In one of the creative writing classes I took, the professor told students to go through their stories and find every time they used the word “felt” and take it out. He equated the common use of “he felt” or “she felt” with passive writing like the use of the verb “was.”
He later explained that he didn’t mean an author could never use a form of “felt”; he just wanted authors to be aware that 90 percent of the time the usage denotes weak writing. It is telling the reader, not showing the reader.
For example: “Doc ran his hands over his face like he felt tired.”
How much better that would be this way: Doc ran his hands over a face haggard with fatigue. He looked like a man who had been on call for two days.
That example was taken out of a published book, and here are more from another book. These are from a Robert Crais book, and while he writes one helluva story, he does tend to misuse this feeling thing.
“Talley felt uncomfortable whenever someone mentioned the nursery school.” Better to write: Whenever someone mentioned the nursery school, it made Talley uncomfortable. Not only does it get rid of “felt” it also gets cause and effect in the right order.
“Mars shrugged and Dennis felt relieved.” Mars shrugged and the tension eased. Dennis let out the breath he had been holding.
“Martin glanced down the road. Talley felt irritated.” Martin glanced down the road, her dismissive manner irritating Talley.
My suggested changes are just what came off the top of my head, and I’m sure there are even better fixes that could be offered. Any suggestions?
Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.