Bridge to Story

When Your Words Don't Make the Best Impression

In the beginning your work may seem stiff and muddled when you’re reading it over. You may know what you wanted to say, but as soon as your words get onto the page, it’s like hearing someone speak with a tongue depressor in their mouth.

What happened to all the writer-ly stuff you heard in your head?

Your thoughts are clear there, everything sounded so good. You saw it all so clearly. Why did putting them down turn all those thoughts stiff? Only a faint image of that picture comes across, the rest seems lost. Your phrases might be stiff, or a slow read. The words that seemed so witty in your mind now look so witless on the page.

Take a look at the example lines I have in this lesson. Think about the way these sentences try to get a point across, but the writing either contradicts or is just too heavy in what words they use.

Example Toggle


See if you notice yourself doing this type of writing in your own work.

  • I turned and slowly hushed him with my eyes.
  • A leaf flew like a feather, landing on the dog’s flattened mane.
  • I frostily looked at and then through this personage who had been so excitable.
  • I recognized Zoe’s indecipherable shouts for help.
  • She always bought cosmetics, and all over her was covered with it.
Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle

Lesson Exercise 1:

Using the wrong type of tags for written dialogue.

I turned and slowly hushed him with my eyes

I can see that what this writer wanted to do was say that the second person was hushed, and that was accomplished with a look from the narrator. But, did that come across in the line?

The problem here is when you are hushing someone

    a) you rarely do that 'slowly'. Think about it.


    b) you have to hush someone with your mouth - as - in saying "'Hush."

“Hush” is a word you can say while making a motion to hush someone, as in

"Hush," I said, motioning with my hands.

But, it is rarely a thing you do with your eyes. Now you can look at someone and have that look cause someone to react and then hush themselves. But eyes rarely hush someone, as opposed to the way they can glare, or stare, or pierce.

Voices say things in these ways: shout, ramble, laugh, sigh. A voice can do these physical things.

Spoken words themselves cannot do non-vocal or non-thought things, like: grin, sneer. The voice can’t do other physical things that eyes, noses, hands and smiles do. Don't confuse the physical things that the face and body do with the vocal things a word coming from your character’s mouth can do.

How about the other examples? See anything that looks like what you do when you’re trying to be writer-ly?

First, go back to the Example page and try rewriting each of those five lines. Then, look to your own scenes. Work at weeding out physical action verbs you’re writing as speech tags. Then, rewrite to remove the writer-ly types of phrasing.