Nov 2, 2009

As usual

Starting a new project today - yippee! And it's a good one, too.

This week's helpful writing tip concerns this propensity writers seem to have for noting that things are happening the same way they always do.

So, like, "Just as she did every morning, Penny the Guinea Pig squeaked for her breakfast."
or, "I served Penny her favorite yummy grass in her usual dish."
or, "I knew as I woke up that Penny would be running circles in her cage yet again."

This is more common near the beginning of books, as authors try to establish routine before they mix things up. But honestly, it's not necessary.

"But Erin," you gasp breathlessly. "Your examples are all so clunky!"

Well, yes. And that's the thing with these kinds of sentences. They're pretty much always clunky. Like, when is it necessary to state that something's routine? I find it's used most often with really obviously routine things. Like, if a character is walking the dog, and the dog gets muddy feet, and the character thinks about what her mom will say when they go in the house. This is exactly the kind of situation that the "as usual" pops up in, presumably because the author feels like there's this question "where does the character get the idea that the mother will say this?" So they clarify - it's because this is what the mother always says. To which the reader says "Well, duh."

Unless something really weird is going on, readers will assume that what a character's doing at the beginning of a book is par for the course. Telling them that Cindy is making her usual cold cereal breakfast with her usual latte wearing her usual ratty sleeping sweats is insulting, and unnecessary. If any of those things weren't usual, we wouldn't even care. I promise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Erin wrote her post, using the dirty old keyboard that she always used. Typing on it reminded her of the last time she was typing on it. She remembered that time fondly, a pleasant little frolic across its black keys. It clicked as she typed, the same as it always clicked, just like every other time she typed. She was used to all of these things. Then, one fateful day, as her finger pressed itself down onto the spacebar, she did not hear its familiar click. It went down rough, sticky, not like it was supposed to. This was clearly different from her usual routine of pressing the spacebar and having it click nicely. This was different. Holy fucking shit.