In novel writing, there is general advice not to use gerunds (i.e. verb forms ending with -ing). In general, that makes sense. "She was going to the store" -> "She went to the store". It's shorter and more immediate.

However, it has an implication of simultaneous action rather than sequential action and so I often use it and probably do so too often.

Example 1:

"John descended from the bus, wrapped his trenchcoat around himself, and watched his breath fog into the cool air."


"John descended from the bus, wrapping his trenchcoat around himself and watching his breath fog into the cool air."

In this case, "wrapping and watching" implies that it's happening while he descends from the bus.

Example 2:

"The group huddled together in the little passageway and looked out over the quad."


"The group huddled together in the little passageway looking out over the quad."

Here the gerund reduces the word count.

So the question is: how strict is the style guide to avoid gerunds? What are the situations where you might break the rule? And what are the real reasons for being down on it? What's the rule behind the rule, if you like?

Edit: Apologies. I got my definition wrong for gerunds.

Here's a source for avoiding -ing words generally: Avoid -ing words

  • 2
    Citation required: exactly who says not to use -ING words?
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 18, 2020 at 21:00
  • 4
    It's only a gerund if the word functions as a noun. E.g. "I hate wrapping presents".
    – Barmar
    Commented Dec 18, 2020 at 21:05
  • 2
    In general, guidelines like the one you mention say to avoid overusing certain forms, you don't have to avoid them entirely.
    – Barmar
    Commented Dec 18, 2020 at 21:06
  • 2
    Really, if you can't tell whether something's a gerund, why try to forbid them? Commented Dec 18, 2020 at 21:14
  • Thanks all. I got these feedback in a recent critique group meeting. It's one of those things that you don't notice until someone points it out. I definitely need to reduce, but good to hear that I don't need to eliminate!
    – Dr Xorile
    Commented Dec 19, 2020 at 1:33

1 Answer 1


There is no advice for avoiding gerunds in novels that I have ever read or even heard of. So, to answer your question, the style guide is not strict, because there is no such thing. There is no generally accepted or popular rule for not using gerunds in novels.

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