Tips for Writers: Sin Boldly!


Martin Luther famously said, “Sin boldly, but believe more boldly still!” In other words, if you’re going to do something, don’t do it by halves!

While editing my novel, I became aware that I’d overused the phrase “as if” and it’s near-twin “as though.” Sure enough, when I hit the Find command, I discovered I’d used them a combined 119 times! I was determined to eliminate the majority of instances, and succeeded in reducing them to a modest 21 (not too bad for a 75,000 word book). An effective exercise in redundancy reduction, yes. But it led me to discover something even more important:

I was a literary wuss!

You see, I was afraid to be caught exaggerating or—heaven forbid—outright lying! After all, as ifs indicate situations that are uncertain, conditional, or untrue, so grammatically speaking they’re correct.

But they’re also wussy.

More often than not, as if clauses lack boldness. They’re like the guy who carries a lot of insurance and never takes any risks (“Paintball can lead to eye injuries, you know!”). Prudent, yes, interesting, no.

The solution? Sin boldly! Exaggerate. Or even downright lie! And anyway, you’re a writer, so it’s not lying, it’s hyperbole (eat that, wussy-me)! Hyperbole, when it’s executed correctly, isn’t about how things are, it’s about how they seem to be, how they might be, or how they feel.

“It felt as if the whole city was crashing down on top of her,” is OK. But “The whole city was crashing down on top of her!” is stronger, more direct, because it emphasizes how she feels.

“It seemed as though he’d been here before” is a straightforward déjà vu statement. It’s also lazy (I often catch myself lazy-writing). Remember Storytelling 101: “Show, don’t tell.” So how about, “The jaundiced stucco and cracked half-timber walls uncapped something rotting in the back of his mind”? It reveals more than mere information, it reveals character, and hints at a provocative backstory.

In a broader sense, we’re talking about similes vs. metaphors here. And dramatically speaking, metaphors are nearly always stronger than similes. “She felt like a broken doll” is OK, but “She was a broken doll” is more visual, more poignant. So sin boldly, and your readers will…

“Believe more boldly still!”

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Humor, Quips and Quotes, Story Power, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Tips for Writers: Sin Boldly!

  1. V.J. Knutson says:

    I find myself doing the same, and then remember: be committed to your writing. Good post.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It seems as if what you say is true … um, I mean …
    In proofreading my last book, “BARRIERS (So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?),” I realized I had overused exclamation points, and I shared on Facebook that I’d had to eliminate at least half of them. One of my friends was disappointed. She said, “But I love your enthusiasm!” (Well, enthusiasm is one thing, talking like a 13-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert is quite another.)

    Liked by 3 people

  3. numrhood says:

    i’ll use that to combine 131 times

    Liked by 1 person

  4. smzang says:

    Ok, I’m headed back to polish and wax, better armed and more sure!
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Laura says:

    Great post! I related. When I wrote my book I was not familiar with the “search” function of Word. Then I discovered it, and was horrified how I was overusing certain phrases or words. Some were easy enough to find different words.
    Related to your “as if” one of my editing friends pointed out I was saying “perhaps” too much – for the same reasons as you – afraid of making too strong of a statement. While I kept a handful, I got rid of many of the perhaps! It strengthened my writing.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. pkadams says:

    Guilty! I overuse the word ‘sometimes’, as a qualifier, to let people KNOW, hello, that I realize it is not 100% true, all of the time. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  7. David Pettus says:

    Yeah, I’ve noticed that when I write, I hedge my bets. Sometimes.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. As if Luther knew what he was talking about :-b

    Liked by 2 people

  9. K McVere LLC says:

    Great advice. During my first and second drafts I tend to overuse contrast clauses. You know the ones – but, on the other hand, then again. My favorite hiccup lately is “so.” It’s okay. They’ll be gone by the third or fourth edit. Yes. it’s time to be bold.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. The best tip I have in writing is to read what you’ve written out loud. You’ll catch redundancies easier and it makes for an easier read.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. This is good. It’s useful, it’s presented in non-lecturing way. Save it for later, combine with others and maybe do a short book for aspiring writers. BTW, it’s not “sinning,” it’s “poetic license,” which is okay in front of God and everybody. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Vera says:

    You are that tallest tree in the forest, Mitch, in wisdom and heart.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. says:

    I am a Lutheran and Marty said a lot of things that didn’t always make sense. In this case, doing something half heartedly is good advice, especially when writing fiction. We owe it to our audience to give them more than they bargained for.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. nancyehead says:

    Way to write with power! Thanks, Mitch! God bless!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. leesha0304 says:

    Great post. You’ve motivated me to search my own writing for these words and similar crutches. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Love the advice to be bolder. I’m going to check that as I revise. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Oh, I find that I’m a slave to the Perfect Progressive tense. It takes real effort, for me at least, to stay in the simple tense. But, isn’t it fun to hone our craft?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s