I’d like to welcome guest author blogger Rayne Hall. Take it away Rayne …
Readers don’t like wusses.
Heroes – male or female – may be frightened, but they may not be wusses. Often, the difference lies not in the hero’s actions, but in the words you’ve used.
You may have created a spunky, heroic, brave heroine, but the reader still perceives her as a wimpy wuss, because you’ve unwittingly used certain phrases which signal “wimp” to the reader’s subconscious. I call this the Wimp Effect.
It’s best to avoid those words, or at least, to use them sparingly.
THE WIMP TEST:
See how your hero performs in your WIP. Every time your protagonist does one of the following things, she or he gets one Wimp Point.
* Sighing, exhaling, breath taking. Each time the protagonist heaves a sigh, sighs deeply, takes a deep breath, inhales, exhales slowly etc, that’s one Wimp Point.
* Shrugging. Shrugs may be intended to convey arrogance or indifference, but they also signal weakness. One Wimp Point for each shrug.
* Hesitation. Each time the protagonist hesitates, however good the reason, that’s a Wimp Point.
* Visceral responses to minor triggers. Visceral responses to real danger are great! But if the protagonist shudders, trembles, jerks and gasps at something harmless like the sound of a banging door, this gets a Wimp Point.
* Indulging in negative-passive emotions. It’s ok to feel sadness, grief, loss, worry, anxiety, helplessness. However, these should be dealt with quickly. The protagonist should experience them, but not dwell on them. Each time such an emotion is described for more than one sentence, it gets a Wimp Point.
* Tears. Each time the protagonist weeps, spills tears, wipes a tear from his eyes, gets moist eyes, or has a tear sliding down her cheek, earns one Wimp Point.
* Thinking. Thoughts should be very short or implied in the action. Whenever the protagonist thinks for more than one sentence, that’s a Wimp Point. If he thinks aloud, or holds conversations with himself, the Wimp Points double.
* Nervous habits. Each time the protagonist bites or chews lips, cheeks or nails, clenches fists or teeth, freezes, gulps, swallows, clears a throat, drops a jaw or stares in disbelief, that’s one Wimp Point.
* Tries and attempts. Each time your protagonist tries/attempts/endeavours something, that’s one Wimp Point. When he tries something in connection with an emotional response (“He tried not to shudder”, “She tried to suppress a groan” “He couldn’t stop himself trembling”), the points double.
* Feeling. Every time the word “feel” is used (“He felt xxx”, “Feeling yyy, she did zzz”) earns one Wimp Point.
* Finding themselves. Every time the protagonist finds himself in a place or situation (“He found himself in a dark alleyway”), or finds himself doing something instead of doing it (“He found himself shaking all over”, “She found herself staring at a house”), this earns one Wimp Point.
* Involuntary actions. Each time she does something involuntarily/unconsciously/instinctively/ without meaning to/against her will, gets one Wimp Point.
* Each time the protagonist’s body parts (instead of the protagonist) do something “His legs stepped forward.” “His hands took the weapon.” “Her eyes watched the rat.”… gets one Wimp Point.
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
How many Wimp Points has the protagonist earned? Aim for no more than three in the scariest scene, and no more than ten or fifteen in the whole book, although it depends on the genre. Romance can be allowed a little more; thrillers fewer. Females are allowed a few more points than males, but not many more.
Some writers accumulate a dozen Wimp Points in a single paragraph, and are surprised when readers think their heroine is a wuss.
Here’s an example of how a paragraph with many Wimp Points might read:
Henry Hero stared in disbelief at the dark river, and couldn’t help himself swallowing. He found himself shaking involuntarily. Part of him whispered, “No man has ever crossed this water alive. Go home while you can.” Another part of him yelled, “Just do it. Be the First.” He chewed his lower lip, hesitating. A cloud crossed the sky, making him shudder. Then he took a deep breath to steady himself, and exhaled with a sigh. “I have to do it,” he told himself. “The Delectable Damsel needs me.” His feet stepped towards the shore.
SOME WIMP POINTS ARE OK
Each of the “Wimp Effects” is ok on its own, if it happens just once. A single sigh, a single swallow, a one-off burst into tears are fine.
It’s when the Wimp Points accumulate that they become problematic, and they accumulate quickly. Novice writers often have twenty or more Wimp Points in the first chapter, because their characters shrug and sigh constantly. This establishes their protagonists as wusses before the scary action begins.
The hero Odysseus weeps several times in Homer’s famous ancient epic The Odyssey. Does this make him a wimp? Definitely not. The weeping shows him as a sensitive human, and it works because he doesn’t do anything else to earn Wimp Points. He doesn’t sigh, shrug, inhale, exhale, bite his lips and clear his throat. If he did all those things on top of the weeping, he would come across as a wuss, no matter how many cyclops and monsters he defeated.
It also depends on the character. A timid character is allowed the occasional Wimp Point, but not many.
Spunky person: “She halted.” (0 Wimp Points)
Timid person: “She hesitated.” (1 Wimp Point)
Wimpy wuss: “She hesitated, chewing her lips, and heaved a deep sigh.” (3 Wimp Points)
Spunky person: “She braced herself.” (0 Wimp Points)
Timid person: “She swallowed and braced herself.” (1 Wimp Point)
Wimpy wuss: “She swallowed. Then she took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and braced herself.” (4 Wimp Points)
HOW TO AVOID THE WIMP EFFECT
Wherever possible, cut down on Wimp Points.
* Delete sighs, shrugs, inhales, exhales, lip biting, cheek chewing, swallowing etc.
* Don’t let your protagonists do a lot of thinking, and never let two parts of their psyche engage in a conversation.
* If the plot demands that the protagonist hesitates, express it with different words (He halted , He paused, He waited)
* If the protagonist tries to do something, express it without the words try/attempt/endeavour. Instead of “He tried to pull it out” write “He pulled at it with all his strength”.
* Describe negative-passive emotions intensely but briefly.
De-wimpifying your WiP can be fun. Enjoy the process.
Which wimpy habits have invaded your writing? Tell us about them. If you have questions, please ask.
I’ll be around for a week and will reply.
Rayne Hall is the author of thirty books in different genres (mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction) and under different pen names, published by twelve publishers in six countries, translated into several languages. Her short stories have been published in many magazines, e-zines and anthologies. Currently, she tries to regain the rights to her out-of-print books so she can republish them as e-books. She is the editor of the Ten Tales series of short story anthologies. Find all her books on Amazon
After living in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, she has settled in a small Victorian seaside town in southern England. Rayne holds a college degree in publishing management and a masters degree in creative writing. Over three decades, she has worked in the publishing industry as a trainee, investigative journalist, feature writer, magazine editor, production editor, page designer, concept editor for non-fiction book series, anthology editor, editorial consultant and more. Outside publishing, she has worked as a museum guide, apple picker, tarot reader, adult education teacher, trade fair hostess, translator and belly dancer.
She teaches online classes for writers including: Writing Scary Scenes, Writing about Magic, Writing Fight Scenes, The Word-Loss Diet, Edit your Writing (and more).