Bridge to Story

Mixing Up What is Doing and Done

Do you write about folks who run with heat? Pull with tigerness? Hop in a pouncing way? (Yes, I’ve read work that found a way to do just these things) Sometimes we fall back on the use of an animal or inanimate object to show what something is like, then give that non-human object an action that is not a fit.

The Doing and the Doer don’t agree. This lesson gives some of examples and shows simple fixes for this type of problem.

We get to a point sometimes where instead of showing something by painting a picture of what is happening -yes, by using visceral and precise words , we instead fall back on using existing images and expected clichéd actions to get our point across. They are not quite clichés but also they aren’t our own pictures, they're borrowed.

  • As angry as a bear
  • Light as a feather
  • As hungry as a hippo
  • Quick as lightening

To make matters worse sometimes we take one of these ready made images and give it to someone who is also doing some type of action. But the action and the ready-made image are at odds with each other.

Example Toggle


These ready-made images are easy to fall into using. We all know what we mean when we use them. But it comes across as lazy writing. And when action is also ready-made you end up with lines like this:

  • He pleaded at my door, as angry as a bear.
  • Light as a feather, Jamie trips from the car.
  • Anna injects down the strawberry malt, as hungry as a hippo.
  • Quick as lightening James slithered across the highway.

Why don't these work?

  • Pleading and angry are not a matching fit.
  • Feathers cannot trip.
  • You can drink, but not inject food when you are hungry.
  • Lightening doesn’t slither – although it might strike (two snake references)

First, try the exercise that this comes with this lesson, then try editing your own work for these types of 'Doing and Done' mix ups.

Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle

Lesson Exercise 1:

Look for ready made images like the ones on the examples page of this topic (Quick as lightening). Can that phrase be replaced later with your own words in your work?

Do this a page at a time.

  • First, highlight the finds you come across. Don’t edit right away. Just notice the number of times you do it per chapter or scene.
  • Look for times where your action is not a match for what is doing that action. (Lightening doesn’t slither)
  • Ask yourself what you meant to say – but for the answer to those questions use only your own words.
  • Talk to yourself, ask the question and answer it first out loud, and give it a few responses on paper, the third one you come up with might be the best of them all. You're refining your thoughts.

If you wrote ‘Quick as lightening’, and meant to make us see someone moving across a highway in a really fast manner, in a flash – find words that will show us that visually.

Discuss those word choices with yourself. Write down verbs and then try showing us a picture of what you see, using those types of words:


  • Quick as lightening James slithered across the highway.


  • He moved so quickly across those five lanes toward the poor dog, the rushing traffic even missed striking his trailing shadow.

What are you seeing just before you begin to type? Make some notes about it, before relying on ready made phrases. Create your own images instead to tell your story in more unique ways.