Friday, October 29, 2010

Help! Murder!

Uh, no not really.  What I want to talk about today is how to eliminate those words and phrases that can really kill a story. "Eliminate"..."kill"...= Murder...sigh, oh all right, my attempt at humor failed.

So now can we get down to serious business?  What about all those extraneous words that we all use in our stories that we shouldn't?  Words like "that," "then," "but," "well," and so on.  We all know those, right?  Like the italisized ones in the sentence above.  I should have written: What about all those extraneous words we all use in our stories when we shouldn't.  Better?

Let's shift gears, and talk about phrases. How many of us have read something like this:  Her eyes followed him as he stormed down the walk.  What kind of image does that produce?  A pair of long-lashed eyes bumping along the walk?  Umm...really?

How about:  Her eyes were consumed with passion. Hmm.  The dictionary says "consume" means to use something up in such a way that it cannot be recovered.  Wonder what she did without her eyes when her passion was over?  Then there's:  He claimed he was telling the truth, but his eyes said otherwise.  Did his eyes learn to talk at the same time he did?  That should have been interesting for his parents.

She dropped her eyes in embarrassment. Excuse me?  I hope she dropped them onto something soft, like a bed or a thick carpet.

Here's one I just read by a favorite author of mine:  Unseeing, he looked out at the setting sun.  How can he "look out" at anything, if he can't see?

Here are some more:
Her emerald eyes mesmerized him. ( what was the rest of her body doing?)
Her smokey eyes blazed with fire. ( I guess her eyes would be smokey, if they were on fire.)
Her sultry voice grated on me. ( Why?  are you a piece of cheese?)
His voice came from a long distance. ( That must have been hard on his throat.)
His eyes caught and held hers. ( pair of eyes must have been running away to have been caught by another pair.)
Her heart sang with happiness.  (This is an old favorite...uh, what song was her heart singing? )
I thought to myself. ( Who else would you be thinking to? I used this phrase so many times until I finally realized what I was saying! )

 Enough, all ready!  The point is...when we are editing our work, these are the  kinds of words and phrases we need to especially look out for.  Think about yourself before you write something:  would your eyes be falling out on the bed or onto the carpet?  Or would they be on fire, or chasing another pair down the street?  The same with using voice or any other body part as the subject of your sentence.  It just doesn't work.

These are phrases we read...and write...all the time.  So much so that we usually don't give them a second thought...they are nothing more than cliches.  So be careful during your edits, and if you've written something using eyes or voice or another body part as the subject, change it.  Don't give an editor or an agent the opportunity to think..."she/he is an amateur."

Until next time,
that's a wrap.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Words...and What They Can Do

How many of you grew up knowing the expression "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me?"  Have any of you ever repeated that to your own children?  Do you really believe that words can never hurt someone?

Another young teen committed suicide over the weekend.  Why?  Because he had been bullied.  Oh, not with being hit or jabbed or shoved into lockers or ignored or having his books and papers stolen or ruined.  No, these bullies used words to hurt him.  He was overweight, too heavy to run or play sports.  He was a diabetic, so he had to give himself insulin shots during the school day.  He wore braces and spoke sometimes with a lisp.

He was bullied with words. 'Hey Fatso,'  'lispy wispy,' 'shot jock,' and...I'll leave it to your imagination.  I wonder if his parents ever told him that old saying...Sticks and stones can break my bones, but WORDS can never hurt me.

Excuse me?  Words can never hurt?  Words can sear like a bad burn; words can cut to the quick like a knife thrust; words can penetrate  the heart like a bullet...and...words can kill.  Words stay with you forever.  Sometimes they can be buried in the subconscious, but they're there, nevertheless.  And the more hurtful those words were, the shorter the time for them to stay buried.  They begin to grow and to fester...along with the hurt...until the wound becomes so infected it has to be cured.  And sometimes, the more vulnerable the person is, sometimes the only cure is death.

The teen who died over the weekend is not the first nor will he be the last to die because of words...words deliberately thrown at him or her to create a lasting hurt.

Recently, I read an interview with an author of a middle grade book...her first. ( No, who she is and the name of the book is not important.)  She said that the main reason this particular book was published was because her editor admired the sarcastic, snarky wit, and it appealed to him.  But then she added that she had not realized the book was sarcastic, that was not the voice she had intended. do you write a story with a sarcastic, snarky voice and not know it?  Sarcasm is not something that everyone can do in their writing.  It's not something that everyone is even comfortable with in talking in conversations.  But she was unaware that the words she was using created a sarcastic voice to the story.

Think about that...she was unaware.  Can that apply to the rest of us in our writing?  Do we get so involved with our story, our plot, our characters, that we are unaware of the voice we are creating?  Are there words, phrases perhaps, that we use so often we neglect to think about their meaning, or how others reading those words could interpret them?  Do we put words into the mouths of our characters whose meaning could be interpreted in ways other than what our characters do?

I'm not saying characters should never be snarky or sarcastic.  I'm not saying that the voice we create should never be either of those.  I AM saying that we should be aware of the words we put into our characters' mouths, of the voice our overall story has, and be aware of the fact that words and intonations can always be interpreted in different ways.  Be AWARE that the voice we intended to create with the words we used is actually the one we created.

Words can kill.  Perhaps that old saying should be reworded to:  Sticks and stones can break my bones, but WORDS can kill me.

I don't know about you, but from now on, I'm going to be very careful about the words I talking, and most of all, in writing.

Until next time,
that's a wrap.