I like “true crime” tv stuff. Dateline, 48 Hours, Cold Justice, to name a few. Not for their literary prowess, mind you, but because (as you’ve heard) truth is stranger than fiction.
And while you may scoff, sometimes a little nugget, whether it be a clue or a comment, makes it all worth it. Just now, a detective investigating a murder made an offhand remark that I thought was so descriptive, so visual that I was inspired to share:
“He was banging her like a cheap screen door.”
Working through several manuscripts, I began to notice a trend, a common phrase or “word set” that really didn’t help the writing. The actual sentences and character names have been changed to protect the identity of the authors.
“I will never forget what happened,” Joanna said as she lightly touched the scar on her neck.
“I can’t walk another step,” Susan added as she waved frantically for a cab.
“Time for me to get ready for work,” David complained as he got up from the couch.
Are the sentence grammatically incorrect? No. But are they exciting? No again. So what if we just tweak ’em a little bit …
“I will never forget what happened,” Joanna said, lightly touching the scar on her neck.
“I can’t walk another step!” Susan waved frantically for a cab.
“Time for me to get ready for work,” David complained, pushing himself up from the couch.
I really haven’t changed much, but the sentences are more lively, less passive. Don’t you think? I challenge you to look through your own work and see just how many “she said as she” phrases are used. You might be surprised.
Like becoming a teacher, most writers do not go into the profession of authorship for the big bucks. We write (or teach) because we love it, because we have a story to tell, because we can’t help ourselves …
But perhaps we also covet the crazy idea that our story will become a bestseller and maybe even catch the eye of a Hollywood producer, and that our characters will come to life on film. Then the fun begins! Who will play our heroine? Who best to portray the villain?
A recent skit on Saturday Night Live took on the challenging task of casting for the upcoming big screen version of Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m not sure author E.L. James had this in mind.
As I diligently edit manuscripts, I’m struck by a trend with “my” first-time writers: not using contractions … and in fact, working very hard to avoid them.
Did I miss the memo?
Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I recall hearing a rumor that good writing should not (note: shouldn’t) make use of contractions. Perhaps in a PhD thesis, or a technical manual, or a story (fiction or non) based in Elizabethan England. But when telling a story with a conversation between two street thugs hanging out in New York’s Central Park in 2013? “Hey, dude, you are looking good!” “You, too, bro; how are you doing? What is happening?” Ha.
Of course I do believe in following the rules of grammar and punctuation, spelling and capitalization – after all, that is what I get paid to check. But I also believe that writers need to use common sense – that writing is as much an art as it is a science, and therefore, not all rules need apply (if there is such a rule).
Unless, of course, you are Dr. Suess. Green Eggs and Ham might not have worked too well if he had written: “I don’t like them, Sam I’m.”