I couldn’t resist repeating the title of Margie Lawson’s post last week on Laura Drake’s blog, Writers in the Storm. Not just because it’s so clever, which it is, but because I’ve ranted about the “as clause” (my name for it) to my students and critique groups for years. I was thrilled to see another author tackle the subject.
First of all, so there’s no mistake, not every “as” needs to be killed. Only the ones which are used incorrectly or spoil the flow of your story.
THE GOOD “AS”
The good "as” is one which represents “like.” Margie gives some wonderful examples of when using “as” is not only correct, but improves the prose. Phrases such as this one describing hard-packed snow: “The white stuff was as firm as concrete.” Or this one: “She was just as ignorant now as she had been then.” I used a similar phrase in my historical romance, COLD APRIL: “...almost as large as a railroad passenger car.”
You can also continue to use “as” in phrases like “as if,” “as well,” and “inasmuch as.”
THE BAD “AS”
In my opinion--and that of not only writing teacher Margie Lawson, but the best-selling author Dwight Swain--is used: (1). to denote simultaneous actions or (2). to show a reversal of the usual order of events.
This is not to forbid having things happen simultaneously in your book, although they don’t happen as often as some writers--judging by their use of “as”--would have you believe. However, readers think in a linear fashion. First this happens, then that. For instance, a doorbell usually rings before someone answers it. So you shouldn’t write, “She answered the door as the doorbell rang.” How about, “When the doorbell rang, she went to answer it.”?
Another example: “‘Stop the presses,’ he yelled as he entered the press room.” A better wording would be: “He yanked open the door to the press room. ‘Stop the presses!’“
When teaching or critiquing, I always advise writers to change a bad “as clause” in one of three possible, easy ways:
1. Put the “as clause” first. Instead of, “Lady Wheatly required the presence of their governess on the return crossing, as she explained to Beth only the week before they boarded the ship to come home.” I wrote, “As she explained to Beth only the week before, Lady Wheatly required the presence of their governess on the return crossing.”
2. Substitute the word “and” for “as.” Example: Instead of “The dog barked as the visitor crossed the veranda,” write, “The visitor crossed the veranda, and the dog barked.”
3. Separate the sentence into two. Instead of “She slapped her hand on top of the book, as the lawyer entered the room.” write, “The lawyer entered the room. She slapped her hand on top of the book.” Isn’t that more interesting, too?
Another problem with “as clauses” is that the comma separating them from the rest of the sentence causes the reader (mentally or actually) to hold her breath. When the “as” clause runs on too long, the reader runs out of air waiting for the end. Believe it or not, I’ve seen even longer “as" clauses than the following:
“She stared at him, as the door swung open and an even younger man entered the room with an armload of copies of The Daily News and proceeded to spread the newspapers all over the floor.” I’d prefer: “The door swung open and... all over the floor. She stared at him.”
Finally, look for the word “as” with your Search feature (space bar - as - space bar) and decide if it’s a good “as” or a bad one. If it stops or annoys the reader, change it to something smoother. You’ll be glad you did.
Next, would someone please write about the incorrect phrase “she could care less.” That one also drives me crazy and has just appeared in a writers’ magazine! I mean, if writers won’t defend our language, who will? I hope you agree.