This is going to be my last blog post, for a while at least, so as a farewell I decided to condense all of my stored-up wisdom into a crash course in Sarah-thought. The textbook for this course is Stephen King’s On Writing. Don’t worry if you haven’t done the reading; I quote the important parts.
Writers love rules. They give us goals, guidelines for revision, and nits to pick—not to mention fodder for arguments. On Writing has rules about everything from active voice to daily word counts. King advocates pantsing over plotting, though he doesn't acknowledge the level of storytelling genius he brings to that equation. He is a Strunk & White devotee, as every writer should be. Most famously, he admonishes against adverbs and overzealous dialogue tags:
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
If you have a rotten tomato handy, get ready to throw it at me. (That was a metaphor. I am not responsible for damage to your screen.)
Here goes: I think the occasional adverb can useful. Consider:
Option 1: “I trust your judgment,” he said, but she knew from the tone of his voice and the faraway look in his eyes that he wasn’t really paying attention.
Option 2: “I trust your judgment,” he said absently.
The first is more descriptive, but what if that extra sentence slows down my pacing? I don’t buy the argument that tone can always be inferred from well-crafted dialogue. Sometimes I want a mismatch between what is said and how it’s said. An adverb can handle that problem just fine. You may call it lazy; I call it efficient.
I know better than to argue for an adverb beyond the confines of this post. But while I'm still on my soapbox, I’ve gotta say what’s in my rebel (gangsta) heart: Adverbs are just words, yo.
|Mary Sue and Gary Stu's love triangle |
has a heartbreak-free resolution,
and all utterances are adverbial.
Travesty... or delightful classic?
“To write adverbs is human, to write he said and she said is divine.”
Simplicity in dialogue tags seems as much a fashion as a rule. I just finished reading my well-worn copy of Maysie Greig’s Janice, a pulp romance published in 1932 that elevates creative dialogue attribution to art. The characters are pinnacles of propriety and there isn’t a hint of sex anywhere in the book, yet the male love interest managed to ejaculate twice. That was the only tag that gave me pause, but maybe my reaction says more about loss of innocence than abuse of vocabulary. The book was still a page-turner, still rich with well-crafted detail, and still one of my favorites.
The Heart of the Matter
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. […] Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.
Drink and be filled up.”
Back to rules. Maybe it’s the beach living, but as I get older I’m becoming one of those free spirits who owns a few too many peasant skirts and tends to say: Rules, schmules. I advocate learning rules only so that breaking them becomes a conscious choice.
Even in my most contrary moods, though, I still think two of King's rules are unbreakable. The first is a practical matter:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
The second is about finding balance:
“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around."
|Sadly, not my actual desk.|
It’s time to push my metaphorical desk into the corner. Writing isn’t the only water that’s free, that sustains me, that’s magic. My five-year-old read Hop on Pop to me the other night. He truly read, and he was so proud of himself.
During the hour or two I can steal while the kids are in school, I want to focus on finishing a first novel that I might be at least a little bit proud of, starting a sure-to-be-better second novel, and reconnecting with the joy in fiction. But when the school bell rings, my laptop really ought to turn into a pumpkin.
(Don't worry. You'll find me lurking around these parts after dark, like a vampire...)
With love to Sheena, MaryAnn, Sabrina, Susan, and Melanie. Drink and be filled up.