Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Commit to the Action

I've been doing some revising lately and one of the "quirks" that I've noticed in my writing is how I almost do a lot of things.  He almost smiled.  I barely stood up.  She nearly stopped breathing.

I'm sure I had a perfectly good reason for writing like that but all phrases like that do is weaken the action.  If I'm in the middle of a tense scene and I nearly stop breathing, it's not as powerful as saying, "He stopped breathing."  So commit to your actions.  Take them all the way or don't do them at all unless you've got a rock solid reason for doing it.  I can see someone standing half-way if they've begun to stand only to be stayed by a shout from someone else, but at least in that instance SOMEONE is committing to an action.  "I began to stand when June screamed for me to stop, which I did.  Immediately."

Maybe I'm the only person who does this but I just noticed it and figured I'd share.  Also, my agent said something to me once that really stuck, so I'll add that here.  I'd done something, I don't remember what, and I'd intended one thing but he saw another.  I explained the intended effect and he told me that if I have to explain it, then I didn't do it right.  He was much more diplomatic, but it stuck.  I won't be standing behind my readers going, "See what I did there?  When he did that, I meant for you to understand that..."

I think as writers, we have to learn to forget the story.  Forget what our intentions were and try to read our books for the first time every time.


  1. The old rule of thumb is: words ending in 'ly' tend to be weak adverbs. Try to write without them or find something stronger to implement in place. At least that's what I've heard (winks).

    I tend to suck in redundancy. Overplaying what I've written, instead of giving my readers credit of having a fraction of brain goo to figure it out. (Hugs)Indigo

  2. I do the same thing, too. I'm going to have to work on that.

    Your agent is a really smart dude... Not quite as smart as Joe Blanton, but then again nobody is.

  3. I think a lot of us are guilty of this and sometimes it is necessary to "almost" *insert action of choice*. But most of the time, no, just freakin' do it already, dude.

  4. Good post! I like the advice from your agent.

    I wonder if "almost stopped breathing" is actually alright. Who ever really completely stops breathing?

  5. Indigo: LOL. I'm big on killing the adverbs. Slash and burn, I say.

    Chris: My agent is pretty smart, isn't he. BTW, is that the new cover? It's AWESOME!

    Sarah: Totally!

    Em: I think you can hold your breath and stop breathing for short periods of time. Like, "The gun fired and I didn't realize I'd stopped breathing." That sucked.

  6. Alright, I guess that does work. :) I sometimes think it's funny when I read things like, "my heart stopped" though. That's a lot less likely, but I suppose it is effective in conveying a certain feeling.


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