Friday, September 26, 2014

Phrases to Avoid: "Causing Them To"

We've discussed the need to avoid redundant or excessive words a few times before. Over the next little while, we'll identify specific phrases and sentence constructions that add unneeded bulk to writing. The first is the phrase causing them to and all its possible variations. (Causing him to, her to, me to, etc.)

Here's a sample sentence based off of many that I've seen over the years:

     Bullets zipped around them, causing them to veer off the path.

The problem with the phrase causing them to is that it insults the audienceit assumes that they cannot understand something as simple as cause and effect without having it explicitly explained to them. Give your audience some credit. If you first tell them that someone is shooting at the characters, and you then tell them that the characters veered out of the way, they will understand that the one caused the other.

     Bullets zipped around them. They veered off the path.

See? Simple, perfectly understandable cause and effect. Removing causing them to turned a weak, awkward sentence into two strong sentences. In an actual story, of course, it wouldn't hurt to be a little more descriptive:

     Bullets zipped around the car. Dave swerved onto a side street without thinking.

     Bullets zipped around them. Shouting, Raisa dove off of the path into the bushes. The others immediately followed her.

    Bullets zipped around them. In near unison, the posse veered their horses off of the path into the river.

There is almost no situation in a story that would justify using causing them to. You might use it in the text of a police report or the dialog of a witness in a trial as they describe what they sawsituations where the objective is to simply explain a past event in a plain and even boring manner. But in your prose, in the moment when bullets are zipping around your characterswhen their lives are in dangerthe last thing you want is to be weak and boring. 

Go, right now, to your current work-in-progress. Pull up the find window, and search for every place that you've used the word causing. If it's an instance of causing them to or one of its variations, then get rid of it. I promise you your work will improve.

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