Step-By-Step

 By Jeanne Marie Leach

 The difference between failure and success is doing a thing nearly right

and doing a thing exactly right.

—Edward Simmons

 

Fiction writers know they must avoid beginning consecutive sentences with the same word because it sounds like a list of actions. In that same vein, when self-editing, you must be on the lookout for step-by-step action that can occur without starting sentence with the same word.

Watch out for “after” and “then.” While these are completely innocent, they can become the bridge for another list. Consider the following scene.

He led her to his car parked at the head of the vehicles lining the curved driveway for patient pickup, and then opened the passenger door. Helping Tessa slide into the passenger seat, he then pulled the seatbelt over her shoulder and fastened it into place. After he knew she was comfortably settled, he then eased the door shut and walked around to the other side of the car to slide behind the wheel. Placing the key in the ignition, he then started the engine, which hummed softly, and they pulled out of the parking lot, carefully merging onto the street and away from the sights and sounds of the hospital.

Do you see how this has become a list of mundane occurrences? Most of this doesn’t need to be told. We know that turning the key in the ignition will start the car. By getting rid of all the extra words in each sentence and leave the object, predicate and a prepositional phrase or modifier, here’s what this scene looks like.

He led her to his car.

Then he opened the passenger door.

He helped Tessa slide into the passenger seat.

He then pulled the seatbelt over her shoulder and fastened it.

After he knew she was comfortably settled, he then eased the door shut.

He walked around to the other side of the car.

He slid behind the wheel.

He placed the key in the ignition

He then started the engine.

They pulled out of the parking lot.

They carefully merged onto the street.

He drove away from the sights and sounds of the hospital.

Now, all those “he’s” aren’t actually in the original, but they are implied. We know “he” did all those things. So even though this section didn’t contain the same first word for each sentence, this still reads like a list and half of it can be eliminated. It could be summed up like this:

  •  He led Tessa to his car parked at the curved driveway for patient pickup, helped her slide into the passenger seat, and secured the seatbelt over her shoulder. Once behind the wheel, he started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot, carefully merging onto the street and away from the sights and sounds of the antiseptic hospital.

The important thing to remember when showing action scenes is to give the reader some credit for knowing things. Whenever possible, eliminate words that don’t add anything to the story. It tightens up the writing and helps move the story along quicker. Believe me, the reader will still get a picture of the action in their mind even without all the step-by-step reporting.

Advertisements