Are your characters wimps?
November 20, 2014
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.
But, you may ask, what if my character grows? What if she’s weak at the beginning of the book and then grow stronger?
Character growth is good, but frequent sighing may not be the best way to achieve this. If the character gets on the reader’s nerves, your reader won’t stick around to watch her grow, but toss the book aside and read something else.
But aren’t characters supposed to be like real-life people? What if they are the type of sighs?
If your characters want to sigh all the time, let them – but don’t write it down every time they do.
How many sighs are allowed in novel? How much is too much?
You’re the CEO of your writing; you decide. There are no rules, just suggestions. 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.
What other wimpy behaviourisms should I watch out for?
Besides sighing, keep a check on how often your characters bite and chew their lips, swallow, inhale, exhale and take deep breaths to steady themselves.
Each of those is fine once or twice in the book, but if your character inhale, exhale and sigh a lot, they may come across as wimpy wusses. That may be a useful effect for certain minor characters, but your main protagonists deserve the readers’ respect.
Please click the book cover image to read more about author/editor Rayne Hall.