Thursday, 15 November 2012

Suddenly...


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:

http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2012/06/04/write-tips-editorial-pet-peeves-all-of-a-suddensuddenly/

15 comments:

  1. I feel like most adverbs can usually go. My first drafts are always riddled with them!

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    1. My first drafts are too. I've been highlighting them during revisions and it's funny to see how many I used. Not so funny when I'm trying to trim them all out though!

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  2. I used suddenly a few too many times in my WIP. I combed through it and removed a number of them, but I'm not sure I'm going to remove the others. It's definitely something to think about, though. :)

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    1. I won't be removing all of them either. I think suddenly sticks out more when it precedes something that's supposed to be shocking, otherwise it's fine, unless you're overusing it and other "ly" adverbs" which I'm guilty of.

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  3. Editing is such a beast. I learn new "never use" words every day! But it's fun to see an edited draft come to life because filler words have been eliminated. I try not to use suddenly but now I have the reasoning behind it.

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    1. I tend to use suddenly with the intention of removing it later. Someone else pointed out that it's actually a useful writing prompt, but then it's good to get rid of it. It always felt kind of clunky and contrived to me, but I never really thought about why until I came across some of these suggestions. And you're right, editing is a beast!

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  4. This is just a test comment to see if CAPTCHA is gone. :)

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  5. Good point about "suddenly" in 1st Person Present Tense narrative. I probably overuse "suddenly," though I try not to. It is an easy word to overuse. Most of the time it's a lazy option--a way of saying "I can't be bothered to think how I might write this in a more engaging way that makes you feel the suddenness of the event without me having to tell you it happened suddenly..."

    Thanks for the reminder, Erin! :)

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    1. Exactly. A good surprise might take a little set up before hitting the reader between the eyes with it. I've tried to work a lot of surprises into my WIP and I think I need to go back and make sure they actually are surprising, whether or not I used "suddenly."

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  6. Have you used Worlde before? (http://www.wordle.net/) It's an online tool to create a word cloud from your writing. It'll pull the top one hundred or so words from your work, then change the size of the words to show what's used most often. It's GREAT from tracking down those pesky overused words (my big crutch is 'just'. I use it everywhere).

    Good point on suddenly -- I never thought of it as a spoiler alert before, but now that you mention it...

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    1. I haven't used Wordle before, although I'm pretty sure Jaime once showed it to me. This would be really useful to me for the stage I'm at in revisions. Thanks so much for the tip!

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  7. That's a good one! I never actually thought of that before. But it's true. it isn't really so suddenly anymore when you add that word.

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    1. Yep, it's a big warning to anyone reading your story and it's much more fun to shock readers instead!

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  8. Brilliant. I totally try to ex out suddenly whenever I can. And I never thought about the turning your MC into a psychic thing! LOL--that's too true! And I'm intrigued by the links. Off to check them out! Thanks, Erin!

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