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Written Word November 2008

Suddenly and Related Spoilers



"Suddenly, the lights went out."


Once, a phrase like that sent chills down a reader's back as the murderer crept closer to his victim, but no longer. Expressions like "suddenly," "all of a sudden" and the redundant "suddenly and without warning" have become clichés.  Through overuse, they have lost their power to thrill, and they can spoil a good story.


Any occurrence introduced without warning is by its nature unexpected and therefore sudden.  When the writer chooses to use suddenly instead of showing character reaction to an event, he has introduced himself into the scene, and he doesn't belong there. He's telling, now showing.


To demonstrate a sudden occurrence, I recommend creating a tranquil scene with unsuspecting characters.  When everyone, including the reader, is off guard, startle them with a shocker and show their reactions.


The following examples describe things that happened without warning, events that were sudden. I've presented the situation first, the character reaction immediately afterward.  These are bare bone scenes that need more detail. However, none would benefit from the addition of the adverb suddenly or one of its relatives.




1.     Susan and Steve are walking along a country road when a yellow bus hurtles downgrade, headed for the guardrail. Susan digs her nails into Steve's arm.  "It's out of control!"


2.     Mary Jones is attending a family reunion in her garden. As she looks down, something glints at the bottom of the punchbowl.  "That's Mother's ring! I can't believe it has been here all this time."


3.     Seventeen-year-old Jenny is enjoying a game of scrabble at her grandmother's kitchen table. A booted foot crashes into the front door and Jenny screams. 


4.     A thunderclap broke the silence.


For next time, I'll show you a trick or two with flashbacks.