I turned on a detective movie from the 30’s last weekend to give me some noise while I worked through my research. I swear the movie-goers of the 30’s must have been ignorant. Or at least the people in Hollywood THOUGHT they were ignorant. (Which is doubtless the truth.)
What I’m talking about is treating the reader, or in this case the viewer, as though they are incapable of logical thought.
In one scene, a man is tying his shoe. Picks up his
jacket and exits a hotel room into bright sunlight. Yet the screenwriter saw fit to tell me through the dialogue that it was early morning and then a few minutes later specify that “It’s only a little after 9AM.” Yes, the man said AM. Obviously getting 9AM and 9PM confused was an issue in the 30s?
That wasn’t the only example in the movie. Sun shining, splashing sounds in a swimming pool and a girl walking across the lawn in a bathing suit. Two men sit at a table with sweating glasses full of ice tea and one says to the other, “Sure is a warm day.” Thanks for that. I’d have never figured it out on my own.
Another instance: A man, laying nose-down on a table with a knife sticking out of him could have been alive, I guess. The policeman made sure I knew, asking, “He’s dead?” as he calmly stared down at the corpse. I hope if I’m ever NOT dead that someone doesn’t just stand over me and say, “Gee, you think she might be dead?”
“I dunno, but she might have a hard time breathing with her face in the dirt.”
“You think we ought to check or something.”
“Maybe that’s a good idea. Hey, you dead?”
If anything, the movie made me start thinking about the things that I write. Am I set up to insult readers? Between some other websites I’ve seen, the three books on craft that I’ve been reading, and Kathy Ide’s posts from a course on the American Christian Fiction Writers email loops, I have a few ideas about avoiding insults.
Not all -ly words need to be eliminated, but the thinking is that adverbs weaken active verbs. Rather than try to dress up a plain verb with an adverb, I should be using a vivid verb.
She walked calmly toward the kitchen.
This sentence isn’t nearly as strong as
She sauntered toward the kitchen.
Along those lines, some words should be avoided altogether. Words like really, very, awfully, seemingly, terribly, totally, somewhat, sure, completely, just.
There are a few verbs that don’t mean much of anything. Seems is one of those. It goes along with all the wases and weres and is a cousin to must, appears and looks. Could, should, and would work if used sparingly.
And as to that, do searches on words that show up regularly. Pet words. (Mine is just!) Make sure you spread them throughout the document so they aren’t overwhelming.
Okay, I’m probably cheating, but the word clarifiers works so well for this subject. I’m talking about insulting explanations like shrugging shoulders. What else might be shrugged? Likewise with nodding head. Just in the example from the movie I saw, the guy said 9AM. Unless I’m talking to someone on the other side of the world, I won’t use AM or PM when I’m talking about what time it is.
But I confess that I encountered such a situation as I wrote this article. I originally wrote that the man walked outside into bright sunlight. Like there would be such light inside? Yeah, I caught that. And I hope I didn’t leave any others dangling about!
When have you felt insulted by the way a book was written or the dialogue from a movie?