NOTE: All these articles are based on British grammar and the techniques I used to help myself, they are by no means definitive.
‘As’ is another one of those words that can be easily overused. I repeat once more than when I say ‘overuse’ I mean we use it too often in sequence rather than that it shouldn’t be used, multiple times in one sentence for instance. ‘As’ is particularly easy to overuse because it has so many uses; it can refer to two actions happening at once, a simile, or a statement to name a few. As such (there’s an example) it can be easy to use it several times in the same sentence without using it the same way. This is part of why overusing ‘as’ can be problematic, using a word multiple ways in one sentence can create a confusing sentence:
‘I walked one way as they walked another as if we were ships passing as we had argued so furiously’
Here we have two actions, a simile and a statement in once sentence, however the repeated use of as makes it tricky to follow. If we broke it up we could try something like:
‘We argued furiously. They walked one way and I walked another as if we were ships passing.’
We still use ‘as’ but events are immediately clearer. We know the argument came first, then two concurrent actions and a simile. We must always remember that clarity of statement is important in writing because it doesn’t matter how good our story is if people can’t follow it.
Another common issue that arises with ‘as’ is using it to link multiple actions together or several times in the space of a paragraph to link actions together. As I showed in the previous example we don’t necessarily need ‘as’ to show actions are happening at the same time. One piece of a advice I received that made me think about this was that readers could only concentrate on so many things happening at once. What they meant was that when I was overusing ‘as’ I was overloading the reader with information and making a scene more difficult to track. The way I find it easiest to imagine is that when we’re standing in a room, for instance, we can only see what is happening in front of us. If we want to see what is behind us we have to look over our shoulder or turn around. When we string too many actions together with ‘as’ it’s like trying to make the reader see what is behind and in front of them at the same time. By describing some of the actions separately we’re giving the reader chance to move their gaze and see another part of the scene which makes it easier to follow what’s happening.
As I said it’s not an issue of trying to eradicate words from our work because we shouldn’t use them for mysterious writing reasons. It’s a matter of considering if we’ve put the right words in the right order to convey what is happening in scenes clearly. Keeping the action in scenes clear can help us in other aspects of our writing, such as creating implied meanings if we wish. If readers are struggling to decipher the action of a scene they’re more likely to miss anything we might try to imply.
NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. Check back tomorrow for the next part.