I’ve been doing some revising lately and one of the “quirks” that I’ve noticed in my writing is how I almost do a lot of things. He almost smiled. I barely stood up. She nearly stopped breathing.
I’m sure I had a perfectly good reason for writing like that but all phrases like that do is weaken the action. If I’m in the middle of a tense scene and I nearly stop breathing, it’s not as powerful as saying, “He stopped breathing.” So commit to your actions. Take them all the way or don’t do them at all unless you’ve got a rock solid reason for doing it. I can see someone standing half-way if they’ve begun to stand only to be stayed by a shout from someone else, but at least in that instance SOMEONE is committing to an action. “I began to stand when June screamed for me to stop, which I did. Immediately.”
Maybe I’m the only person who does this but I just noticed it and figured I’d share. Also, my agent said something to me once that really stuck, so I’ll add that here. I’d done something, I don’t remember what, and I’d intended one thing but he saw another. I explained the intended effect and he told me that if I have to explain it, then I didn’t do it right. He was much more diplomatic, but it stuck. I won’t be standing behind my readers going, “See what I did there? When he did that, I meant for you to understand that…”
I think as writers, we have to learn to forget the story. Forget what our intentions were and try to read our books for the first time every time.