You better watch out
You better not cry
If your editor rejects you
And I’m telling you why… sooner or later down this message.
Right now, I’m saying rule-breaking does NOT work with Santa, okay? You put your playthings back where they belong, do your chores, eat your meals without complaint, put your clothes away, and MAYBE Santa will bring you that Super Hi-Def sixty-five inch TV you keep hounding Mommy for! (Note: that was an upper-case MAYBE!)
In a short story contest recently, in addition to eliminating unnecessary attributions, I used a tag other than said twice in the piece. The story came away shy of first prize and ended up second. With the other scores so positive, I wondered if it missed because, in the words of the deciding judge, “…the author seems determined to avoid said.”
When somebody says, “Oh, man,” in a story, I sometimes want to know if (s)he grumbled, shouted, screamed or whispered it. For example:
“I can tell you didn’t study for this test.” Miss Smith dropped the paper with the red D on Harry’s desk.
“Oh, man,” Harry mumbled. He feared another beating from his father.
The tone of the attribution mumbled foreshadows Harry’s fear and moves the story forward. I don’t need to see Harry run his hands through his hair, shrink down in his chair, grow eyes as big as saucers…to know this kid’s in trouble. Just let the poor kid mumble. We get it.
As for my story, did I know it would end up in front of this particular judge’s spectacles? No. Had I known, would I have written the story to suit that judge? No. So, go ahead, break a rule when it seems right, but know why you did it, and above all, keep true to your character.
Don’t use unnecessary descriptive actions to get an emotion across if a simple mumbled will get the idea across and move the plot along. I don’t want to read through 300 pages of the wringing of hands, clutching of sleeves, raising and knitting of eyebrows, slouching of shoulders, heaving of sighs….yada…,yada…yada.
In closing, I must say my eyes twinkled and my lips curled in a smug smile of satisfaction to discover the judge used a word intended to impress me. It did. (S)he used it incorrectly.