Nothing can dissipate your reader’s interest like not getting to the point. You have your reader’s attention, and the surest way to lose it is not to tell what he/she is expecting to hear—or to delay in doing so. Such writing lacks confidence and will not keep the reader interested.
While this pertains on a macro level to the concepts you wish to communicate, it also pertains to word choice, particularly when writing a narrative.
One struggle many writers have is in describing a sequence of simultaneous actions or actions that interrupt each other. In their writing you will see the frequent use of “starting to” and “beginning to,” as in: “I was starting to bake the lasagna when the phone began to ring.” What they do not realize is that as soon as an action has started, it is already happening. Instead they should try writing their sentence without it, with something like: “I was setting the lasagna in the oven when the phone rang.” If their character is not going to run off to answer the phone right away, then they could write, “I was setting the lasagna in the oven when the phone started ringing.” However that would then not be a case of the phone interrupting the action, but of it heightening the tension.Tell Me Suddenly, Not “Suddenly”
By avoiding the use of “starting to” and “beginning to,” you automatically enhance the immediateness—or tension—of the writing. In the best writing, tension is built and relieved through word choice and sentence structure. The tenser the writing is, the more engaging it is to read, but also the more taxing it is on the reader’s emotions and energy. Skilled writers understand, therefore, the need to both build and relieve tension to keep their readers energized.
However, many writers struggle in creating tension through word choice and sentence structure. They have simply not developed this skill. To compensate, they will insert the word “suddenly” in their writing, but what they do not realize is that this often serves only to produce the opposite effect, especially when used multiple times. Instead, the word “suddenly” should be used judiciously, only when it can have an enhancing effect on the writing.
Take again the lasagna example I used earlier. See first these two options. Which do you like better?
Original: “I was setting the lasagna in the oven when the phone rang.”
Modified: “I was setting the lasagna in the oven when the phone suddenly rang.”
Here, adding “suddenly” enhances the writing. Depending on the purpose of the sentence, the modified version could be better.
Now let us try another version.
Original: “I was setting the lasagna in the oven when the phone started ringing.”
Modified: “I was setting the lasagna in the oven when the phone started ringing suddenly.”
Here, adding “suddenly” drags the phrase out past its effectiveness and diverts the attention from “ringing.”I Am “Suddenly” Worried! Where Do I “Start”?
The first place to “start” is to relax. The issues I have raised here are fairly common, and as you can see in the examples I have provided, often a slight adjustment is all it takes to have a significant impact on the writing. They are also issues that experienced editors like the ones we have at DLA Editors & Proofers can help you address. With the professional editing services we provide, we can identify simple improvements you can make—and learn from—to help all your future writing not only capture but also keep your reader’s attention.