I know it’s hard to wrap your head around the rules of writing, even as you gain knowledge and experience. Grasping the basics is where you start – you learn the language, the words, the structure, the punctuation, grammar and spelling. You learn the meaning of how and why and when and where.
There are a lot of blogs out there, spouting off to never do this and never do that and then there’s that thing that you should always do. And if you deviate from any of those rules, you’re wrong, and it’s not right, and your story sucks.
As a general rule, and not a hard rule that must be adhered to at all costs or else, when you find these blogs and bits of advice, chuck them out the window. It’s pretty much all some newbie writer who was told to cut back on the use of adverbs and to find stronger wording to make the story better who took the advice to mean, “cut them all, they’re evil and have no place in your writing!”
If that’s the way the phrasing of a rule makes you feel, FIND NEW ADVICE. I know one author who is adamnt about cutting “it”. Do you have any idea how awkward it is to read that stuff?! It’s horrible! Another harks on “to be” in all it’s forms – is, was, were, are… . And another yet who viciously slashed out all my adverbs. I don’t use many. I run my work through ProWritingAid to find my over-used words. I typically have more over-used words to get rid of than I do adverbs.
Here’s the thing, people. Words are our tools. No one word is any better than any other word until it’s the right word for the word image you’re trying to convey, until it’s the word that paints the picture you want your readers to see.
When I have a character who ‘said quietly’, it’s because he spoke the words – you can hear the depth and texture and timbre of his voice – and did so in a quiet fashion that is not whispering. There is a difference between ‘said quietly’ and ‘whispered’. It is a deliberate choice.
What if I were to describe a sunrise? I have a character who lives on a mountain and watches them every day. Do I need to describe them every time she pauses at her overlook? No. I don’t. “It was a sunrise like any other, even if the day felt different.” I can use “was”. Because it was. It was too hot to handle. It was a dark and stormy night. I know the point here is to make it stronger with phrases like, “the the dark night raged on outside her windows, electric blue currents flashing and booming all at once.” But here’s the other thing. Sometimes, brevity is the point.
I shouldn’t have to describe my MC’s voice every time he speaks quietly in his lady’s ear – I should be able to say, “he said quietly” and be done with it. We all know what it sounds like, and we can move on to the more important details, like what he was doing with his hands, or how he was moving about the room, or the way he held himself.
Admittedly, I’m a bit of a minimalist, and tend to only drop details in as needed, but still. Use the words as needed. Know why you’re using it, and how it affects the sentence you’ve attached it to. Know what the sentence says and what it means. Be deliberate. Every word is a tool. Use it properly. Don’t ever not use them because someone else said not to. Would you give up your favorite food just because someone who is passing themselves off as an expert told you to? No (or at least you shouldn’t anyway). You’d do your research (or ignore them completely) and think it over, and make a decision from there. I don’t know about you, but I’m not giving up bacon just because someone said it’s bad for you. (It is, and I should, but bacon.)
How do you know if you’re using it properly? That’s where reader-reaction beta reads and critiques come in. They’ll tell you whether your word-choice is doing what you wanted it to do or not.