Monday, February 9, 2009


Here's an easy way to cut needless words from your manuscript, tighten your tense and replace the passive and inactive verb "thought"

He's not Samo, Mateo thought. Samo is dead.
He was not Samo. Samo was dead.

"You leave now," the soldier said.
Fine with me, Mateo thought.
"You leave now," the soldier said.
Mateo was fine with that.

One order from her guardian and ... well, she thought, gazing down at Vien, death and Kurenkov went hand in hand.
One order from her guardian and ... she gazed down at Vien, death and Kurenkov went hand in hand.

You are stupider than stupid, Wu, she thought, doubly amazed the woman was still alive.
It was doubly amazing that the woman was still alive. Wu was stupider than stupid.

So, it is true, he doesn't speak English, she thought, and seeing his arm rise, ducked.
So, it was true. He didn't speak English. She saw his arm rise, and ducked.

Now what? he thought, looking back at him.
Now what? Danny looked back at him.

True, some of these statements could use some work, however, as examples they state their case. The elimination of S/HE THOUGHT in no way deters from the meaning of the sentence. Instead the reader isn't required to switch from 3rd person to 1st. And when the thought is short and to the point, it's clear whose POV it is. These examples work equally as well with S/HE WONDERED.


  1. So, it was true. He didn't speak English. She saw his arm rise, and ducked.


    AFLAC promised that her A.R.M. wouldn't rise. So, it was true. The duck didn't speak English.

  2. Dave,

    You've got a point. What was I thinking! The Duck spoke Russian, of course!

  3. seems to be a lot of was'ing tho? Doesn't that constitute telling instead of showing?

  4. I've got the odd "She thought" sprinkled through my WIP; they don't seem awkward. I did a find for "SHE THOUGHT" in online excerpts of published novels, and guess what?

    I couldn't find even one! Thanks Joylene. I would never have given this issue a thought otherwise.

  5. Thanks for dropping by, Anony and Robin. I know my examples are rough. Sadly, I'm a storyteller, not an English scholar. But I know tight prose when I read them.

    Don't mistake WAS as wrong when used in a statement that moves the story forward, adds tension, intrigue and manages to hook the reader all at the same time.

    Consider these passive opening sentences:

    ie. This much blood probably meant the woman was dead.

    ie. Where it wasn't ripped apart by bullet holes, his shirt was a pukey green; or was that actual puke?

    In both cases, the subject is not the doer of the sentence because the doer isn't important.The subject is the receiver. We don't know who killed the woman or who shut bullet holes in the man.

    I better quit now while I'm ahead.


Thank you for visiting my blog. Please come in and sit for while. We will talk about writing. We will share our dreams. Then I will serve tea and cookies. Home made and Gluten Free.