Writing Tip 10: Filters and Spoilers

By Mike Johnson

Consider the paradox of the following sentence: It happened very fast.

What happened? Nothing. Nothing happens in the sentence. ‘It’ has no meaning for the reader since ‘it’ hasn’t happened yet. We have to wait for the next sentence. Look here it comes… He never saw it coming.

So now we have: It happened very fast. He never saw it coming.

How exciting! Except it isn’t. Still nothing is happening. We still have that infuriating ‘it.’ So let’s soldier on to the next sentence: He had no defense, only instinct to rely on. Is that a fact? Gee.

So now we have: It happened very fast. He never saw it coming. He had no defense, only instinct to rely on.

Is this a build up or a shaggy dog story? If ‘it’ doesn’t happen in the next sentence, I’ll throw the book away!

Wait… here it comes… Suddenly his heart was beating wildly.

It happened very fast. He never saw it coming. He had no defense, only instinct to rely on. Suddenly, his heart was beating wildly.

Aaaaaghh!

Do these sentences build tension or do they destroy it? Slow the action down or grease the way for it? You’ll have to decide. It’s time for me to get out before he… blinks the sweat out of his eyes. And while you are at it, think about the word ‘suddenly’. Is the action more sudden with it or without it?

‘They were following the mountain trail when suddenly Jack slipped and fell to the tumultuous waters below.’

‘They were following the mountain trail when Jack slipped and fell to the tumultuous waters below.’

Does ‘suddenly’ make it more sudden, or less?

When in doubt, chop it out!