April 3, 2015

Authors: Let’s not accessorize our nouns and objects. Okay?

By Michael Hicks Thompson

Do people talk like they read? I don’t think so. An interesting thing about us humans: when we talk, we tend to embellish our stories with adverbs … just to add more excitement.

Well, maybe you don’t, but the good storytellers do it! We all remember Mark Twain’s, “Why let facts get in the way of a good story.” While he was referring to the written word, I’d like to use it in context of verbal storytelling, if you don’t mind.  

Let’s say you’re an introvert, and don’t like to tell stories, but you like to write them. The premise is still true for you.

Yes, there’s a premise here: We don’t read like we talk.

And that premise leads to a principle: Don’t write like people talk, unless you’re writing dialogue. That’s where it counts to write like people talk.Here’s an example:

I was editing my sixth novel, when I came upon this sentence:

Still, that note in Andrew Dawkins’s clinched hand led to an investigation nobody ever expected.

I was reading aloud from the entire ms, to determine if the sound of each word matched my intent. I came to that sentence and, after vocalizing it, felt that I’d added an unnecessary word—the adverb, ever.

I had embellished a noun many readers would have taken offense at because of my unsubstantial opinion that nobody could have ever expected it. You see, the embellishment was merely my opinion. I dropped the adverb, and this is the result:

Still, that note in Andrew Dawkins’s clinched hand led to an investigation nobody expected.

Ahh, the difference is subtle, no? Only one word removed. But when I read the version with the adverb in it, I encountered an icky feeling in my gut that I (the author) can’t be trusted. “How could I know everything? How could I be certain that nobody ever expected it?”

Subconsciously, many readers will have the same reaction: Not sure I’d trust this author, they’ll think.

Here’s another example:

She was in deep denial.

The sentence actually comes from the same manuscript. After reading it aloud, I decided to drop the word, deep. It’s only important that my reader know she was in denial. My reader will not believe that I knew she was in deep denial. See the trust factor?

A reader who thinks, I can’t trust this author is likely also thinking, I’ll be closing this book. These are death words to an author.

Nobody likes death. So, let’s keep our readers away from embellishments. They need to trust us.

Ahh, but wait! Just as in life, there’s a season and a reason for everything, right? Here’s a noun in need of help:

I don’t ever want to interview her again, I thoughtslipping into my car.

But this adverb, ever, is factual, not an opinion. The narrator of this story feels very strongly about not wanting to interview this woman again. That’s a fact, in the narrator’s mind. When it’s factual, it’s really not embellishment at all, is it? The sentence, without the adverb, would fall flat on its face, would it not?

Moral of this story? If readers don’t trust you, the author, they’ll drop you faster than a verb.
Michael Hicks Thompson was a successful ad agency owner and he and his company won numerous national and international awards. After selling his firm in 2011, Michael began writing, but what started out as a hobby, turned into a full fledge author, writing two graphic novels on the life of David from the Old Testament–DAVID–The Illustrated NovelVolume 2-won first place Best Graphic Novel and Best Interior Design2012, from USA Book’s INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARDS. Volume 1 won 2nd Best Graphic Novel of 2011 from the Independent Publisher Book Awards. His next project was a sci-fi thriller (JALA) that was serialized in a monthly magazine for an entire year. His novel The Parchman Preacher is available and he has finished the next book, The Parchman Redeemer, and is waiting to be published. Michael writes Christian novels that entertain, intrigue, and shine a light on his Jesus. He’s a member of the ACFW, Mystery Writers of America, The International Crime Writers Association, and the Southern Writers Association. Visit his website,  to learn more about Michael.

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