Breaking the “as” addiction
Addicted to “as”? You are not alone. This addiction is very prevalent among authors these days. (Heck, I’ve been known to show some of that addiction myself. Grin) Sometimes, they are used in similes, but the most common usage is as a conjunction—linking actions. As implies actions are happening at the same time. For many actions, this is impossible. Recently, I’ve had authors complain that they felt they were exchanging one addiction for another (“and” vs. “as”), so I thought I would share other ways to mix things up and not rely strictly on “and” all of the time. While “and” is much more invisible than “as”, it pays to have a full toolbox. By the way, switching out with “while”, “when”, “once”, and “after” is not the answer. Why? Because this turns you into a while-aholic, once-aholic, after-aholic, or when-aholic, which is just as bad as being an as-aholic.
To rely heavily on any one grammatical device weakens the prose, keeps you contained inside a box that doesn’t really reflect your abilities, and often suppresses any growth you may strive for in your writing. One would hope that the more you write, your prose becomes tighter, your toolbox larger, and your storytelling more compelling. You can’t grow, however, if you aren’t willing to give it up. Besides, with the breadth of the English language, why limit yourself to just one device when there are so many to choose from?
You will find “as” used in similes. This is okay, unless the similes are frequent and close together. Any time you overuse a device, your story suffers. (Watch for overuse of “like”, too, as in “like the redolent smell of rose”, etc.) You have to find other ways to describe things. Comparison is great, but there are many ways to make comparisons without actually using a simile.
When working to change the instances of “as”, there are a number of ways to go about this beyond “while”, “when”, “once”, and “after.” I have listed just a few below to inspire your own muse into creating new, grammatically correct, ways to “show” your story.
Breaking sentences in two:
From: As it opened, frigid air cooled John’s heated flesh.
To: The door swung open. Frigid air cooled John’s heated flesh.
So, you can break the sentences in two. It works for this sentence because the only way John could be struck by the air is if the door opens, and you know when you open a door, the air of either outside or the interior will strike you. This option will work for some, but not others.
Changing “as” to “and”:
From: As it open, frigid air cooled John’s heated flesh.
To: The door swung open, and frigid air cooled John’s…
This works as well. You won’t want to do this for every sentence.
Rewriting to a modifying phrase:
From: Stephanie’s mouth fell open as she stared at the size of his hands.
To: Stephanie’s mouth fell open, a common reaction to the size of…
You could also use “and” in the place of “as” in this instance. It’s a matter of deciding/making a choice of which you think fits best.
Another modifying phrase example:
From: As a level two initiate, Lorelei wouldn’t even know about the magical spheres…
To: A level two initiate, Lorelei wouldn’t…
Or using a participial phrase (also a modifier):
Being a level two initiate, Lorelei wouldn’t…
(Note: Like any other device, participial phrases can run amok, but it’s okay if you use them judiciously.)
Another modifying phrase example:
From: Her emotions were always unpredictable, pushed as she was into the darkest edge of her soul…
To: Her emotions were always unpredictable, the darkest edge of her soul ever present in her life…
Sometimes, it takes rearranging the syntax, like so:
From: She killed in a hot passion of anger as her dark side took over.
To: Her dark side took over, and she killed in a hot…
And finally the prepositional phrase:
This is another example of turning the “as” phrase into a prepositional phrase—“with”, “to”, and so on. Sometimes, it’s as simple as replacing the “as” with “in”, “to”, etc.
From: His voice came out as a whisper.
To: His voice came out in a whisper.
or a complete rewrite
To: He whispered.
Here you have a change to a prepositional phrase or you can completely rewrite the sentence. Simpler can be better.
Another prepositional phrase example that requires a complete revision:
From: She bounced jauntily as she walked away.
To: She walked away with a bounce in her step.
The above examples are just a few possibilities. There are many, many more. You’ll find that once you start stretching yourself, the addiction lessens and disappears until your writing has grown far beyond the box that originally seemed so comfortable.