Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Absolutes in Writing. Really?
It seems to me that there is a growing population of writers who are more than ready to dish out advice about what other writers should not do. If you want your prose to read as a professional's should read, don't do this. Avoid that. Don't use -ly adjectives. Don't tell. Don't use exclamation points. Don't use colorful speaker tags; only 'said.' Use passive voice and you'll be burned at the stake!
It sounds sage, but is it really? Think about it. Why does language have adverbs? In school, we learned that it is to describe how an action is performed. It just so happens, that in English, a very high percentage of adverbs end in -ly. And yet, the words have a very important and useful function.
And what about telling? Uhm...if we all quit telling, the world would be a very sad place, as there would be no stories. After all, what is narrative? It's storyTELLING. Surely, the 'show; don't tell' axiom has merit. Your words should vividly paint a picture. But so much of your tale will absolutely be 'telling.' Don't stop. Just get good at telling.
Exclamation points have a purpose. They communicate volume, tone, emotion, and context. Use them. Use them well. And speaker tags? What a crock. Twenty years ago, the advice was "avoid the overuse of 'said' as a speaker tag." After all, 'said' is so vague and impersonal…and boring. Now, it's use 'said' or no speaker tag at all. In the immortal words of Colonel Sherman Potter, "Horse Hockey!" If the use of a vivid speaker tag helps the reader 'live' the scene, shriek, gasp, howl, and growl away!
And lastly, what of the revered, axiom to never use Passive Voice. Tell that to Tolkien. There are legitimate uses for Passive Voice. That's, uhm, why we have a passive voice in our language. Yes, yes, there are definitely errors to be made with passive voice. It's kind of putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. But if you are doing passive voice on purpose, with a purpose, go for it.
In many cases, what the writing pundits mean when they issue all the prohibitions is this: know what you are doing, and don't waste words. In writing, there are few absolutes, so don't get bullied. Experiment with language. See what works for the story you wish to tell. And do it all…well.