Wednesday, February 3, 2010

This Straw Not Recommended for Hot Beverages

So said the wrapper on my straw when I went into my local coffee franchise for an iced one.

I'm not sure what the statistics are; whether the incidence of people receiving mouth burns from sipping their long blacks through a straw was abominably high and action had to be taken, or if perhaps it's decreased since they started labelling straws in this fashion. One thing for sure, we live in a society that likes to point out the obvious.

Which is probably why I'm having a little trouble with avoiding the obvious when I write lately. My writing's full of 'he saids' and 'she saids' when it's very obvious that a) someone's talking (the talking marks give that away!) and b) the person talking is him. Or her.

I can't help it - I use these words like punctuation to break up sentences, and because they're easy. When I get an idea I want to get it down as fast as I can, so I use quick and easy words, which are rarely interesting or evocative.

The results are some ve-ery sloppy writing, so I have to keep reminding myself: The point of writing a story is not just to say what's going on - you're supposed to bring something more to the table.

On the other hand, when I do take the time to slave for hours over two sentences until they're just shimmering, it's a bit like when you spend all afternoon cooking lasagne from scratch for your housemates/family and you serve it up and it all goes in about 5 minutes: a two hour sentence will be read in an average of 2.5 seconds*.  Then the reader goes straight on to the next one.

Aim for the next week: increase the interesting and evocative while writing as fast as possible. Easy!

*Statistic not verified.


  1. Hi

    I like your metaphor of home cooked from scratch lasagne and the satisfaction of nearly busting a gut for a wonderfully composed phrase! To be consumed in 2.5 seconds!

    I so understand what you mean about how easy it is to use "easy" words. I find this a problem with my current attempt at poetry writing. I need words - evocative, provacative, scrummy yummy words to capture imagery but the old brain just wants to rhyme cat with hat and pen with zen. LOL!!

    I think maybe I'll just think of your lasagne when I'm flagging.

    Take care


  2. I love the car commercials that say, "Professional driver on closed course. Do not attempt." Yes, I was going to drive on the ledge of that building until you warned me.

    Sometimes my first sentences come out nice and sparkly, but sometimes they need some buffing (editing) later.

  3. Old Kitty - Yeah, busting a gut is right. Nicola Morgan was so kind as to look at a piece of my story for another POV post, and fixing one clunky sentence, which she pointed out, was the inspiration for this post! Took me aaages.

    Oh, and poetry- I'm hopeless at it. I admire you for writing it, and I actually like pen rhyming with zen!

    Theresa - Hello - Yeah, it's 'Kids, don't try this at home,' but for adults.
    Even 'sometimes' is a pretty good rate for sparkly first sentences!

  4. Just wanted to support the continued use of He said, She said. I wish Steig Larsson had used them more. Not only do I have trouble remembering who is speaking in his books, I think he did too and something that (through count back) should belong to one speaker has later been attributed to the other. Cue much confusion. Apparently readers acknowledge but don't really read 'he saids, she saids' so it isn't considered overuse.

  5. Hi Melinda, that's interesting, because I was thinking afterwards that I don't want to stop using he said/she said because they add to the rhythm of dialogue, even if they are a bit meaningless. If that makes sense!

    I really need to read those Stieg Larsson books...

  6. I think Melinda is right, readers don't really notice he said / she said. And it's far preferable to he gasped/whined/screamed/groaned/growled etc.

  7. Hi Helen- yes, I know what you mean. Reminds me of those Tom Swifties - when the speaking verb has some kind of daggy reference to the dialogue. Eg. 'I'd like another drink,' she whined.
    'I can't see through the window,' he said opaquely.

    They're a lot of fun to make up, trust me!