I just finished the final revision of my soon-to-be released fantasy novel, The Rock of Ivanore (2012-Tanglewood Press). During this last read-through I SUDDENLY became aware of how many times the word SUDDENLY appears in the text. It was annoying, actually. I counted 55 of them altogether. Like those nasty dandelions that sprout up all over my lawn every spring, the word SUDDENLY popped up in almost every chapter, and I soon realized my book needed a good dose of weed killer.
The first thing I did was look up all the synonyms for SUDDENLY. I found phrases and words such as without warning, instantly, in a moment, abruptly, all of a sudden, unexpectedly, out of the blue, in a heartbeat, and many more. Most of them sounded simply corny. A few were useful and I transplanted them into my story. But would I do with the rest?
Well, what do we do with dandelions? We dig our fingers deep into the soil, grab hold, and yank them out by the roots. That's the best way to get rid of most SUDDENLYs. In re-reading the paragraphs in which they appear, I discovered that the vast majority of them were simply unnecessary. In fact, they actually slowed the scene down like a lead anchor dragging behind a sailboat. By removing the SUDDENLY altogether (and making sure the verbs were all active rather than passive) the scenes sped up and moved more smoothly.
Below are two examples:
Original: The snake met his gaze and held it for a long while. Suddenly, it reared its head high in the air and stared down at Marcus’s quivering frame.
Revised: The snake met his gaze and held it for a long while before rearing its head high in the air. Its gaze bore down on Marcus's quivering frame.
Original: Bryn immediately sprung forward and Marcus braced himself for the attack. But just as suddenly as Bryn advanced, it was thrown back sprawling on the ground and whimpering like a frightened child.
Revised: Bryn immediately sprung forward and Marcus braced himself for the attack. But just as Bryn advanced, it was thrown back sprawling on the ground and whimpering like a frightened child.
I am happy to announce that my manuscript now boasts a scanty 19 SUDDENLYs. My lawn is green and lush.
What over-used phrases or words tend to pop up in your writing? What suggestions can you offer to help the rest of us avoid them?
Still coming, an interview with Wade Bradford, author of "Why Do I Have To Make My Bed?"