“Vigorous writing is concise.”

—William Strunk, Jr., The Elements of Style

What else but your eyes can you blink, what else but your legs and feet can you kick with, and what else but your head ever nods? If those three things are true, should you ever write a sentence like:

Galen blinked his eyes, but still couldn’t see past the hazy curtain of smoke.

But inexperienced writers do it all the time. Heck, experienced writers do it, too. But one thing I can almost guarantee you is that if you pay attention to the rest of these examples, you’ll become sensitized to this dumb but common little mistake, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll join me in helping to make it go away.

Her eyes blinded by tears, Bronwyn fired an arrow into the black smoke.

Good thing we know it was her eyes that were blinded. I might have thought her nose was blinded, or her kneecap. Oh, wait, no, only your eyes can be blinded, really, right, so what if we just removed the first two words from that sentence?

Blinded by tears, Bronwyn fired an arrow into the black smoke.

The new sentence says precisely the same thing, but without the unnecessary language.

The next sentence . . .

Read the rest in…

Editor and author Philip Athans offers hands on advice for authors of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and fiction in general in this collection of 58 revised and expanded essays from the first five years of his long-running weekly blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook.


—Philip Athans


Follow me on Twitter @PhilAthans

Link up with me on LinkedIn

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Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. You know I’m going to have to run through my ms and check for this now …

    I’m reasonably certain I don’t do it, but I’m paranoid enough to check.

  2. ec says:

    ::nod:: Good post. Just found this site through a link on facebook.

    I notice you use the term “fires an arrow.” So do I–always have. It’s concise and gets the image across neatly and quickly and with the right feel and rhythm. But recently I’ve come across an argument that it’s anachronistic, as “firing” indicated the ignition of an explosion, as in a canon or musket. There’s no fire involving in the act of loosing an arrow, even if you happen to be shooting flaming arrows.

    Do you use this phrase colloquially and edit it in manuscript, or are you okay with “firing arrows” ?

  3. Philip Athans says:

    Elaine’s right, but up till now I have let “fire an arrow” slide right through. And that from an editor who obsessively changes “he backpedalled” to “he backstepped” or more often “He stepped back” because no one in the FORGOTTEN REALMS world has thought to invent the bicycle yet.

    I think it is probably lots better that we avoid firing arrows, though a counter argument can be made that at some point you go too far and we start writing fantasy in Middle English, like a Mel Gibson movie without subtitles!

  4. Okay, here’s one on the “firing an arrow” vein — how about “shooting an arrow”?

    I’ve had my arguments that “shot” is perfectly valid term predating firearms.

  5. Pingback: REVISION SEARCH PATTERNS | Fantasy Author's Handbook

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