Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Three Words That Are Killing Your Manuscript

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

There are no bad words in writing, but there are some that like to hang around with unsavory prose and encourage us to be lazy writers. They want us to take shortcuts, expect our readers to know what we meant to say, and whisper in our ears that the rest of our writing isn’t good enough to get our ideas across.

It’s not their fault, they just want to be helpful, but they don’t realize that good writing comes from strong words, not shortcuts and half measures. They have no idea they're killing your manuscript and mucking up your story. Sometimes they step up and do their job, but more often than not, revising to eliminate them from your manuscript is best for everyone.


Suddenly thinks it’s helping you create tension and shock, but it’s telegraphing the surprise and ruining the moment. As soon as readers see it, they know to brace themselves and hold on, so whatever happens next isn’t as impactful as you’d hoped. Suddenly also enjoys melodrama, so your emotional and unexpected moment ends up feeling like an old black and white movie serial from the 30s.

Suddenly likes backup, so it frequently brings its pal when along to get readers attention and make them look. Together, they make a mess and turn good prose into told prose.
Bob was sneaking along the edge of the building, when suddenly, three zombies charged out of the bushes.
It’s a good try, but no reader is going to be surprised by that. There’s no tension, no buildup, and nothing to make them gasp in shock.

(Here’s more on telegraphing the plot)


Because likes to explain the joke before readers have a chance to laugh. It thinks it knows everything and wants to share that knowledge, but it’s not malicious. Just a little needy.

Because has a good heart, and it wants your readers to fully understand what’s going on and why it’s happening. But it doesn’t realize that readers don’t want every situation explained to them. They want the mystery of why the best friend is acting squirrelly, they want to figure out why everyone is wearing gloves, they want to realize three chapters later that a seemingly innocent mistake was a clever ploy to mislead the protagonist.
Jane paused outside the room, because Bob was in there alone and she wasn’t sure she wanted to talk to him right now.
It’s more fun to let Jane pause, act oddly and walk away, so readers can wonder why she doesn’t want to be alone with Bob.

(Here’s more on the problem with explaining too much in your novel)


Knew is a busybody. It likes to give away all your character’s secrets and share every little thought that goes through their heads to the world. It doesn’t let your characters hide behind ambiguity, it butts in and tells readers exactly what they know and leaves nothing for readers to wonder about.

Knew often prods because into trouble, revealing what a character knows just so because will jump in and say “I know how!” Knew has a bit of an attitude problem and likes to get other words into trouble.
Sally knew what was going on between Bob and Jane, it was so obvious.
Sally knew what was going on between Bob and Jane, because Bob acted like a kid with a crush whenever he saw her.
(Here’s more on spotting motivational tells in your writing)

All three of these words think they’re helping you write a great story, so it’s okay if you want to be nice and let them hang around during the first draft. But when it’s time to get serious and revise that draft, politely tell them it’s time to go home.

How often does suddenly, because, or knew try to muck up your manuscript?

Find out more about show, don't tell in my book, Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).

With in-depth analysis, Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It) teaches you how to spot told prose in your writing, and discover why common advice on how to fix it doesn't always work. It also explores aspects of writing that aren’t technically telling, but are connected to told prose and can make prose feel told, such as infodumps, description, and backstory.

This book will help you:
  • Understand when to tell and when to show
  • Spot common red flag words often found in told prose
  • Learn why one single rule doesn't apply to all books
  • Determine how much telling is acceptable in your writing
  • Fix stale or flat prose holding your writing back
Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It) is more than just advice on what to do and what not to do—it’s a down and dirty examination and analysis of how show, don’t tell works, so you can adapt the “rules” to whatever style or genre you’re writing. By the end of this book, you’ll have a solid understanding of show, don’t tell and the ability to use it without fear or frustration.

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. I also purge 'only' and 'felt' as much as I can.

  2. "Realize" is one I struggle to eliminate, along with "felt" and "even" and "now." Some of these simply show up more often than I'd like.

    1. I could do posts on all of those :)(And probably will at some point!) Even is one I also have to edit out of my work.

  3. Using these words contributes to telling instead of showing!

  4. Great post. Suddenly isn't a problem for me. It was a dopey movie with Frank Sinatra. Because is a minor problem, but I catch most of them. On the other hand KNEW infects my work. Getting rid of it will now be part of my rewrite process.

    1. I keep a list of "words to double check." I search for each one after the first draft is done and edit them out where needed. Might be helpful for you, too if you haven't done that yet :)

    2. A good idea. I'll add them to a post-it note and stick it somewhere obvious. (Incidentally, 'obvious' is another one. If it's obvious, it does need explaining.)
      And what about 'seemed'? That's a bit of a vague word that dilutes the narrative.

    3. Seemed I like, because it's a judgement word and that works with POV. Same with obvious. But only when they're used to show the POV character assumes those things, and aren't sure if they're right about it. Otherwise, yes, like you said, they can be vague and obvious.

      I did a post on this, too :)

  5. Suddenly, I knew the answer because Janice told me. :) Sorry, I couldn't help myself. It's hot and my brain is melting.

    1. Hehe, no worries, I love corny humor. Just look at my Facebook page!

  6. Excellent! Perfect timing for my wip.

  7. I love your approach to this article. Those little words with their own "life". But, hard to tell them to go away when you've made them such gosh darn cute little buggers. :)

    Also loved the article. Thanks!

    1. Hehe, thanks! I guess I was in a silly mood when I write this :)

  8. I will lookout for them. Thanks Janice.

  9. Hey Janice. New here, but I see your articles come up all the time under writing on flip book on my iPad, so I just signed up. What really sold me on getting a couple of your book was the first chapter of the conflict book. Wow. What a revelation for me! Anyway, thanks for all the article you have on your site and thanks for the great job you’re doing helping me improve my technique,