Self-Editing #10: Got Clones?

   Posted by: Faith   in Rye Thoughts

And we come to self-editing tip #10. According to my notes, this will be the final Self-Editing Series post for awhile… I may run more at a future date, but this is the last in this series. If you’ve missed any of the posts or want to refresh your memory, here’s the full series of posts in one handy-dandy list!

So… on to today’s topic!

You might have read the title and thought… “Oh, another topic on characters!”

Er, I apologize for possibly leading you astray. You see, I’m not writing about characters at all, but rather the actions that they do over the course of a story. Particularly in certain sentences.

The key term here is simultaneous action. That means having your character do two things at the same that are physically impossible to do at the same time.

Unless your character has a clone, these sentences need to go (and if your character does have a clone, you’re probably going to want to mention that…).

How do you find these sentences?

As you’re reading through your manuscript, stop at every sentence that begins with a participle (that’s an –ing word, for you non-grammarophiles… yep, that’s right, I just made that word up right now).

Here’s an example of simultaneous action that’s physically impossible (this example is from Kelly Mortimer’s Grammar Guide, so please credit her if you use this info on your own blog):


Pulling out of the driveway, he drove down the street.”

The simultaneous actions are in red. These verbs tell us the character was leaving the driveway AND driving down the street at the same time. Impossible, right? Here’s the correction:

“He pulled out of the driveway, then drove down the street.”

Let’s try one more example from my morning-addled brain:


Incorrect:  Cheering on her husband as he slid into home plate, Kristi asked Sarah about her fiancé’s job promotion.”

Correct: “Kristi cheered as her husband slid into home plate, then turned to Sarah to ask a pressing question.”

Kristi can’t cheer and ask a question at the same time—it’s physically impossible.

Make sense? I think many of us write sentences like these in the first draft because we want to keep the action moving. Placing verbs in this way gives a false sense of continuous motion, when really what’s happening simply can’t be happening without the help of character clones walking around and doing things for the real character. In which case, you’re likely writing a Sci-Fi novel and have other things to worry about. Like, when will the clones realize they’re the clones and not the real person, and try to kill off the main character? I’m betting you’d rather worry about that than simultaneous action. Seriously.

So… how’s your character doing? Been in two places at once recently?

Or possibly attacked by a murderous clone that plans to take over your life? (You might want to get some help for that…)

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 30th, 2010 at 12:41 pm and is filed under Rye Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

9 comments so far


Haha I’m constantly watching for participles anyway, since they tend to unnecessarily complicate my sentences.

It’s amazing what mistakes can creep into your writing when you’re not looking.

And impossible simultaneous actions can really become a bad writing habit.


September 30th, 2010 at 1:58 pm

I’ll be going through these note from note when I put my YA back together.

September 30th, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Misha – Those darn participles! I know what you mean, they’re always getting in the way…!

Tessa – Putting it back together, that sounds like quite the task! Editing is such a process… some days I love it, some days I hate it, but in the end, it makes our stories stronger. Even if we want to tear our hair out in the process. ;)

September 30th, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Sometimes, I wish I had a clone. Maybe she could weed the occasional dual action out of my manuscript. I know I do this sometimes, but I try to be better. D for effort!

September 30th, 2010 at 6:48 pm

LOL! Great post. I love the examples. :-)

September 30th, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Hi Faith,

I’ve read through your whole Self-editing series now. Some great tips here! You’ll hopefully be making some agents and publishers very happy as everyone avoids their pet peeves…

October 1st, 2010 at 11:15 am

Barbara – If I had a clone, she wouldn’t be touching my manuscripts, I’d be putting her to work in the kitchen! LOL

Shannon – Thanks!

Adina – Thank you! Hopefully we’ll all be more aware of these common errors now… I know I learned a lot while writing the posts :)

October 1st, 2010 at 12:12 pm

oh, I so love that picture, I wish I had an army like that in my backyard!

October 1st, 2010 at 12:42 pm

This is something I’ll need to be on the look out for when I go through my manuscript.

Also, I wanted to say hello to a fellow crusader. So, hey!

October 2nd, 2010 at 1:28 pm