Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Do Your Characters Sigh Too Much?

It's Wordy Wednesday, and that means...

...time for some reflections from the editor's desk!

Today we welcome a guest, Rayne Hall, author of more than forty books and editor of the Ten Tales series.

In thirty years as an editor, I've found the same words blight and bloat the style of many authors. One of them is "sigh".

In real life, people who constantly sigh soon get on our nerves. Few folks enjoy the company of sighers. The same applies to fiction: readers don't like characters that sigh a lot.

Yet, sighs creep into fiction and multiply like vermin.  If you're not on your guard, your novel soon reads like this:

He sighed.... She sighed deeply.... He heaved a deep sigh... A sigh escaped from her lips.... With a sigh, she did this... Sighing, she rose.... He looked at her and sighed...

Moreover, a character that sighs at the slightest trigger comes across as a wuss.

One sigh is enough for the reader's subconscious to file that character as a wimp.  Two sighs make the character a wimpy wimp. By the time your heroine has heaved her third sigh, the reader has lost respect for her.

It's raining - sigh.
Aunt Agatha is coming - sigh.
Little Laura misbehaves - sigh.
The kitten scratches - sigh.
Work needs doing - sigh.
Another Monday - sigh.
Life goes on - sigh.

Use your word processor's Find & Replace tool to count how many times you've used "sigh", and then cut most of them.

By cutting the sighs, you'll make your writing tighter and your characters spunkier.

I recommend keeping just one or two sighs in the whole book: one for a wimpy minor character, and one in the second half of the book where your protagonist has real reason to sigh.

Rayne Hall is an author and editor. After writing and editing, her great love is teaching, and she teaches online classes for writers. To find out more, visit:


  1. Yep. A clear flaw of mine. I already do searches for this word because I love sighing. LOL. I do tend to use them as fillers when I'm writing first draft, then change them out to real emotion as I edit. Still, I find more than I should on that final pass. Thanks for the reminder, Rayne.

    1. In first drafts, sighs are ok, and other filler words, too... long as we remember to purge them in the revision process. :-)

  2. I did a "sigh" search and found it only 8 times, but cut that in half. Thanks, Rayne, for a great suggestion! From time to time I catch myself using a word and wonder how often I've repeated myself - interesting how a simple search can really give you a new tool to sharpen you writing!

    1. Eight's not bad; four is better. :-)
      I've received slush pile submissions with eight sighs on the first page alone. :-D
      The search/find&replace tool is wonderful. It's handy for hunting down all the overused words (sigh, smile, begin to, start to, could, that, nod...) as well as our personal habit words. I tend to over use the words 'study' and 'actually', and some years ago I went to a phase when I overused 'hand' 'face' and 'velvet' in my fiction.
      Do you have any habit words?

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  4. Your suggestion was a maximum of two sighs/book. Does this always apply, no matter the length of the book or amount of prominent characters?

    I checked my draft and I found around 90 sighs so I obviously need to work on it regardless and cut more than half of them, but can above circumstances justify more sighs/book?