Characters try to do a lot of things in stories. They try to get up, they try to hide, they try to hold back tears. Sometimes the act of trying is valid, but a lot of times, what the writer really means is that they do something, not try to do something.
That doesn't mean every instance of tried needs to be cut from your manuscript, but it is worth taking a peek to make sure your character really is trying, and not doing.
He tried to stand, grabbing the chair and dragging himself upright.Tried to here suggests failure. An attempt was made but it was unsuccessful. But at the end of this sentence, the guy is standing. He didn't try, he did.
He tried to sneak into the girls' locker room.Do you get the sense he actually did or that he was caught? You can almost hear the "but he got caught" at the end of it. The tried to implies that he failed.
She tried to smile.This one's tricky because you really don't know if she's standing there with a weird look on her face or if she isn't smiling at all. What does the tried to mean here? It's ambiguous because we only know the intent, not the actual outcome of this action.
I tried not to squirm, tried not to think about the soldier's hands.Tried can also be used to indicate a personal struggle for your characters. In some cases it works fine, but in others it's accomplishing the opposite of what you might want. In this example, is she squirming or not? You can't tell. It's clear she is thinking about the soldier's hands since she mentioned them, so tried (and thus failing not to think) works here. But for that first tried? It could go either way. She could be squirming, or standing still, or trying to stand still but twitching a little.
- Is the person doing what they're trying to do or not?
- Are you intending to show the struggle, the failure, or the success?
- Are you showing an action or a motivation?
- What is your character actually doing?
It was good advice for Luke Skywalker, and it's good advice for writers.
How do you feel about tried? Are you using it to show a struggle or failure, or as a setup to the actual action?