I’ve got a word to watch for that I’m sure some will be surprised about. WHEN. I’ve seen a few writers’ blogs talk about this, and once I started to look at my manuscript, I could kinda see it.
The problem with WHEN is, sometimes it turns a sentence into a telling sentence. Take this example from The Proper Way to Say Goodbye.
-I took a step backwards when a redhead with pale skin swooped up to me.
The action is backwards. The redhead swoops before Chloe steps back. And maybe in past tense it’s not as big of deal as in present, because in past, the story has already happened, and the narrator knows the outcome and is retelling it. Whereas present is happening right now.
But the other part is that using it as I did above sort of pulls you away from the action. Detaches you from the narrator. Chloe is telling me what happened. She’s not showing me. And it puts a distance between her and the reader.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter, but when it’s a scene where you really want the reader to connect with your character, you want them to feel what’s going on, and not just listen to a character narrating.
Back to my example. Here is my fix:
-A redhead with pale skin swooped up to me, and I stepped backwards.
Just a reversal of order. But I changed this one because, although you don’t see the context, Chloe is taking a big step, doing something she’s totally nervous about. Something she keeps questioning whether or not to do. So I want the reader right there, feeling her uncertainty, her anxiety.
You don’t have to go and delete all your WHENs. Some are fine. But when you want the reader to feel that connection with the character, make it more active by not using WHEN.
Here are a few more I changed.
-I shook my head when Gracie nudged me to talk.
-My heart did a jumpstart when Sasha scooted her chair closer to mine
-A little ping of jealousy zipped through me when she leaned toward him and laughed.
I want you to experience the emotion she’s feeling, and that’s why I changed these ones.
So what do you think? Can you see how WHEN can be a telling word?
If my explanation doesn’t make sense, see Janice Hardy’s site for her explanation, which is much better than mine.