Think Aloud explores book-related discussions encompassing reading, writing, blogging, and perhaps newsworthy content. The focus is to push the boundaries, stretch the mind, and encourage dialogue within this community. Let’s all think out loud.
“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.
connect: afterthoughtAn // twitter | anotherafterthought // goodreads
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.
38 thoughts on “[Think Aloud] – #14 – “I Let Out A Breath I Didn’t Know I Was Holding””
HAHAHAHA. I’m sorry but I was expecting a messy rant but this turned out to be a clever and witty dissection of what it means to be holding one’s breath. I actually encountered the phrase only a few times but even then it annoys the heck out of me. P.S. Is it weird that I thought you sound just like Ravi from this post alone?
omg. that is like the highest of compliments.
but yes, I just came home, opened up this post and wondered “omg..is this what post-midnight, ungodly hours of the night-me churns out?” I am baffled.
perhaps it’s secretly a rite of passage in writing. “[ ] use one cliched doesn’t-make-much-sense quote”.
I feel like I see this quote all the time and it’s always seemed a little off to me too haha. I mean, how do you not notice you’re holding your breath? And why is that something that characters do in tense situations? Because that has never happened to me in real life. Ever.
That’s what I’m saying!
I think it’s even worse in tense situations. Like, why are you even thinking about releasing the breathe you held during a time of fight-or-flight? Makes no sense. I’m sure these are the same characters that “CHECK THE BASEMENT” during creepy, horror shizzams. Like, no, please, stop LOL.
Don’t even get me started with romance-induced breath-holding…
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Oh, I see this quote everywhere! Particularly YA fantasies and paranormals. I think authors often do this for a supposed dramatic effect, but the meaning is just lost when virtually every book uses it at some point. However, I’m pleased to report that the trend might be dying, though not fast enough. The only time I think it’s okay-ish to use it is when the character is waiting for a big decision to be made, and then sighs in relief when the results are in their favor.
*Dramatically lets out a breath she didn’t know she was holding*
“Pleased to report…” are you saying you’re some mystical enigmatic storybook…thing…that has trolled dialogues with this quote? HOW DO YOU KNOW O____O!?
I just don’t think (now that I’ve written this) I can forgive being told that a character ‘releases carbon dioxide because [reasons]’. Like, if anything, they should know they’re releasing CO2. Unless breathing isn’t a thing. SEMANTICS.
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I just know, okay?! I shall not share my sources.
Well you tell your sources that they they better fix this ridiculous trend. Or at least find new ways to say the thing (it ain’t no timeless quote).
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HAHA huge pet peeve of mine! This phrase is so overused and cliche, and I feel like it’s universally laughed at, but authors still want to use it. I actually burst out laughing at your very literal interpretations 🙂
– Kritika @ Snowflakes & Spider silk
You might be on to something. Maybe it holds merit as for comedic relief. THIS IS A WORTHY EXPLANATION!
There are so many overused quotes like this in books (My heart beats so loud I’m afraid he/she’ll hear it.. I can’t breathe/my heart stops) that they have no meaning to me at all. I don’t even think about them or relate them to the character. I just think “they’re afraid” and move on.
Oh man…that first one, “heart beats so loud I’m afraid they’ll hear it”..[my rage goes here]. I’m sure there are readers who gloss over these ridiculous passages; especially since few people would realistically ever say/think these things in real life. Le sigh.
Now I’m tempted to go through all these overused quotes and shake them up with a literal analysis!
We should make a list of banned quotes! Haha, honestly I roll my eyes sometimes when I see them in a book that I think is juvenile, but it doesn’t really bother me in a good book. I just don’t think about it.
HAHA! Wait, does this make me your muse??? I could totally handle that title.
For me, this creeps up in YA contemporaries a lot, and it’s filtered into Fantasy and Paranormal, most of the time in a romantic setting. People don’t seem to release the breath they didn’t know they were holding when they’re being chased by a mass murdered through a forest (THAT I could probably understand, what with heavy breathing attracting unwanted attention), instead all the breaths are released when an almost-kiss happens, or when someone is becoming massively crushed out. I don’t get it. I really don’t think I’ve ever held my breath because I’ve fancied someone. The fact it is SO over-used just makes it all the more frustrating. I did read a book once, where the author managed to say it, but in an entirely new way, and I applauded them for it. But really, I do wish authors would come up with some more original descriptions. I’m not saying it’s easy, just that it would be nice. R x
You can be whatever you want to be….
Yeah, YA/NA Contemporaries was my focus for writing about this quote. I guess I understand why the quote is being used the way it’s used but it’s incredibly contrived when you think about it. The fact that it has become so diluted doesn’t help. I wouldn’t be as irked if it was a once in a while affair in books but it seems to be everywhere (or at least a version of breath-holding). I mean, I can feel the feels of “someone taking your breath way” — that’s an expression I can live with, sort of, maybe. But releasing that held breath? C’mon now…
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LOL we sound like a bad intro to a romcom.
Now that I think about it, it doesn’t make sense at all. Breathing is an involuntary action so unless someone was consciously holding their breath, I don’t even know why it’d happen. I seem to see this phrase most often in really bad fanfiction which is the land of overused phrases and cliches so it’s probably all my fault that I see this phrase everywhere haha
I haven’t read fanfiction in a long time but dang…I wonder why it’s such a popular phrase to use! I really hope it’s not some new age idiom or something haha.
I think that some writers think that it’s some way to show increased tension within the characters although it doesn’t actually succeed.
Hahaha…the best start to a Monday morning is a Joey rant. So, I do see this quote too much. Mostly in NA or erotica. And I will admit it’s cheesy, and pointless. I skip over this type of useless nonsense in books a lot of the time. I think if I dwell on cheesy crap like this, I’d end up DNF’ing a lot of books. Lol. When it’s overkill in a book, I do end up quitting it. But if this line is the only issue, I don’t hold it against the author. Except now I will notice it every time, and think of you, and you may have ruined me for all future cheesy books.
I AM HAPPY TO OBLIGE.
What is overkill though? I’d imagine it holds most ‘power’ the first time it’s used. I mean, you cannot tell me that someone says “I let out a breath” because they’re overwhelmed by the other half and realize all of that all over again. …Or maybe you can but that’s just real questionable writing then.
I swear though, if I see this, I’m pulled out of the story no matter what and try for myself this ‘holding breath’ thing. Monkey see, monkey do, right?
All I know is I started a book this weekend, and within the first few pages there was the line about ‘inhaling his musky scent’ and I immediately deleted it from my Kindle. You have me thinking WAY too much these days. LOL.
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I apologize for noooothingggggg.
I think I’m just overly critical on some of these contemporary conventions. It’s only tough love. It’s necessary.
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Sometimes I love some good mindless fluff. But lately, I’m questioning what I read a lot more, and I think it’s actually a good thing. There’s just not enough time to waste on mediocre books. My time is precious and I want the good stuff! I picked up a contemp romance this weekend that’s been on my TBR for awhile, and the writing is really smart and not cheesy in the least. WINNING.
Words cannot describe how much I despise this phrase. I despise it so much. I see it all the time in Young Adult Contemporary and I just want to almost smack the editor for letting this cliche line go into ANY book. It’s awful, it’s over-used, it’s just bad.
I feel annoyed by this quote. I don’t think it really has a deep meaning, it’s just said to show how “serious” or whatever the situation at hand is.
There is never an appropriate time that this phrase can be used.
By the way, favorite post ever<3.
Part of me really thinks that it’s in some checklist that it’s a phrase that must be included before it’s published…LOL.
I’m only on board with this phrase (or the idea of this phrase) used when a character is being chased or hiding from someone and so when they try to remain quiet, they eventually might “let out a breath they didn’t know they were holding” — but even then it’s still a conscious act that doesn’t make realistic sense in first/second person pov; third, maybe though.
But I’m glad you enjoyed this read haha.
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I just can’t with that phrase. I’ve started deducting half a star for a book if the phrase is used more than 4 time sin a book, because lets face it, 5 is pushing it really, wow. It makes no sense in every aspect, and I wouldn’t mind, but that’s completely true, ugh. Great post!
HAHAHA. I’m surprised that you’d go out of your way to count the usage of this phrase (or maybe it’s so cliched that it does stick out so it’s easy to do). That’s some intense reviewing scheme you have!
Ha! Well, I am certainly entertained by your rant! I do think this phrase is definitely overused, but I would argue that you actually could hold your breath without really realizing it, in a moment of tension (or even physical exertion). It’s possible to just kind of forget to breathe – I know I’ve done it before. Still, overused though – have to agree with you there. 🙂
Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction
Yeah, I get what you mean. There are contexts that it can actually apply (although I question needing to spell out the breath-holding action). So much of it happens in romance books that it’s just like “is this person really that stunning that you held in your breath–and noticed it?”
Oh, goodness. It sounds a lot more awful on audiobooks. I recently listened to an audiobook when I heard, “I let go of a breath I hadn’t known I was holding.” I held promptly held a breath, I knew I was holding to prevent myself from smashing my phone. It’s such a ridiculous phrase, I wonder how it even came to reach the point of a cliché. Ugh.
LMAO. The next step for this cliche line is for people to start using it in a real life conversation.
“Hey, guys, guess what?”
“I just let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.”
Yeah, no. This kid would get beat up for sure or at least crucified or something I don’t know. Something negative.