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“I Let Out A Breath I Didn’t
Know I Was Holding”
This post is completely pointless and bananas but when there’s a quote that feels off-kilter, you just gotta run with the rant.
*For full details on why I decided to mini-rant about this under the post inspiration section below.
Yes, you read correctly. I am ranting about this quote.
I’m going to cut to the chase because this is a really simple idea gone askew. I thought about this statement: “I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding” and you know what? The longer I stare at this phrase, the more it seems off to me (not to mention I have no idea how or why it’s so overused). Not only is it completely cheeseballs, I’m sure it’s been seen enough times that it has earned the cliché status.
Anyhow, I’m no English major so my thoughts could be completely off. But transparency calls for explanations so here we go:
Exhibit A: First Person POV – “I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding”
So I’m in your head right—well, no, I’m you—and I’m thinking about the fact that I just let out a breath that was held. Uh. Isn’t that just BREATHING? How wonderful that there is a statement informing me that you (or I guess “me”) just learned how to breathe. But, okay, fine, I’ll humour this a bit. If I had to think about the fact that I was holding my breath, then surely I must know that I am holding my breath. Derrrrr—does this quote even hold up then?
Exhibit B: Second Person POV – “You let out a breath you didn’t know you were holding”
You’re trying to make me choke aren’t you? AREN’T YOU? (By proxy of the character, at least.)
Seriously though, only after reading this passage would I start [consciously] holding my breath. Or just ask myself “was I holding my breath?”. I mean, I’m certain that I was breathing normally until you mentioned it–and now I am taken out of the story. Das no good.
Exhibit C: Third Person Limited/Omniscient POV – “He/She/They let out a breath etc.”
In this case, I’m like a set of eyes watching you maneuver through the world and you suddenly pause to breathe for dramatic effect. If you were in a narrow hallway, I’d slap you in the back of the head for stopping. But I digress. However, this might be the only true case where this quote might truly work. Although I will admit that it’s rather creepy that I’m watching you breathe in this one particular moment but never elsewhere. Does that mean you’re holding your breathe for the entirety of the story? That’s skill—props to you.
Either way, what bugs me most about this quote [used in this fashion] is that it can act like a placeholder to a wealth of other descriptors that could probably paint a more vibrant or emotive scene.
I’m obviously disregarding the metaphorical nature of “holding your breath” in every perspective above but is this quote something that even has to be said? That’s my real beef with this question. If the writing is overtly gripping, then my breath will be held without the need for you to tell me that a certain perspective feels stifled or what-have-you to release said breath.
…or maybe I just complain too much.
Maybe I’ve finally lost it…although it would be much better if you could just humour me LOL.
1) How often do you see this partcular phrase (in what genre?)
2) How do you feel about this quote? Has it lost its meaning?
3) Is there an appropriate time that this phrase can be used?
As always, think aloud.
Thanks to your tweet, Rachel @ Confessions of a Book Geek, I had to write this up. I was about to pass out and sleep when I remembered this quote/tweet and was hit by a “wtf? Does it even make that much sense? Why is it even overused?” Then I got out of bed and proceeded to word-vomit this post in a half-hour.
So yeah, this post isn’t beta read or anything because it’s a rant best left raw, unedited, and ranty.