts have impact on readers. The levels on which text chiefly impact readers are images and stories. Worrying about the difference between two grammatical structures that present the same image or tell the same story is largely a waste of time. An editor may decide to tweak it at some point in the publications process, but it is not going to make or break a story.

There is definitely a problem with the image, as Lauren points out. Vultures circle the weak and dying, not the healthy and strong. This is the sort of trouble you can run into when you think and write in stock phrases. They don't always go together to create compelling and evocative images.

Even this would be forgiven though, if the larger story were compelling. Again, if the story is compelling, these are things an editor will fix. If you are worried about the effect on the reader, focus your attention on the bigger picture, the things that actually affect the reader.

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