Guest Post: on Writing

Authors: Let’s not accessorize our nouns and objects. Okay?

(This blog first appeared on Southern Writers Magazine, Suite T, online.)

By Michael Hicks Thompson

Do people talk like they read? I don’t think so. An interesting thing about us humans: when we talk, we tend to embellish our stories with adverbs … just to add more excitement.

Well, maybe you don’t, but the good storytellers do it! We all remember Mark Twain’s, “Why let facts get in the way of a good story.” While he was referring to the written word, I’d like to use it in context of verbal storytelling, if you don’t mind.

Let’s say you’re an introvert, and don’t like to tell stories, but you like to write them. The premise is still true for you.

Yes, there’s a premise here: We don’t read like we talk.

And that premise leads to a principle: Don’t write like people talk, unless you’re writing dialogue. That’s where it counts to write like people talk.Here’s an example:

I was editing my sixth novel, when I came upon this sentence:

Still, that note in Andrew Dawkins’s clinched hand led to an investigation nobody ever expected.

I was reading aloud from the entire ms, to determine if the sound of each word matched my intent. I came to that sentence and, after vocalizing it, felt that I’d added an unnecessary word—the adverb, ever.

I had embellished a noun many readers would have taken offense at because of my unsubstantial opinion that nobody could have ever expected it. You see, the embellishment was merely my opinion. I dropped the adverb, and this is the result:

Still, that note in Andrew Dawkins’s clinched hand led to an investigation nobody expected.

Ahh, the difference is subtle, no? Only one word removed. But when I read the version with the adverb in it, I encountered an icky feeling in my gut that I (the author) can’t be trusted. “How could I know everything? How could I be certain that nobody ever expected it?”

Subconsciously, many readers will have the same reaction: Not sure I’d trust this author, they’ll think.

Here’s another example:

She was in deep denial.

The sentence actually comes from the same manuscript. After reading it aloud, I decided to drop the word, deep. It’s only important that my reader know she was in denial. My reader will not believe that I knew she was in deep denial. See the trust factor?

A reader who thinks, I can’t trust this author is likely also thinking, I’ll be closing this book. These are death words to an author.

Nobody likes death. So, let’s keep our readers away from embellishments. They need to trust us.

Ahh, but wait! Just as in life, there’s a season and a reason for everything, right? Here’s a noun in need of help:

I don’t ever want to interview her again, I thoughtslipping into my car.

But this adverb, ever, is factual, not an opinion. The narrator of this story feels very strongly about not wanting to interview this woman again. That’s a fact, in the narrator’s mind. When it’s factual, it’s really not embellishment at all, is it? The sentence, without the adverb, would fall flat on its face, would it not?

Moral of this story? If readers don’t trust you, the author, they’ll drop you faster than a verb.



Michael Thompson was a successful ad agency owner, winning numerous national and international awards. After selling his firm in 2011, Michael turned his attention to full-time writing.

Rector     Rector-BackCover-Draft2Digital

Buy ‘The Rector: A Christian Murder Mystery (The Solo Ladies Bible Study Group)”

His latest novel is The Rector, available on Amazon in print, on Audio Book, and Kindle. Combine a suspenseful murder mystery with theology and that’s The Rector. “High stars for a Christian mystery that reads like a thriller.”~~ H.S. Dale, author. Two graphic novels on the life of David from the Old Testament–DAVID–The Illustrated Novel came first(Volume 2-won first place BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL and BEST INTERIOR DESIGN2012, from USA Book’s INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARDS. Volume 1 won the Silver IPPY for Graphic Novels in 2011 from the Independent Publisher Book Awards.) Next was a sci-fi thriller (CLOUDS ABOVE) that was serialized in a monthly magazine for a year. (Out in book in 2016.) Michael writes Christian novels that entertain, intrigue, and shine a light on his Jesus. He’s a member of the ACFW, Mystery Writers of America, The International Crime Writers Association, and the Southern Writers Association.

Visit his website, to learn more.



  1. I appreciate this post. It is important – especially the distinction between how we write narration vs dialogue.

    I believe we have to let characters talk they way people really talk. So yes, I let my characters talk in slang, sentence fragments, and sometimes beginning and even ending a sentence with prepositions etc. I laugh at advice to writers that says EVERY word in a book HAS to be grammatically correct.

    But you are right that there is a difference between dialogue (both internal and external) and narrative. I believe narrative should be more correct and elegant than dialogue. Everyone knows people blurt out things in dialogue sometimes, but our narrative should show more forethought.


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