"Suddenly" has become a dreaded word among writers. It's use, we're told, almost always seems to fail its purpose of creating that feeling of...of...of...something happening without warning, or happening abruptly -- which is its definition.
The clock repair man took out his handkerchief and wiped the grease off the first of twelve large Roman numerals. Suddenly, the bell chimed and the man lost his footing, dropping twenty feet before his hood was hooked by the ever-turning second hand.
No! we're told. "Suddenly" takes out the suddenness of an action scene. It's best just to say it without.
The clock repair man took out his handkerchief and wiped the grease off the first of twelve large Roman numerals. The bell chimed and the man lost his footing, dropping twenty feet before his hood was hooked by the ever-turning second hand.
This version is supposed to be better. It shows the mark of a sophisticated writer. Isn't that the case? Whenever I come across a scene like this, where a sudden action happens without the use of the word "suddenly" I think to myself, Yes, this is a sophisticated writer. And, briefly, before continuing on with the story, I imagine that sophisticated writer sitting in a burgundy chair, surrounded by tapestries and tea cups and looking quite intelligent.
I agree that "suddenly" often doesn't work in an action scene. But -- and I may well be alone in this -- when I'm most honest with myself and most sensitive to my reading, the alternative of NOT using "suddenly" is equally problematic. Action does actually come at different paces. Some things happen suddenly. To deny that becomes nothing more than a writer showing off how well-trained he or she is. Not using "suddenly" suddenly becomes a sure way of becoming self-conscious, of showing off fake sophistication. Same thing with exclamation points. Never use exclamation points! It's amateur! Good writers will use the context of the story, the language to show their excitement. To me, this restraint often results in writing that feels cordial, robotic, and cold. Not my ideal lover.
I think in some ways, the art of writing good action scenes has been badly damaged by all of the restraining orders that have been put on writers. Don't describe in action scenes. Keep the pacing fast. Use incomplete sentences. No exclamation points. No using the word "suddenly." Many, if not all, of these rules make a lot of sense and should be considered when writing an action scene. But, perhaps the best advice when writing an action scene is to loosen up and try it your own way. As with all rules, following them too rigidly makes us forget their original intent, and we become blind to the occasions for breaking them.