Kill the Dog

by RS on May 21, 2014

Mr Bessie at the Computer_Snapseed

“Overuse at best is needless clutter; at worst, it creates the impression that the characters are overacting, emoting like silent film stars. Still, an adverb can be exactly what a sentence needs. They can add important intonation to dialogue, or subtly convey information.”

Howard Mittelmark, How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide

Discalimer: The title of this post is solely to grab attention. I never would hurt or kill a dog or my dogs (although this 4 am breakfast club they have going for the past few days will probably kill me). Today’s entry is about books on craft partly because I’ve been purchasing quite a few.

When I was looking for an inspirational quote this morning, I came across the one above and thought it would be good to use. I’m of a like-mind with Howard, and I think common sense prevails that overuse of anything will annoy readers, but sometimes there is a need to use one, two, or even three adverbs. They are there for a reason, and if we’re to avoid them when we write why not avoid them altogether when we speak?

In any case, Howard’s book made me curious so I went ahead and looked at the sample offered by Amazon and was sold on it. Not only does he provide good advice, his examples are very funny. For instance:

In which too much reminiscing stalls the story

Joe saw Anne waiting on the corner, and immediately remembered the first time they’d met. She was eighteen then, just out of high school, walking her poodle in the wrong part of town. He was the gentleman who gave her a ride. Now she saw him and waved. He pulled over to the curb. She was wearing the same green cotton dress she’d worn when they went to the Caribbean. He would never forget that trip. The weather was perfect the first few days. Then the skies opened; but they’d amused themselves well enough! “Hi, Anne,” he said, as she got into his Ford Fromage. “How was your day?” “I don’t know,” she shrugged, grinning. That was so like her. It was also like her mother, Joe remembered. He had known Anne’s mother before he’d ever met Anne. In 1963, when he was only eight…

Or the classic of looking in the mirror to describe a character:

Where the character must be in front of a mirror to know what she looks like

Melinda paused to inspect herself in the mirror. A girl with a nice body and a pretty face stood reflected there, with medium-sized breasts that stood up proudly in her halter top. She gave her long straight cinnamon hair a perky toss and decided Joe would be crazy to let her go.

And I am guilty of this, but with a dog:

Wherein there is a cat

Mr. Whiskerbottom pattered out of his favorite lair beneath the sofa and meowed inquisitively. Melinda said, “Does His Highness want his dinner?” His Royal Pussliness seemed to squint his eyes in approval, his whole demeanor saying that he was a pampered potentate of the domestic realm. His fluffy tail swished back and forth in the air, and his cute tufted ears were slightly back with impatience. “I live to serve,” Melinda laughed.

He writes:

In most novels, a pet should have about as high a profile as an armchair. Unless it is a cat mystery, the ferret or pot-bellied pig plays an important role in the plot, they can probably vanish from the story. Most of all, it does not work to give a character a pet to make him or her sympathetic. People are often at their least sympathetic when cooing over a bored cat. Unless the pet is a main character—the one who’s really solving all those crimes—cut it down to one sentence, or delete.

As writers we tend to despair over every detail and take ourselves too seriously. Just read any book on craft and you’ll see all the high-falutin’ examples provided of what makes a good story. But there are times that you need to read over-the-top examples to drive the point home (and how’s that for using two cliches and repetition).

I’m sure I’ll learn a few things from Howard, and laugh along the way, but now I’m off to kill the dog.

0 comments

Previous post:

Next post: