In my revision travels lately I happened to come across some advice concerning the word suddenly that I found very helpful. Perhaps this is obvious, but in case anyone else can benefit from it, I thought I’d pass it along.
In a first draft, it’s easy to overuse suddenly when you just want to spit the action out onto the page. In the process of weeding out words like this, I went looking for some alternatives. This is what came up:
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, without warning, the next instant, unexpectedly, unpredictably, out of the blue, abruptly, surprisingly, at once, etc.
While there are some alternatives to suddenly that might come in handy, is it or any of its replacements really needed at all? Probably not.
Introducing a surprise with suddenly gives the reader a heads up. You might as well wave a red flag that points out something shocking is just up ahead so that by the time your reader gets to the surprise, you’ve already spoiled it. This is telling the startling event instead of showing it. Totally counterproductive.
Another thing I hadn’t considered is that if you’re telling your story from a first person point of view (present tense), preceding an event with suddenly turns your mc into a psychic. Your mc can’t see the surprise coming, so how can she preface something that’s happening to her in real time with a word that essentially predicts? Maybe that's nitpicky, but it's something to think about.
Tacking on that extra word to the start of a sentence also slows things down. A startling event happens quickly, so you don’t want to make the description drag.
Instead, it’s better to just let the action speak for itself. Make the event unexpected through a switch in the pace or tone of the scene instead. That’s not to say you can’t use the word properly or sparingly, but you do need to make sure it’s having the desired effect.
Hope somebody else finds this useful as well.
This is where I picked up these tidbits. I can’t vouch for the sources (or the stories they write) because I’m not familiar them, but I think what they had to say makes a lot of sense: