I came, I saw, I edited

One of first things that I think most writers should learn is how to keep the audience (the reader) close to their characters. Of course, this depends on whether you are writing in first person or third and whether or not you purposely want to distance your reader for whatever reasons. Typically, however, the goal is to draw your reader into your world and have them connect with your characters (especially the main protaganist).

One thing you can do to help keep the reader in the moment is avoid describing scenes with sense words: saw/see, hear/heard, smell/smelled, and feel/felt. Instead, describe character experiences simply as they are occuring. Readers already know that events are happening to a certain character, so there is no need for these words a lot of the time. Not ALL the time, but I find that in most cases, rewording to avoid these words strengthens a scene.

Example:

In the distance, he heard a wolf howling, long and sorrowful, filling the still night air.

Instead, try:

In the distance, a wolf howled, long and sorrowful, filling the still night air.

or

A wolf howled in the distance, long and sorrowful, filling the still night air.

or, even this could work:

A long, sorrowful howl filled the still night air.

There is not much difference here, but it avoids pulling the reader away from the scene by putting the unnecessary “heard”. Other examples:

She felt the snow seeping through her gloves, chilling her to the core.

Instead try:

The snow seeped through her gloves, chilling her to the core.

Notice how all that is needed is to cut the s/he (or they) heard, felt, or saw and simply change the other words to make sense. For the above sentence, you could also try:

The snow seeping through her gloves chilled her to the core.

One more example:

Instead of:

He smelled the flowers that she left in her bedroom and it made him feel lonely.

Try:

The scent of the flowers left in her bedroom drifted into the living room, a cruel reminder of her absence.

Notice that I managed to cut both “he smelled” and “feel”. Cutting feel/felt is a little bit tricker, and goes hand in hand with the old saying of “show don’t tell”. Here I don’t outright tell the audience my character is lonely, but show it. Changing the wording here (in my opinion) strengthened the emotion he was feeling. Keep in mind that in a lot of situations, it is just fine to tell emotions and putting too much explaination can also be something to avoid.

For first person writers, the same concept applies. For example:

I saw him standing alone, slouching against the doorframe, staring out the window at nothing.

Instead try:

He stood alone, slouching against the doorframe, staring out the window at nothing.

This is still first person, even though there is no “I”.

Another example. Instead of:

I heard the deafening screech of the alarms going off throughout the building as I sprinted down the hallway.

Try:

The deafening screech of the alarms going off throughout the building filled my ears as I sprinted down the hallway.

This is where things get a bit tricky, because you might be asking yourself if there truly is a difference between the two sentences above. In my opinion, there is. Some may argue that “filled my ears” is simply a wordy version of “heard”, but I would rather have that then be pulled away from the story by the “I heard”. Keep in mind, this is only my opinion. If this doesn’t work for you, that’s okay. Find what does work and…

Keep writing!

Allison M

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