Kiss Your “As” Goodbye: A Simple Grammar Trick for Better Fiction

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 7.36.42 AM

Today, AWESOME W.A.N.A. International Instructor and author-editor-teacher-extraordinaire Marcy Kennedy is here to guest post about a dreaded topic—GASP—grammar. Yes, I admit it. I’m a Grammar Nazi. I remember correcting my eldest nephew when he was learning to talk. Steaks are good, people are well. Chickens are done, people are finished. We raise crops, and rear children. 

This was being a good auntie.

Then he went off to first grade…

His teacher asked him if he was done, and he matter-of-factly replied, “Chickens are done, people are finished.”

So yes, I’ve had to learn to not be a jerk about grammar (and gently correct the kiddos even though I was cheering inside). But take heart, if a Grammar Nazi makes an error, we get 543 e-mails correcting us.

Even Grammar Nazis oops. We need refreshers and ALL need a fresh set of eyes on our work because a lot of subtle grammar bugaboos can still slip through even the most highly trained filters.

Proper grammar, spelling and punctuation are critical for all books. Maintaining the reader’s fictive dream is paramount. Few things can slam the brakes on flow like poor grammar. Think of it this way. We could be wearing the latest, greatest design by Versace, but if we have the back tucked in our underpants or our fly open? Tough for others to see and appreciate our “fashion.”

This said, the best person I know to teach grammar is Marcy, so take it away!


Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 8.10.05 AM

A good grade in a high school or college English class doesn’t necessarily translate into the ability to write great fiction, so it’s easy for us to mistakenly think understanding grammar isn’t important for fiction writing at all. Isn’t that what a copy editor is for? Won’t they fix all your mistakes?

A copy editor will fix our actual errors, but some of the rules we were taught in English class will actually hurt our fiction writing, not help it. And some easy grammatical tricks that our copy editor won’t do for us can improve our fiction.

In my work as an editor, one of the most common mistakes I see made by fiction writers is the reversal of the necessary order of cause coming before effect, action coming before reaction.

When we reverse the two so that the effect comes first or comes at the same time as the cause, our readers will feel thrown off-balance and disconnected from our writing, even if they can’t always explain why. In real life, cause always comes before effect. The effect can’t come before what caused it. They expect the same in fiction (unless we’re writing a science fiction story with a temporal paradox, of course).

Let me show you what this cause-and-effect problem looks like in our fiction, and then I’ll give you a super-simple editing trick that will help you catch it and kiss it goodbye.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 7.49.01 AM

Example #1:

As the shot rang out, Ellen covered her ears.

The word “as” is used as a connection between things that are supposed to be happening at the same time.

But in the example above, the shot and Ellen covering her ears aren’t happening at the same time. They can’t happen at the same time. Not unless she’s psychic. She couldn’t have done what the sentence says because, until she heard the shot, Ellen had no reason to cover her ears.

Here’s what the sentence might look like if we fixed it.

The shot rang out, and Ellen covered her ears.

Example #2:

He blushed as he realized his fly was undone.

Blushing is the result or effect of realizing his fly is undone. He realizes his fly is undone, and as a result, his face heats. This sentence feels odd because the cause and effect are flipped.

So what we’d actually want to write is something like…

He realized his fly was undone, and heat rushed up his face.

(Realized is a dangerous word in our fiction as well, and was only used here to help with this example. In a real book, we’d want to show him realizing his fly was undone rather than telling the reader he realized. If you’d like to learn more, check out Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

Example #3:

We took cover when we heard him entering the building.

“When” works similarly to “as.” It suggests that the two things happened simultaneously.

The problem is that they didn’t take cover at the same time as they heard him entering. Until they heard him entering, they had no reason to take cover. First they heard him entering, and then, as a consequence of hearing it, they took cover.

Here’s one way we could fix this.

The heavy metal door rattled on its hinges, and the sound of footsteps ricocheted around the hangar. We dove behind a stack of crates.

A related problem is when we create a sentence where we’re not suggesting things are happening at the same time, but we’ve still reversed the natural order of cause and effect in the way we’ve structured the sentence.

Example #4:

My mouth went dry and a heavy weight settled in my chest as he led me down the hall to meet my birth mother for the first time.

Technically, this can happen at the same time. This is one of those situations that can justify breaking the linear rule because walking down the hall takes time. There’s time for something to happen as she’s walking.

Here’s the problem. Our sentence structure still needs to reflect the natural order. Even if we want to express that something is happening at the same time, when we write it, we need to give the reader the cause before we give them the effect.

In the above example, we find out our narrator’s mouth is dry and she feels a heavy weight on her chest, but the reader will feel ungrounded because they have no idea what’s causing it. Any time the reader loses connection to the POV character and immersion in the story, it’s a bad thing.

We’ll find this in our writing when our words express that one thing happened temporally before the other, but in the sentence we’ve reversed the order in which we tell the reader about them. So we’re meaning “A happened before B,” but in our sentence what we’ve written is “B happened because of A.”

We need to write down the cause (A) before the effect (B).

Before I give you the editing tip, let’s quickly go back to the example above and see one possible way we could rewrite it, keeping this in mind.

He led me down the hall to meet my birth mother. My mouth went dry and a heavy weight settled in my chest.

Most of these mistakes happen when we’re trying to vary our sentence structure. Variety in sentence structure is good, but not at the expense of making sure each sentence is also structurally sound.

Quick Editing Tip

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 7.37.45 AM

Image courtesy of Hyperbole and a Half (

The easiest way to spot this problem is to look for the words as, while, and when. This is where the Find and Replace feature in your word processing program will become your best friend.

In the Find box write as, and in the Replace box write AS. Make sure to select the option of “Find Whole Words Only.” If you wanted to get fancy, you could even use the option to bold the AS, but capitalizing it is enough to make it stand out on the page. Do the same for while and when.

Now you can skim through your book and quickly check each instance to see if it should stay or if you’ve reversed your cause and effect.

Want More Help With Grammar for Fiction Writers?

Check out my book Grammar for Fiction Writers: A Busy Writer’s Guide. The world of grammar is huge, but fiction writers don’t need to know all the nuances to write well. In fact, some of the rules you were taught in English class will actually hurt your fiction writing, not help it. Grammar for Fiction Writers won’t teach you things you don’t need to know. It’s all about the grammar that’s relevant to you as you write your novels and short stories.

Here’s what you’ll find inside:
Punctuation Basics including the special uses of dashes and ellipses in fiction, common comma problems, how to format your dialogue, and untangling possessives and contractions.
Knowing What Your Words Mean and What They Don’t including commonly confused words, imaginary words and phrases, how to catch and strengthen weak words, and using connotation and denotation to add powerful subtext to your writing.
Grammar Rules Every Writer Needs to Know and Follow such as maintaining an active voice and making the best use of all the tenses for fast-paced writing that feels immediate and draws the reader in.
Special Challenges for Fiction Writers like reversing cause and effect, characters who are unintentionally doing the impossible, and orphaned dialogue and pronouns.
Grammar “Rules” You Can Safely Ignore When Writing Fiction



We love hearing from you! Are you a Grammar Nazi? Do family members weep with jubilation when you mess up and they finally can correct YOU? Do you struggle with grammar? I confess, the whole “lay vs. lie” thing twists my brain in a know and I STILL have to google it (or usually simply rephrase).

I love hearing from you! Comments and questions for guest count DOUBLE, so I hope y’all will show Marcy some love.

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Marcy Kennedy, WANA Instructor Extraordinaire

Marcy Kennedy, W.A.N.A. Instructor Extraordinaire




Back to School!

Going Pro Series NOW Available ON-DEMAND

 Going Pro Craft , Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding and  Going Pro Business  or ALL THREE! W.A.N.A.’s bundle deal, Going Pro All the Way! . Use WANA15 for $15 off individual classes. Recording and detailed noted come with purchase.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook


5 pings

Skip to comment form

  1. I’m editing a book right now and will definitely seek and destroy. I’d never heard of the tip to do lower case in the “find” and all caps in “replace.” That’s a great idea! Thanks

  2. Great tips! Love the find and replace idea. Adding it to my editing checklist. 🙂

    • kfzuzulo on September 11, 2014 at 8:50 am
    • Reply

    Great column, Kristen and Marcy! Thanks for making the basics clear and concise. I’m a book editor (and an author) and your tips are excellent for sharing with clients. AS I edit a book, I see these errors all the time. 😉
    Just bought “Grammar for Fiction Writers” so I can recommend it to my authors.
    Kellyann Zuzulo

    • Cnawan Fahey on September 11, 2014 at 9:03 am
    • Reply

    As I read this article, I realized that I wasn’t feeling good and thought perhaps I should stop; but, now that I’m done, I would concur that putting cause before effect would be a good way to raise my child.

    • Tamara LeBlanc on September 11, 2014 at 9:10 am
    • Reply

    I actually struggle with grammar…and commas…and spelling… One of my crit partners is a retired teacher so she tags my many infractions on a regular basis.
    I love the tips that were provided today and the little comics always make me chuckle 🙂

    Thanks for your wisdom and have a great weekend!!

    1. I loved English class. Even took a refresher in Comprehensive English a few years back. That covered a wide range of topics….lit, composition. We even created a Newspaper based on the days of the Great Depression. I lost a few marks for lack of Ads in the paper (wasted space) , but I got great marks for the writing. Though it was suggested that I go easy on the commas. I’m still learning where to put what some days. 😉

      The HAT goes on my HEAD, right? 😉 I’m having a MONDAY day. And it’s THURSDAY! :'(

  3. Excellent post. Now that you mention it, I do use AS, WHEN a lot. I’ll have to check my work better for reversed actions.

  4. Love this! I have a to-do list for my WIP and I’m adding the Find/Replace “as” suggestion to it. And my birthday is tomorrow – my husband’s been asking what I want. Maybe some Busy Writer’s Guides would be in order. 😉

  5. Reblogged this on shonda brock and commented:

  6. I can’t wait to put these tips to use in my current WIP. What an easy way to eliminate a weakness of mine, and at the same time, improve the flow of my story. Great post!

    • Lew Weinstein on September 11, 2014 at 10:09 am
    • Reply

    The use of Nazi is offensive. You should know better. There is nothing funny about Nazis, nothing, never. You should publish an apology.

    1. It is a commonly used term in the writing world and has ZERO links to Hitler. If you want PC feel free to enjoy other blogs.

    2. I understand your concerns, Lew and I am not working against you on this one. But one should never allow a word to hold so much power. It is the intent that matters. Kristen’s intent was not to offend and it is as simple as that.

      1. Thank you Cat. I work hard to be considerate, but I will not cower to Thought and Word Police. My intention was positive, but I am not going to rearrange my voice, content and identity to hopefully never offend anyone ever. No writer should. It goes against all we are.

        1. CONTEXT is KING! I remember an episode of Seinfeld where he went to this restaurant that specialized in soups, and the chef was a real jerk, so Jerry referred to him as The Soup Nazi. A smidge extreme, to say the least, but if someone heard Jerry, they likely wouldn’t be going to that guy’s restaurant, if they had Nazi issues at all.

          Likewise, when I see outside restaurant chairs with NO SMOKING signs on them, even in the great outdoors, and I think, “HEALTH NAZIS”. No, I’m not in favor of smoking so much, but in the wide open air, the whole CONTROL issue gets to be a bit much for me. That’s where I use that word to its near-to-fullest potential.

          In any case,it’s not the nicest thing to call anyone, for sure! And, in fairness, the word has lost some of its original sting because of the modern usage. In the case of Lew, though, it’s a good guess that he possibly lost family because of the MONSTERS (Real NAZIS) so no matter how unintended the offense, that HATEFUL word will never lose its impact.

          1. Well, people can feel free to go to PC blogs. I can’t write by committee and won’t and when someone demands I issue an apology for word choice? I’m not going there. It’s a slippery-slope of second-guessing. Our language morphs over time. Words that were no big deal a few centuries ago would get your mouth washed out with soap today (word for feces). A “faggot” was a bundle of sticks. Now it’s a slur. Conversely, some terms used to be a HUGE deal and over time, the culture has shifted. When I did mission work, we appointed a Water Tzar (sure to offend anyone who remembers pre-communist Russia.) Likely the episode with The Soup Nazi is what morphed the meaning of the word to mean someone who is fascist regarding rules (from a JEWISH comedian).

      • LordAstral on September 11, 2014 at 2:26 pm
      • Reply

      I invite you to a) chill the frack out and b) watch the movie The Blues Brothers. There you will discover that Nazi’s can be funny as hell.

  7. Great advice. I am a book editor/grammar Nazi and realise that listening in English lessons when other people didn’t has pretty much given me a career.

    Here’s my latest bugbear: where the subclause and main clause don’t have the same subject: e.g. Being a grammar Nazi, these things really annoy me… instead of, Being a grammar Nazi, I am really annoyed by… For some reason, everyone seems to be doing this – as though it’s the new fashion. Keep up the good fight!

      • sao on September 11, 2014 at 11:44 pm
      • Reply

      My son did a sailing program and got a free t shirt. On the back it read, “With 3,478 miles of coast, shouldn’t the kids of Maine know how to sail.” Bugs the heck out of me.

  8. Kristen, Thank you for introducing me to Marcy! These tips could not have come at a better time. I just downloaded Grammar For Fiction Writers to my kindle and I cannot wait to get started! As much as I love and deeply respect my editor, I don’t always get the feedback I need to develop and grow as a fiction writer. This will be just want I need to refocus on building my work. Cheers!

  9. Reblogged this on Robertson Writes and commented:
    An excellent post about some better ways to use grammar in your writing. Something that all writers should read to get a better handle on their own writing. These are all simple mistakes that we may make in the heat of the moment, while words are flowing across our screen. When you go back to edit, keep your eyes open!

    • Nan Sampson on September 11, 2014 at 10:18 am
    • Reply

    A for AMAZING!!! Marcy, you are a life saver. I’m a bit of a grammar and spelling Nazi myself, but this tip regarding AS is one of those habits that I would not have thought of, and of which I’m probably guilty. Thanks so much. And thank YOU, Kristen, for having her guest post.

  10. Thanks, Marcy. That little “as” word has been a thorn in my writing flesh for many years. I will be sure to use the find and replace function when editing my next book. There are so many ways to use that feature – but it means going through the manuscript SO many times that I just get sick of the story. Is that normal?

    1. It’s perfectly normal. We should be in love with our story when we’re coming up with our idea and leaping into our first draft. Being at least a little sick of it in the editing stage is a good thing. It makes us more critical.

  11. Thank you for the very useful tips. Interesting that a few found your use of the term ‘grammar nazi’ offensive. I didn’t. The English language is constantly evolving. In current usage, the term has come to mean someone who is overly rigid and picky. The Urban Dictionary defines grammar nazi as; “Someone who believes it’s their duty to attempt to correct any grammar and/or spelling mistakes they observe.”

    1. It’s a commonly used term and I think PC is fascism. If I wrote in ways to never ever offend any person EVER, I’d never write anything. Someone will always find a reason to be offended.

    2. Oh, and I can no longer say I had a “black” dress because the use of “black” (aside from, I dunno…CONTEXT) could be construed as a racial slur. I should rather use…NOIR. And then issue a public apology for using the adjective “black.”

    • Christina on September 11, 2014 at 10:30 am
    • Reply

    I’ll probably never be published because I like the use of the word as in all of the above mentioned examples. I get it and actually prefer it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but to each his own!

      • sao on September 11, 2014 at 1:36 pm
      • Reply

      I think you are confusing what is a smoother sentence (He blushed as he realized his fly was undone versus, He realized his fly was undone and he blushed) and what is a better reading experience.

      I find that I have no objections when reading smooth but misordered sentences, but I don’t feel the emotions with the character as well as if they are in the right order. When he’s blushing and I don’t know why, I don’t feel it. When I learn what caused it, the blushing is over. It’s much more noticeable when the sentence is more disordered. I read one MS with a whole series of sentences like,

      “She yelped and ran to the sink after the sauce, which she had been stirring, splashed on her hand.”

  12. I’m in the process of reading and reviewing an indie novel. Now I know why so much of it seems off. The writer is making exactly this mistake. In addition to mis-sequencing events, this type of writing also diffuses all tension. (Not what one wants to do in fiction.) Thanks for making this point so clear.

    I love the idea of capping the word as when editing. I didn’t know about the whole word function. I once changed a character’s name from Tom to Will with search/replace after a ms. was completed. I had to read through the entire book because I would find phrases like “I’ll call you Willorrow.” Yikes!

    1. I found the whole word feature in my early editing days due to a similar mishap with the name Matt 🙂

      1. That’s funny. I’m sure at the time, though, it was quite disheartening.

  13. This is extremely helpful. But regarding the sentence about the mouth going dry and the heavy weight in the chest, I don’t agree. First, the sentence is too long. It could be divided into two sentences for greater impact. Second, in this case, writing the effect before the cause provides intrigue/tension/drama and lures the reader in. “Why is he/she feeling nervous? What’s going on?” is what I thought when first reading it. No, the use of reversing cause and effect shouldn’t be overdone, but in some cases it can be very effective.

    Thanks for the tips. Great post!

  14. I remember you catching this on the first five pages of APOLLO that you read, and I’ve been trying to keep it in mind ever since. I still write the sentences wrong in the first draft, but I’m trying to find every instance when I edit to remove. I love the idea of using Find and Replace – that’ll make it MUCH easier!

  15. Reblogged this on Covey View and commented:
    Take it from the Grammar Nazis…

  16. I’m confused about which bad grammar is now acceptable and which is not. A person should have “their” grammar in good shape. That last sentence is what at least used to be bad grammar. I see it all the time now, even in the article. Do we no longer need to struggle with “his” or “her” to make the pronoun agree with the antecedent? I have also noticed people connecting complete sentences with hyphens or just a comma instead of a semicolon. Is this the new thing? I personally like to begin some short sentences with “and” or “but”, which seems to add “punch” to my writing. (And there it was!) But I do this, knowing it is not good grammar. (Did you notice it there again?)

    1. Sometimes it calls for us to write in the vernacular. I do that a lot on this blog because I WANT to create a conversational “feel.” Grammar IS tough and some will be affected by voice and characters.

    2. My grammar book has a chapter on grammar “rules” we can ignore when writing fiction.

      Never connect a sentence with a comma where you would have used a semi-colon in the past. Use a period instead or you create a comma splice *shudder*

      Using “their” the way you did is acceptable in informal writing.

      • R. A. Meenan on September 11, 2014 at 7:15 pm
      • Reply

      Another thing to remember too, is that the whole “their” vs. “his or her” thing is very much a formal writing technique. It’s something English teachers teach, but it’s not something average English speakers use. Same thing with starting a sentence with “And” or “But.” You can’t use it in a formal English essay, but you can, and often should, in a novel.

      While those things are considered “improper” you can still understand the sentence and it doesn’t feel awkward. That’s what makes them acceptable to a novel reader.

      Just a word of note from a University English professor… who often hates those stupid grammar rules.

      1. Thank you very much! This has been helpful.

    • Carrie Kwiatkowski on September 11, 2014 at 12:04 pm
    • Reply

    Hello, my name is Carrie, and I’m a Grammar Nazi. Love this article! It’s reminding me to rethink my use of ‘as’ and ‘while’ for the sake of variety. Yikes!

  17. Great reminders, because I tend to be an As-hole during first drafts.

  18. Reblogged this on Mandy White and commented:
    I like to think of myself as a Grammar Nazi-in-training. Lots of great advice in this article. Of course, now I’m compelled to re-edit everything I’ve written to date. I bet I’d find a lot of these in my work. More proof that learning is essential for one’s growth as a writer.

  19. I read this article as if taking medicine. I have not been hanging around with proper grammar fanatics in a long long time, and I hear myself say the most horrendous phrases! every once and a while my husband corrects me with joy since I used to correct him ALL the time. Thank you for writing about grammar in an entertaining flavor and for somehow prompting theatrical comments. Cheers!

  20. I’m with Deb in discovering the whole word function. I had similar things happen to me when trying to use the feature. Great tips!

  21. I’ve been advocating for years for my fellow writers to look for and recheck using “as” because it skews the cause-effect sequence for the reader and the flow of a narrative. I’m so happy to see this post!

  22. Reblogged this on jean's writing and commented:
    I love gentle reminders and “Tricks” that make editing easier. Readers, I hope you enjoy Kristen Lamb’s Blog on how to kiss your “As” goodbye.

    • sao on September 11, 2014 at 1:26 pm
    • Reply

    I’m picky about grammar and I always correct my kids, which is sometimes awkward if I realize that I’ve fussed when they said something just as an adult nearby did. And sometime adults feel awkward because I’m picking over something they don’t see as wrong.

    • Comet on September 11, 2014 at 1:31 pm
    • Reply

    Find & Replace! What an AWESOME idea, why did I not think of that?! Thank you!

  23. Um, don’t hate me, but “footsteps ricocheted around the hangar,” not the “hanger.”

    1. That’s my fault, J.E. I asked Marcy to do a quick post for me and didn’t put another set of eyes on it. Will correct 😀 .

    2. Good catch. Mea culpa. That’s all the evidence you need for why even editors need their work edited! No one’s perfect 🙂

      1. So true, Marcy! We see what we intended to write, not what we’ve actually written.

  24. Thanks for posting this. I will be linking on my blog. I love the hint for Find and Replace. I’ll be using it.

  25. Thank you, Kristen and Marcy! Great advice—love Grammar Nazis…they keep me on my toes 🙂 …tripping through my words.
    Heading to my WIP right now…
    I’ve already got the blog for this week done (mostly), but will link this into my next one…

  26. I took your advice and did the find and replace with ‘as’, ‘while’ and ‘when’. I’ll fix those in my next edit of my WIP. I also downloaded the two books mentioned – Grammar for Fiction Writers and Mastering Showing and Telling.

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  27. Thanks, Kristen. I know all the rules, but have developed a style I like that sometimes ignores them. Your response to my comment has made me feel more comfortable about that. I also appreciate and will use the “as” advice.

  28. What I enjoyed most about this post is that it explained why “as” causes problems and gave great examples too. I’ve bookmarked the page and will refer to it again when editing. I’ve also added AS, WHILE, and WHEN to my list of words to avoid (or at least double-check). THANK YOU.

  29. Thanks, Marcy! I need to get your book! And now I know that the uneasy jolt I get sometimes in the midst of blog post I’m reading is a comma splice *shudder*. 🙂

  30. Thank you for posting this. So timely. Definitely bookmarking for future reference.

    • R. A. Meenan on September 11, 2014 at 7:16 pm
    • Reply

    As a English professor and professed Grammar Nazi, I approve. =D

  31. Reblogged this on Angela Booth: WordPress and commented:
    Yes, I’m a grammar Nazi; totally irrational. I wince when newsreaders mangle grammar. Nothing stops me reading faster than an author who misuses words: “peak” or “peek” for “pique.” And “rein” for “reign”… It’s sad, and I wish I could get over it.

  32. Hi. I too have policed a young nephew through some of the more difficult places of grammar, and now he simply won’t listen. I’ve always tried to be tactful, but a lot of grade school and middle school teachers these days themselves have no patience with the intricacies of proper grammar, and have refused to teach them. I recognize that there are also many who are good and responsible, but my nephew doesn’t seem to have met up with a lot of them. Also, I wanted to comment on your instruction about “telling” and “showing.” That is not properly a grammar question, but a stylistic instruction, and good writing requires both, sometimes in the same novel, story, tale, etc. I have my information from a good authority, Professor Wayne Booth, and his book “The Rhetoric of Fiction,” in which he deals with the question. It is true that in the 20th century and to some extent still in the 21st, there has been a preference for “showing,” but it is by no means a matter about which people any longer make an absolute prescription. I’m not meaning to correct you, only to speak from my own perspective as both a writer and the possessor of a doctorate in English, and about what I have learned in my classes and experiences with writers in general. I also think your book sounds as if in general it supplies a much needed guide and fills a niche in the writer’s ideal bookshelf. Thanks for your post, and your fearlessness in the face of those who would place grammar in an inferior place in the world of writing, though it’s so hard to see how they could feel that way.

  33. I’m not writing a book right now so no need to put my name in the hat… 😉

    I, too, am a grammar nazi that struggles with lay/lie. I look it up on grammar girl every time!

    I hope to some day try my hand at writing a novel. Right now, I’m enjoying growing my skills by telling stories in my blog. I’m also enjoying learning from you. I plan to recommend your blog to my MIL and SIL, who have both written books. One is self publishing. The other is looking for an agent. They’ve taken writing classes so they may think they already know it all, but… Surely there’s always room to learn more. 😉

    And, Mary, you made me want to buy your book even though, as I said, I’m not actually writing any fiction right now!

    1. Oops. My phone auto-corrected Marcy to Mary.

  34. Ooo, I’ll have to look out for those! As, when and while… I have the feeling I’ll be horrified.
    It always used to bug me in school when I got marked down for using ‘incorrect’ grammar in creative writing pieces. Starting a sentence with “and”, for example. It was a mood piece, not an academic essay!

  35. Alright, you’ve convinced me. I’m going to take a closer look at my uses of as, when, and while. Thanks for the helpful tips.

  36. Thanks for the post ! 🙂

  37. Great blog and discussion. I agree with others who suggest that we can sometimes reverse the cause and effect structure for… well, effect. LOL

  38. Reblogged this on Kentucky Mountain Girl News and commented:
    KMGN: Please, DON’T make Batman cry!

  39. I’m off to hunt down the “as”, “while”, and “when” blighters straight away. I have a particular problem with using the word combination “as if” too often, but reading my manuscript out loud usually helps me unearth them if they occur too close to each other page-wise.

    1. Word wise, my pet-peeve is the Adverb. Used sparingly, (case in point) it’s tolerable. Otherwise, it grates on the ears of readers who listen to audiobooks. Stephen King has confessed to this transgression. The late V.C. Andrews did the same. I could READ her books okay, but when I’d listen, the adverbs would clang in my ears, like a dropped kitchen pot lid. “EmbarrassingLY” .

      The ‘As’ or ‘When’ issue is easily solved with a thesaurus, or finding another way to deal with a scene. Adverbs, on the other hand, are just flat out LAZY.

    • davidatodd on September 12, 2014 at 3:09 pm
    • Reply

    “We took cover when we heard him entering the building.”
    10 words
    “The heavy metal door rattled on its hinges, and the sound of footsteps ricocheted around the hangar. We dove behind a stack of crates.”
    24 words

    How long do you want our novels to become?

    This is the problem with too much showing. Word counts multiply. The reader gets tired of the length. He starts skimming.


    1. I agree with David. You can “show” in your story with shorter sentences. Much like Ernest Hemingway, I prefer the beauty of minimalist fiction that is so tightly written AS to paint the details in AS few words AS possible. 😀

      1. That’s a stylistic and voice issue, not necessarily a grammar issue. Both work.

    2. I think it’s a voice/style issue. Some people like Hemingway. I can’t read his stuff. I love Koontz and he is VERY wordy. The point is: Is the grammar/structure correct? Beyond that, voice is all about the individual writer.

  40. I enjoyed the anecdote at the beginning so much that I had to read the rest of your post. It turned out to be extremely helpful and I’m very glad I took the time to read it.

  41. I love the find and replace idea. (And using the whole word function.) Thank you, Marcy. I used this on my WiP to zap the as out of it. Eek! There were a lot of the little horrors.

    By the way, I wanted to put ‘as’ in the plural there. Ases? No. As’s? Double no. ‘As’s? I don’t think so. Grammar geeks, have you got any ideas?

    • Brender on September 13, 2014 at 5:16 am
    • Reply

    I am not a writer (so please don’t enter me into the contest), but I still find all this quite interesting. The incorrect examples above don’t explicitly bother me as a reader. Maybe if a given book contained many uses of the incorrect examples, I’d be bothered but not know why.

    I feel I must point out that one of the cartoons is bothering me. The Grammar Cracker box looks like a saltine box. It needs to look like a graham cracker box. 😀 I’m laughing at myself, because I think the fact that this bothers me somehow reflects my inner Grammar Police.

  42. Kristen, As I wish to let others know how much I enjoy reading your blog, I have nominated you for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award.
    You can check out the nomination in my post.
    Participation is your choice. If you wish to nominate bloggers who inspire you, the rules are provided there.
    Thanks for sharing so much wonderful content on your blog.
    Jean Cogdell

  43. This is extremely helpful! As a german writer of english fanfiction I bear my own struggles; feeling too often like making horrible mistakes. So this gave me an idea about how to improve my work… In many different ways..
    There is not only the entertaining way you teach us (Thank you Marcy for this post, and you, Kristen for this whole blog! You´re doing a great work here! I very much appreciate your effort); but the tipps I already got here are amazing.
    So thanks!, keep up the good fight!

    Oh, and as a side-note:
    As a German I´m (sadly) very much used to paying attention to what I say or write, always avoiding any possible correlation to the Nazis. It´s burnt into my mind since early childhood. Though I do not think it helps the case to clench and point your finger on every sloppy word that is used… It´s just that: a word!

  44. OMG No one has ever pointed this out before. It has never once occurred to me that this could be a problem in my writing. Thanks! I’m pretty sure I have made the mistake of putting the effect before the cause far too many times.

  45. I love using the Word Find and Replace feature for my overused words (and now these words!). However, I replace the words by highlighting them in RED. My old eyes would certainly miss some of the ALL CAPS when going over the whole ms., but those bright red blocks? Never miss ’em.

    Great advice, Marcy!

  46. Great post! Thanks. I’m editing now and this is spot on.

  47. This is an excellent explanation of the mistakes many writers make, and the tips you offer for correcting these errors are wonderful, Marcy!

    I particularly like the tip about using Find and Replace to nail down areas in a manuscript that should be corrected.

    Nice guest, Kristen. 🙂

  48. Wow. I believe all of the problems I have had with my book so far are due to this one problem. “Search and find” is going to be my best friend for the rest of the day. I bookmarked this page so I can go back to it and maybe buy the book later.

    By the way, did you mean “brain in a knot” when you wrote “brain in a know” ? I’m not familiar with that phrase. :-/

    • Diana Stevan on September 17, 2014 at 8:26 pm
    • Reply

    Great post, Kristen. I am guilty of using “as” incorrectly at times. Now, I’ll be more diligent in correcting those mistakes.

  49. Loved this one! I never realized I was making these mistakes. So glad you shared, I will definitely add this to my editing list.

  50. Think I like the article, although I’m now totally confused by what is correct. I was about to edit a short story, so planning to use your suggestions. But now unsure what I am doing. Solution: stop writing, and read other people’s work. Been confused by Grammar my whole life… maybe that was why I became a journalist.

  51. So glad I read this article! Definitely going to comb through my ms to find these mistakes!

  52. Reblogged this on writersback and commented:
    Kiss Your “As”, “When” and “While” Goodbye, by Kristen Lamb. You have to write CAUSE before you can write EFFECT.

  53. Sometimes writers make a similar mistake with the gerund. Or maybe it isn’t technically a gerund in this usage. I’m not sure. I suspect everyone has encountered it: “Closing the door, Ben leaped across the room.” Those actions probably aren’t simultaneous.

    • robin witt on September 25, 2014 at 10:46 am
    • Reply

    Great artcle – I struggle with this sequencing issue constantly!! Hopefully the suggested word searches will help as I’m working through my second draft.

    • gretchen on January 20, 2023 at 10:43 am
    • Reply

    Very helpful, but please don’t use the word Nazi as such a casual and/or humorous description.

    1. We did back before people started policing every word. Go watch Seinfeld. Never heard of the “Soup Nazi?” Granted, when this post was written, I never imagined we’d be a bunch a histrionics who see Nazis around every corner.

      Context also matters. If I peel and eat a potato, then that is a tuber and a food. If I tell someone their brain is a potato, that is a slur. The assumption made when posting this almost 10 years ago was that adults and people who understood nuance were the audience.

    • Gretchen on January 20, 2023 at 10:54 am
    • Reply

    Why do we only see comments from 2014?

    1. Because the post is from 2014.

  1. […] If you’d like to read the rest of this post, please join me at Kristen Lamb’s Warrior Writers blog. […]

  2. […] this post by Marcy Kennedy over on Kristen Lamb’s blog, hit on something I tend to struggle with. And I didn’t […]

  3. […] Kiss Your “As” Goodbye: A Simple Grammar Trick for Better Fiction was a great piece. Well worth a look! You can find the author’s blog here. […]

  4. […] Revision is the bane of many writers, but it is necessary. Jami Gold discusses finding problems vs. fixing problems, Marcy Kennedy shares a simple grammar trick that will clean up your fiction, and Katherine Pickett describes what to expect from a developmental editor. […]

I LOVE hearing your thoughts!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.