Write Better Books: “Start” and “Suddenly”

your humble host

One of these days I’m gonna write a book series called Write Better Books in which I tackle all the rookie mistakes new writers make – and hey, I made them, too, which is why I’m helping you not make them.

Until the book series comes out, you’ll see my latest frustrations expressed here in the blog.


What’s my beef with that word? Seems okay.

Well, I’ll tell ya.

Don’t use it.

As in, don’t start.

We don’t start to do things, we do them.

Whatever the steps are in the “start” phase, that’s the things your characters are doing. Say those things.

  • You don’t start to wash a car (telling) you gather a sponge and a bucket (showing).

  • You don’t start to run, you lace up your running shoes and eye the path with swelling excitement.

  • It doesn’t start to rain, the opening salvo of the storm announced itself with tiny, cool droplets.

Okay, that last one’s a little over the top, but you get the idea. Think about the steps involved in what’s about to happen, or what actually is happening, and say that.


Oh, and while we’re at it, no suddenly’s.

Don’t write that something happened suddenly.


Instead, write in such a way so the reader is surprised – which makes it sudden to the reader. That’s what you want anyway.

I did not see that coming. Neither did she, apparently.

WRITE like the goat.

Let the READER be the young lady.

I think that’s my new mantra. Write like the goat. Yeah. I like it.

Wild Bill smiled, raking the chips across the green felt table. “Gosh, Mike, I’m not sure I wanna play poker anymore—now that I have all your money.”

Suddenly Mike stood and punched Bill, sending him reeling. Chips flew everywhere.


Wild Bill chuckled, raking the chips across the green felt table. “Gosh, Mike, now that I have all your money, I’m not sure I wanna play poker with you any—”

Mike leaped from his chair and swung hard at Bill, landing a punch squarely on Bill’s chin and snapping his head around. Poker chips flew everywhere as the old man sailed backwards and crashed onto the floor.

You can argue that the second one isn’t really surprising, but you already knew what was coming because you read the first one. Either way, it’s more sudden and quick and unexpected to the reader than the first one.

You can do this stuff.

And the less your reader expects it, the more surprised they’ll be – and the more sudden your scene will read. So set it up that way. Let readers think one thing and do the other without warning. Don’t announce it with “suddenly.”

16 thoughts on “Write Better Books: “Start” and “Suddenly”

  1. It isn’t now, but a while back the first line of my WIP was ‘It started on Sunday’ … well it did … but not suddenly … relieved to find in over 200k words across a few stories I’ve never used that one … unless it crept into the anthology … scary!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Good lessons, Dan! I think we learn these little nickpickers when we first begin to write, then kind of get lazy about recognizing them as undesirables as time goes by. This is a great refresher ! I still grapple with conversational “tags”, but have disciplined myself to cut down on them, and yet have to periodically remind myself that I was told that many years ago. Then, of course, there are the “l-y” adverbs, something I actually came to admire in the books of Dick Francis, simply because he does it so grippingly! 🙂 But all these little nickpickers add up to very improved prose when they are lacking, so to speak !

    Liked by 1 person

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