Common Writing Pitfalls #4 Power It Up: Part Two
Once you’ve mastered grammar, mechanics, point of view, and dialogue, it’s time to add power. Power adds emotion, dimension, and layering to your story.
This is part two of this post. Read Part One Here.
3. Watch out for filter words.
Picture an open window. Everything outside looks clear—like you could reach out and touch it. Now put a dark screen in the window. You’ve lost your clarity and you have to go through the screen to interact with the outside.
Filter words take the punch out of your emotions and actions. They pull the reader out of the story, even if just a little bit. You want a book the reader can’t put down. So take out the screen.
Felt, saw, heard, watched, noticed, and seemed are some examples of filter words.
How do you get rid of them? Just tell us what your character felt, saw heard, etc. without using the words.
Example: I watched her glide across the room versus She glided across the room.
The word watched puts a filter between the reader and the character and you don’t need it.
Exception: If one of these words is intrinsic to the emotion or idea you are trying to convey, keep it. If my character needs to notice something and I want it to stand out to my reader, I will use the word notice. But I don’t use it all the time.
Stimulus must come before response.
Example: Jenna jumped back. The baseball zipped past her face.
My character wouldn’t jump back before the ball flew past her face.
You have to hear the words to describe them.
Example: With great sarcasm, he asked, “Why are you here?”
How did we know there was going to be sarcasm? He didn’t speak yet.
Example: “Why are you here?” His heavy tone was a mix of sarcasm and disbelief.
Now we have the words, then the description.
Simultaneity can be confusing and causes the reader to wonder which event happened first.
Words like as, when, and while are simultaneous.
Example: I winced when he slammed the door in my face.
(stimulus) He slammed the door in my face.
(response) I winced.
Don’t stop action with backstory.
Keep the action going and fill in information as you go. No long information dumps. You can get this need to know info in by sprinkling it through internal thought and conversation as the story progresses.
Example: The noise outside deafening, Jimmy lunged behind the couch, peeking just around the edge.
The door burst open and the long barrel of a sawed-off shotgun entered the room first.
It was times like these that reminded Jimmy of the summer camp he attended in high school. Survival training, they called it. Learn to live in the wild. Learn to shoot a rifle. Learn to camouflage. Wow, he was so glad he’d taken the time to go on that trip.
My comment: Did we really want to take a time out of that tense moment to remember summer camp? I think not.
Try This: The noise outside deafening, Jimmy lunged behind the couch, peeking just around the edge.
The door burst open and the long barrel of a sawed-off shotgun entered first.
What did he do? That summer camp hadn’t prepared him for this. He pulled back tighter against the floral pattern and panted. Options. Options. Options. Camo—that was it. If he disappeared into the room, they couldn’t find him.
My comment: Now Jimmy’s bringing the backstory into this present moment in short bursts.
What are your biggest Power Up challenges?
The Entire Writing Pit Falls Series
For your editing pleasure–Writing Tips Page