The misuse and overuse of ‘as’ can negatively affect how your writing in perceived. Time to learn how to kick your ‘as’. Let’s get started.
‘As’ is most commonly misused and overused when trying to portray a series of events.
There’s nothing grammatically incorrect about using ‘as’ to show a person doing something at the same time as something else.
However, overuse of ‘as’ makes your writing look amateurish and clunky.
Particularly when there are many other ways to flex your writing kahunas.
Yes, I used the word ‘kahunas’.
A simple guide:
‘As’ shouldn’t be used to mean:
- at the same time
- at the same time as
What, when, how?
Events in the real world can happen at the same time.
Events in fiction happen sequentially.
Because readers prefer to read sequentially.
It’s less jarring and, more importantly, it’s better writing.
John put his arm around Margery as Bill entered the garden.
We know that Bill can enter the garden at the same time that John is putting his arm around Margery.
However, the events need to be described sequentially for the reader to make more sense of the action:
John put his arm around Margery. Bill entered the garden.
Creating a sequence of events makes it easier for the reader to follow your action.
Bill grimaced as John put his arm around Margery.
The above is a common error.
At first glance it appears all is well and fine.
Let’s take a closer look at the example with reference to cause-and-effect.
What is the cause?
John putting his arm around Margery.
What is the effect?
Both cannot happen simultaneously as the example suggests.
John must put his arm around Margery before Bill can react with his grimace.
The fix? Let’s try two solutions:
John put his arm around Margery. Bill grimaced.
Bill grimaced because John put his arm around Margery.
Notice how using ‘because’ makes the second example grammatically correct, but that it’s still clunky.
You can do better!
How to show-off my writing kahunas?
See sentences connected by ‘as’ – or using ‘while’, ‘because’, ‘while’, ‘when’ – as an opportunity to flex your writing muscles.
John put his arms around Margery, cradling her for the first time. The crack of a breaking twig and Margery froze. John glanced toward the sound. Bill stood watching them, a grimace plastered across his face.
Sure, the above prose needs some work. But the sequence of events is more easily defined. And not one ‘as’ in sight.
Separate your scene into a series of sentences for each event.
This will allow you to get a sense of the scene. Of cause and effect.
Then rewrite the scene using these sentences, adding extra nuance where needed.
Avoid using ‘as’ or any other connecting words.
Being real about writing
Do I occasionally use ‘as’ when writing cause and effect? Every now and then. Sure I do.
Grammar use in fiction, is a guide only.
But to break the rules, you have to know them.
Please take a look at my handy grammar guide.
It covers the overuse of ‘as’ in the section ‘Tricky Words’ and a whole lot more.
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