I want to make one quick point about the last post where we practiced communicating emotion without stating the emotion directly. (You all did a wonderful job, by the way, and wasn't it fun to see how many different ways the same action could be interpreted?)
This kind of writing might feel hard when you first start doing it, but it gets easier with practice. Before too long, you'll start realizing there are other ways to communicate concepts without putting them in giant neon letters. HEY READER! MY THEME IS, "KARMA GONNA GET HIM!" We hardly ever see such direct statements in fiction, right? But authors have still found ways to communicate these indirect concepts. It's the nature of storytelling. And even though it might feel hard or challenging now to control unstated notions on the smallest scale, as we did in the last post, eventually you'll find ways to broaden that technique and find ways to incorporate implied concepts on a much larger scale.
We might even take a look at that some day. But for today, I want to keep the focus tight and look at something that several of you mentioned in comments and email. "Skittered." You liked that use of that word. It's a good verb because it's slightly unusual, vivid, dynamic, and has a hint of emotion which we could draw out in the context. How much weaker would the sentence have been if we'd started with, "Henry leaped," or "Henry jumped," or the dreaded, "Henry moved." Nothing wrong with these verb choices. They're perfectly serviceable. But they're not quite as awake as skittered, are they?
We talk a lot about verbs here. We've made lists of overused verbs, and we've done endless sentence revisions to show you ways to cut down on verbals, and we've sung the praises of good verb choices. Why so much focus on verbs? They're the heavy lifters in a sentence, and yet so many manuscripts treat them like also-rans. Think about, for example,
She looked at the lush purple heather glowing faintly crimson under the striped pink-and-orange sunset and the puffy tinted clouds.
We see variations of this basic problem over and over again -- we might even file this one under "Marks of the Amateur." I think of this as a balance issue. The two most powerful word slots in that sentence -- in any sentence -- are the subject and main verb. And what do we have in those two power slots? A drab pronoun and a flat verb. The sentence is backloaded (and overloaded) with descriptive words in lesser positions.
Sometimes you want to do this to achieve a particular effect. But when sentence after sentence is written this way, the effect is clunky, overwritten, off-balance prose.
What's a quick fix for this sentence? Assume the point of view is clear, and post your revised sentences in the comments. I'm willing to bet we'll find several ways to improve it. But regardless of the method chosen, I'm also willing to bet that the main verb of the sentence becomes much more powerful.