Quick Edits is a short feature where I give quick editing advice on how to handle common problems in fiction writing.
We’ve all read it. Some of us have probably written it.
Some surprising thing happens. And, in response, a character blinks.
This is a problem. Why?
Because blinking is not an indicator of surprise. If it were, we would be indicating surprise more than twenty five thousand times in a day. Blinking is a mostly involuntary bodily action. It happens all the time.
In face-to-face life, it isn’t blinking that shows a person’s surprise. It can be wide eyes, a shocked expression, raised eyebrows, a flinch, a mouth agape. There are any number of things that actually show surprise. Blinking is never one of them — unless it’s a melodramatic blink for effect. And even then, I’d argue that’s deliberate, not as a result of a surprise.
Blinking, like breathing, is a natural thing that the body does over and over again each day. In order to justify mentioning it on the page, there should be something special about that particular blink. So I find blinking to be acceptable when there’s something in the character’s, eye or when he’s trying to hold back tears.
As an editor, I see the use of blinking as an indicator of surprise to be a wasted opportunity. There is so much more that could be described to really push the surprise across to the reader to make it vividly drawn in her mind. Using blinking seems lazy.
So don’t blink.
Are there any editing issues you run into that you’d like covered in the Quick Edits series? Drop a comment below!