Overusing "suddenly"

msstice

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I annoyed myself by using the word "suddenly" everywhere. I then disciplined myself and stopped using the word. It has been hard and I feel that I do want to convey suddenness fairly often. How do you folks do it?
 

AnyaKimlin

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I annoyed myself by using the word "suddenly" everywhere. I then disciplined myself and stopped using the word. It has been hard and I feel that I do want to convey suddenness fairly often. How do you folks do it?
It's where show don't tell comes in.

I deliberately go back through the work and show that things happen suddenly. These are rough and a bit first draft but they're how I go about suddenly:

“But what if I kill her?” Kit shouted. For the first time she expressed her biggest fear. She ate the last of Dizzy’s pie and wiped her hands on her school uniform skirt. The fear of what she might have done this morning consumed her as she put her fiddle to her chin.
Laurel and Hardy dressed in brightly coloured legwarmers and jangly bangles, appeared in front of her and her heart jumped.
“She said she was going to kill me. Did you hear her?” said the fat one.
“Yeah, I did. How scary is that?” said the thin one.
The man listened, tapped his foot and for a moment Kit thought he was going to let the music take him. His expression was like the one her mum wore when Kit played. He shook himself, stopped his foot tapping and stared at Kit. He tipped his hat and walked away.
A knock pulled Kit back into her bedroom.
She checked her alarm clock and sighed. She hid the book under the pillow and went to open the window. Stale smoke, sea air and a faint whiff of bad drains hung in the frosty air.
 

Steve Harrison

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I use 'suddenly' when I think it's either the most appropriate word or if suits the pacing/flow. I agree it can be overused - like any other word - but I also think it's one of those handy invisible words, like 'said,' which can guide a reader subconsciously through a scene.

All words are useful :giggle:
 

Astro Pen

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If Roger bursts in through the door the suddenness is already there, he doesn't need to suddenly burst through the door.
You don't need a suddenly if the event cannot be done any other way. "There was a gunshot and the glass in the window suddenly shattered, the raw sounds of the night entering the room on the bullets coat tails"

Filtering that kind of usage out might help ( if you are guilty of it. :) )
 

The Big Peat

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I do it every time I need to in the first draft, then go back and strip them out where it makes sense/I can on the second. You do need them sometimes though. There really is no other word that tells the reader that the action has just accelerated, and not many others that indicate the character's complete lack of expectation either.

For those of us with ebooks, I recommend searching for "sudden" or "suddenly" through the texts of your favourite books - how many hits, where, why. I think last I did that, around 20 suddens (including most of the suddenlys) in a book seemed legit.
 

HareBrain

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I agree it can be overused - like any other word - but I also think it's one of those handy invisible words
You do need them sometimes though.
Agree with these. I used to tie myself in knots getting rid of all occurrences of "suddenly" and trying other ways to get across the suddenness. Sometimes simplest is best.

But sometimes you don't need to guide the reader like that. Like Astro Pen said, If you describe things happening, the sudden ones will often come across as sudden enough without you having to signpost them.
 

AlexH

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I cut most (probably all) uses of words like "suddenly" and "immediately" when describing action. I feel like those words slow the pace down and stop those things from seeming as if they happen suddenly. Like Astro Pen's examples, I think sometimes it just needs the right verb to show something happens suddenly.

I think "suddenly" can add to the impact when describing some things retrospectively. My example is probably rubbish, though maybe something like: "My cat died a month ago today. Suddenly, a sense of loss hit me." I think that conveys the sense of loss is happening there and then? Whereas if it said "My cat died a month ago today. A sense of loss hit me." That seems to be describing that the sense of loss happened a month ago. The context of the sentences would probably help too.

I searched through the last two years of Flash Fiction Online (around 100,000 words, I estimate) for the above words, and they appear a total of 3 times between them, and not in action scenes. I think I'd cut all three instances if it was my writing, although in this example, the narrator is conveying something someone else said: "Then the owner told me quietly, eyes wide with wonder, that she had suddenly remembered to check the pockets of an old pair jeans before she donated them and found a ring she thought she had lost." (from http://flashfictiononline.com/main/article/ghost-collecting/, the most recent issue).
 

Luiglin

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My first drafts are full of 'ly' and 'was'. I've found that they are easier to use when you are trying to get the tale out of your head. Once that is done, editing allows to to work the tale and make the words work. Often what you use to replace them with is obvious when you see the sections as a whole.
 

tinkerdan

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I too find the word suddenly to be a bit forced often--meaning that for some reason the urgency is just not evident in the writing or the image and there is a sudden urge to use the word suddenly to make the point.

Sometimes when examining them I look at it with three examples..

He walked into the room and suddenly everything went dark.

He walked into the room and everything went dark.

He walked into the room and slowly everything went dark.

Which would lose the most by removing the extra adverb--the sentence with suddenly or the one with slowly.
It could be that both lose something and need to be used.
However here I think that the last sentence(slowly)might lose something of the intent while the first could maintain its meaning easily; meaning that its more likely that the reader will picture it a sudden darkness rather than slow darkness when I write everything went dark.

However if I lacked faith in the reader I'd have to put the adverb in to make sure he got my meaning.
 

Capricorn42

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Maybe 'suddenly' works ok in a conversational way:

"It happened quite suddenly on a warm afternoon in June..."

Definitely doesn't work for me as a way of describing or accentuating action and shock, etc. As said above, it's much weaker than a strong verb. Also, phrasing the action sequence in a way that doesn't need explicit description might be better anyway. It's too easy to get into that plodding 'and then this happened' style.
 

Khaldun

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I consciously don't use suddenly. It always precedes "something interesting," and that interesting thing is always served by better writing, in my opinion.
 

BT Jones

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I am probably guilty of overusing 'suddenly' myself. I technique I sometimes use instead (which I'm not sure is particularly professional) is:

Don ran into the room, gun trained. Brow sweating, heart thumping, he aimed... and everything went black.

My theory is to try and have quick, punchy sentences in the lead up to the 'suddenly' point, and then inject a sort of breathless pause. I guess it is for readers to tell me whether it works or not.

Another option could be, 'without warning, everything went black'.

The key is in the read back. Once you've finished a chapter or section, read it back (something I only taught myself to do about 6 months ago) for errors and flow. If 'suddenly' doesn't throw you out of the moment, leave it in. If it does, just take it out.
 

msstice

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Reading all your replies I'm reminded of a P. G. Woodehouse passage that has stuck in my mind over three decades.


He could not analyse the sound, but the fact that there was any sound at all in such a place at such an hour increased his suspicions that dark doings were toward which would pay for investigation. With stealthy steps he crept to the head of the stairs and descended.

One uses the verb “descend” advisedly, for what is required is some word suggesting instantaneous activity. About Baxter’s progress from the second floor to the first there was nothing halting or hesitating. He, so to speak, did it now. Planting his foot firmly on a golf-ball which the Hon. Freddie Threepwood, who had been practising putting in the corridor before retiring to bed, had left in his casual fashion just where the steps began, he took the entire staircase in one majestic, volplaning sweep. There were eleven stairs in all separating his landing from the landing below, and the only ones he hit were the third and tenth. He came to rest with a squattering thud on the lower landing, and for a moment or two the fever of the chase left him.
And that, friends, is how one evokes suddenness.

I am still laughing as I type this.
 
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