Thursday, August 11, 2011

Normal People vs. Characters In Bad Novels

Advice for vanity-novel fiction writers who do NOT want to drive their editors-for-hire insane: go through your manuscript, search for every instance of dialogue where a character says "As you know" and delete the entire scene.

Here's how normal people talk: "I went to the store today. Christ, gas is expensive! Damn this economy."

Here's how characters in bad novels express the same concept: "I went to the store today and drove my car which, as you know, is a form of transport powered by an internal combustion engine fueled by a petroleum distillate called 'gasoline.' On this trip I went to a 'gas station,' a specialized fuel store where early twenty-first-century Americans like me are wont to fuel up our cars, and I was and am dismayed to report that gas is more expensive than usual, partially due to the effects of oil depletion but also due to the current economic crisis which, as you know, has its roots in the popping of the housing bubble of the last decade and the dot-com bubble before that...."

I don't believe in an afterlife but I still know Hell exists, as I'm posting this from Hell's own couch.


Blogger Steamboat Lion said...

Unless, as you know, you are writing about characters who are running for political office

1:23 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

Hmm, yes. And on second thought, perhaps I should not have attempted to make such a joke on this blog which, as you know, has the word "libertarian" in its subtitle and has a mostly libertarian readership because the blogger, as you know, considers herself a softcore libertarian.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Artor said...

As you know, us Libertarians advocate for people doing whatever they feel like doing, as long as no copy editors are harmed in the process. But we don't hesitate to criticize when whatever people are doing is lame.

6:33 PM  
Anonymous NoStar said...

I wonder how many hits this blog will receive because you used the word "softcore."

Come on Jennifer, GO ALL THE WAY. Declare yourself to be a HARDCORE libertarian and you'll get hits from more than just us Jap Tentacle Porn fans.

9:45 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

One one of the Simpsons Halloween specials, some relative's will left them a large amount of money if they spent one night in a creepy old abandoned house. Near the end of the drive there, Homer says "So: We're agreed to spend the night at Aunt So-and-So's house for the money!" Bart says "What an odd thing to say...."

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Jason Sonenshein said...

A commenter on the Comics Curmudgeon identified this as "talk[ing] like a stupid person expects smart people to talk"

10:33 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

" a stupid person expects smart people to talk."

That encapsulates perfectly my view of management- or bureaucrat-speak.

I don't care at all about the kinds of stuff the schoolmarms complain about (the use of "ain't," double negatives, etc.), which are just holdovers from the days when they were perfectly correct Middle English and the English Renaissance Latinists hadn't yet "improved" the langugage.

But what bureaucrats, advertisers and journalists have done to the language, out of sheer self-importance and insecurity -- "impact" as a verb, utilize, prior to, and all the other pointy-haired boss jargon -- makes me madder than a one-armed Ayn Rand heroine in a face-slapping contest.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

The "as you know" thing is an infodump for lazy writers. My sample sentence, complaining about gas prices and the economy -- there's actually a lot of information there that's merely implied, because you guys live in the same time and culture as I do, so of course you know I do things like drive a car and buy gas, because you do the same things. But 200 years from now people might not do that, so if they are reading a book set in circa 2011 America, they might not know about this.

Still, you-the-writer have the responsibility to present that information beforehand, so your readers will understand what it means when a character says "I went to the store. Christ, gas is expensive." THAT is realistic; having Jennifer-the-ancient-American say "I drove my car which, as you know, is a form of personal transport powered by ..." is not.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

But 200 years from now people might not do that, so if they are reading a book set in circa 2011 America, they might not know about this.

As if a novel from a vanity publisher will be considered and read as a literary "classic" two hundred years from now. But as you know, hope springs eternal. :-)

11:48 PM  

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