Saturday, September 3, 2011

Empower your writing by dumping 'feel'

There are certain words in the English language that allow writers to be lazy and end up as traps for some of us. One of my biggest offenders seems to be the word 'felt.' It's a tricky word in that it seems like it's a show type of word when you think of the sentence "Anna felt the heat of the fire." And it is better than "The fire was hot." But there is an even better way to write this.

If you say "Anna felt the heat of the fire." we get the image, but it feels removed. Felt seems to serve as a filter that bars us from the character and ironically (Yes, I think this is actually an appropriate use of the word irony), does not allow us to get a good grasp of what the character actually felt. The main reason for this is that it put's Anna as the subject of the sentence even though she does not really do anything aside from passively observe. Plus, by removing that word, it forces you as a writers to become more creative in your descriptions, and that's a mega win.

So going back to our example sentence, I removed 'felt' and had to figure out what the fire was actually doing. So since we'll say the character is standing, the heat is going to originate from the ground (assuming this is not some massive conflagration) and heats up her lower back first, making its way to her upper back. So the feeling is moving upwards, and motion is a good thing because it's active.

The next question is what do I do with the motion? I suppose I could go and use the typical phrase 'ran' as in "The heat of the fire ran up Anna's back" That's good because now instead of Anna being the subject, 'The heat of the fire' is, and it is actively doing something instead of our passive Anna.

Still, I feel (pun intended) there has to be a better word than 'ran.' Since I want to keep this simple, I'm just going to throw a yummier verb in there instead of going all metaphors and such and say "The heat of the fire crept up Anna's back." Not perfect, but for this little blog post, I think you get the idea.

So for a recap:

"The fire was hot." = Bad.
"Anna felt the heat of the fire." = Meh at best.
"The heat of the fire ran up Anna's back." = Alright.
"The heat of the fire crept up Anna's back." = Good.
"The waves of heat radiating from the fire ducked under Anna's shirt and slowly crept up her back like a pack of ninjas closing in on their target." = Well I just went and ran with this...not perfect but you get the point.

'Felt sentences' may be better than 'was' sentences, but come on, you can do better.

Please let me know if you have any better suggestions for the sentence...and can you beat my super awesome ninjas metaphor???


Icy Sedgwick September 3, 2011 at 11:10 AM  

I would still be hesitant about the heat creeping up Anna's back because that would imply she has her back to it. "The heat of the flames caressed Anna's skin" or "Anna basked in the warmth of the fire" does the job the same way.

Michael A Tate September 3, 2011 at 11:38 AM  

Those are some excellent rephrasing as well.

Good point on the back as well. From the context in which I took that sentence from, her back is to the fire, but out of context, you make a great point.


Jeffery Rowan September 29, 2011 at 10:55 AM  

I had concern for Anna imagining her back to the heat source and her shirt catching fire by using a pejorative word like creep. But, that aside, you are correct in throwing away words that reverse subject/object. If she was blind, making her the active one, feel might be appropriate, but then again a more descriptive word would spring life into a simple sentence.

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