Friday, January 16, 2009

Revision Strategy - Choose the Right Words - Eliminate Feeling Words

A nice little tidbit that I picked up the other day. I've always know this, seen it in my own writing, but never actually put it down as a strategy point before. So today we're going to rectify that.

Here's our new point to consider in our revision strategy.

Eliminate Feeling Words.

Now what does that mean? Quite simply, eliminate the words that we use to describe our senses, but not the words that describe the sensory experience. This process will tighten your writing, force you to choose better verbs, tighter sentences, better descriptors.

So what's an example? How about this?

He felt the cold barrel of the gun pressed against his temple.

Now remove the "sense" word, and it becomes. The cold barrel of the gun pressed against his temple.

Which one do you feel is tighter? Which one conveys more drama? Which one seems more sensory?

I'm back adding a paragraph here, based on the excellent comments this post has received, but the points brought up are too important to leave to a chance finding in the comment section.

By using the "feeling word," as a writer, you are distancing the reader from the character's POV by telling them what the character is feeling, rather than putting them inside the character's body and letting them feel it themselves. Saying, "he felt the . . . " takes away from the immediacy of the moment, creating a pause that pulls the reader back.

In other words, don't tell the reader what the character felt, describe the sensation. Again, the "cold barrel of the gun pressed against his temple," is much more immediate, sensory evocative, and threatening. It is what's happening.

Of course, there's always exceptions, and there are plenty of times when I may really want the "he felt," in the sentence, but I'm trying to really look at my sentences, my length, my tightness, and this can be a simple, powerful and effective tool.

What are your thoughts?


Nixy Valentine said...

I definitely use this technique when editing... remove words like felt, believed, thought, etc when they don't add to the sentence.

Very good tip!

Todd D. Severin said...

Thanks, Nixy.

Like you said, there are times that the words can add to the sentence, so it can't be a vast sweeping statement, but often times the words are unnecessary and can distract from the momentum.

Nice blog by the way, I'll stop by often.

The Writing Muse said...

This tip is great...sometimes excess feeling words are too heavy and slow down the progression of the story. Thanks for reminding me!

Todd D. Severin said...

You're welcome, Muse. I try to stay conscious at all times of keeping my sentences moving forward.

And I love your blog. I added it to my resource list.


Venessa G. said...

This is definitely a fantastic tip! The "felt" words actually end up pulling your reader out of the POV character's head. By necessity, using a "felt" word means that the reader is on the outside, because the character's experience is being described, rather than conveyed directly.

Great self-editing :)


Todd D. Severin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd D. Severin said...

Beautifully put, Venessa, and better said than I did. You're right. Adding the feeling words takes away from the immediacy of the moment, distancing the reader from the character because you are telling the reader what they are feeling. Not describing it.

Thanks for that great comment.

I've added your blog to my blogroll. Great resource.