Not So Suddenly

how to suddenly startle your readers

I suddenly have the urge to share this writing tip with you.

My stories used to be filled with “suddenly.” A writing friend pointed out that if I want to impact my readers with the abruptness of a situation, that suddenly is a cheap hook that actually robs that affect.

In other words, adding suddenly will ‘un-sudden’ it.

Does the suddenly add anything to the example below? Read it with and without:

She crept down the dim corridor, her back to the wall, one hand on her dagger hilt. She neared the corner and hesitated, listening. Suddenly a man jumped out. She stumbled back with a cry, fumbling for her knife.

She crept down the dim corridor, her back to the wall, one hand on her dagger hilt. She neared the corner and hesitated, listening. A man jumped out. She stumbled back with a cry, fumbling for her knife.

See how unimportant that suddenly is? And more, how it detracts from the abruptness the reader feels when the man jumps out?

Many times suddenly is used in telling. It’s also used in wordy sentences as a lame attempt to startle the reader – which doesn’t work, by the way. A much better way to achieve the tension and shock you want to give your readers is to use short sentences that get to the point.

She suddenly became aware that someone was approaching. With a tiny gasp she ducked into the foliage.

Someone approached. With a tiny gasp she ducked into the foliage.

If you avoid using suddenly in places where it’s not really needed, then those rare times you do use it, it will have more impact.

Oh, and no fair using synonyms like abruptly either – that’s cheating and creates the same non-sudden effect.

originally published in The Sword Review 2005-07-26

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