Craft Talk with Rayne Hall: Do Your Characters Sigh Too Much?

Please welcome guest blogger, Rayne Hall. Today, Rayne talks about editing some fluff out of your manuscript, particularly the “sigh”.

DO YOUR CHARACTERS SIGH TOO MUCH?

By Guest Blogger Rayne Hall

In thirty years as an editor, I’ve found the same words blight and bloat the style of many authors. One of them is ‘sigh’.

In real life, people who constantly sigh soon get on our nerves. Few folks enjoy the company of sighers. The same applies to fiction: readers don’t like characters who sigh a lot.

Yet, sighs creep into fiction and multiply like vermin. If you’re not on your guard, your novel soon reads like this:

He sighed…. She sighed deeply…. He heaved a deep sigh… A sigh escaped from her lips…. With a sigh, she did this… Sighing, she rose…. He looked at her and sighed…

Moreover, a character who sighs at the slightest trigger comes across as a wuss.

One sigh is enough for the reader’s subconscious to file that character as a wimp. Two sighs make the character a wimpy wimp. By the time your heroine has heaved her third sigh, the reader has lost respect for her.

It’s raining – sigh.
Aunt Agatha is coming – sigh.
Little Laura misbehaves – sigh.
The kitten scratches – sigh.
Work needs doing – sigh.
Another Monday – sigh.
Life goes on – sigh.

Use your wordprocessor’s Find & Replace tool to count how many times you’ve used ‘sigh’, and then cut most of them.

By cutting the sighs, you’ll make your writing tighter and your characters spunkier.

I recommend keeping just one or two sighs in the whole book: one for a wimpy minor character, and one in the second half of the book where your protagonist has real reason to sigh.

I’d love to hear from you. When you’ve checked your WiP for ‘look’ and ‘turn’, post a comment to tell me how many you’ve found, and whether you’re going to cut some of them.

What other ‘wordy words’ do you think writers can cut from their word diet?

If you have questions about writing style, or need advice on how to tighten your writing, please ask. I’ll be around for a week, and I enjoy answering questions.

ONLINE CLASS: THE WORD-LOSS DIET

If your writing style tends towards wordy waffling, if your critique partners urge you to tighten, and if editorial rejections point out dragging pace, this class may be the answer. It’s perfect for toning your manuscript before submitting to editors and agents, or for whipping it into shape before indie publishing.

Dr. Rayne’s Word-Loss Diet is much more fun than depriving yourself of food, and you’ll see real results fast.

This is an interactive class with twelve lessons and twelve assignments, for writers who have a full or partial manuscript in need of professional polish. At the end of the class, you may submit a scene for individual critiques.

Please note: This class is suitable for intermediate, advanced and professional level authors only. It is not suitable for beginners or the faint of heart.

The class is offered one more time this year: November 2012, Lowcountry RWA. http://www.lowcountryrwa.com/online-workshops/

AUTHOR BIO

Rayne Hall caricature by Kuoke Rayne Hall is the author of more than twenty books in different genres, published under several pen names with different publishers. Currently, she writes scary horror and outrageous fantasy fiction, and tries to regain the rights to her previously published works so she can re-publish them as e-books.

She has a college degree in publishing management and a masters degree in creative writing, and has worked for nearly three decades in the publishing industry in Britain, Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, mostly as an editor.

After writing and editing, her great love is teaching, and she teaches online classes for writers: ‘Writing Fight Scenes’, ‘Writing Scary Scenes’, ‘Writing about Magic and Magicians’, ‘Writing about Villains’, ‘Dr Rayne’s Word-Loss Diet’, ‘SWOT for Writing Success’ and more.

More info: https://sites.google.com/site/writingworkshopswithraynehall/

Image Credit:
Author portrait (Woman in Blue) by Kuoke. Copyright Rayne Hall.

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20 thoughts on “Craft Talk with Rayne Hall: Do Your Characters Sigh Too Much?

  1. Hi Rayne,

    Thanks for guest blogging today! I love this article on ‘le sigh’. When I took your word loss diet workshop earlier this year, I cut 120 sighs from my vampire MS. My characters are so much happier (and badass) now that they’re no longer so breathy. And here are some cringe-worthy stats on other overused words: 490 look, 300 see, 60 saw, 275 turn. I cut most of them and the MS is a leaner, meaner word machine now. 🙂

  2. Hi Celia,
    Leaving out those wishy-washy words not only made your writing tighter, but it enhances your individual author voice.
    Deleting the surplus sighing has the additional effect of making your characters more likeable – and, as you say, more kickass 😀

    • Hi Lynn,
      Yes, “Said” and “that” are also good candidates for deletion. “Could”, “start to” and “begin to” as well. Aren’t we lucky to have computers which allow us to find those words in seconds and to replace them without having to retype the manuscript? I remember the bad old days when making such small changes meant typing the whole manuscript.
      Rayne

  3. I was going to leave an insightful comment, but after reading, I sighed and realized I realized I had A LOT of editing to do. 🙂

    Great post! Very useful

  4. Hehehe… Sterling advice. Same goes for all their other irritating habits – curling lips and the like. Who was it who said to replace ever ‘very’ with ‘damn’, because your editor will take them out and then the writing will be as it should be? Thanks for the tip, Rayne and for hosting, Celia!

      • Biting lips is one that gets me every time I read it. It’s a shame, because people do do it, but I have all but removed it from my list of things a character can do with their face, as it is so overused in some books! I had a character once who laughed so often that, on re-reading, she seemed just about ready for the loony bin. Likewise, toned down A LOT in editing!

    • It was Mark Twain who said it. 😀

      Curling lips aren’t too bad if they happen once in a book, but if they happen once on every page, they get tedious. Other overused body language cues include shrugs, nods, smiles and frowns. In some books, characters shrug and nod all the time.

  5. I actually found this article a while ago dealing with body language and non-verbal communication. I found it useful in helping me give my characters different actions to express their emotion and current disposition. I’ve provided the link. Hopefully you find it as useful as I have in developing character depth.
    http://www.businessballs.com/body-language.htm

    • Thanks for the URL, Sandy. As writers, we need a wide body language vocabulary for our characters. Another useful site is The Emotion Thesaurus. You can look up the character’s emotion, and see what their body language and behaviour might be. You’ll need to choose different body language cues according to whether whether that character is the point of view or not, but it’s much more varied than the usual nods, shrugs, smiles, frowns and sighs. 🙂

  6. Imelda, yes, lip biting. Another good one to watch out for. I hear you on the laughing. One of my tough characters was chuckling so much he’d lost his street cred until I edited out most of his mirth.

  7. Pingback: Rayne Hall Shares Funny Book Reviews « celiabreslin

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