Friday, February 25, 2011

Why are we yelling?!

Do you remember when you were in elementary/middle/high school, and you used to pass notes? Do you remember what those notes said? Please, allow me.

Hey! Oh my gosh, today has been the worst day EVER! Guess who totally walked by me and didn't even say hello?! It was like he didn't even see me!! I was so mad!

So...maybe not everyone had something as trivial as that to say. Perhaps it was just me who felt my tiny, teenage heart being squeezed by the un-affections of the male species.

Moving on.

When looking at the "note" above, I see nothing wrong with it. It's not meant to be literature, it's supposed to be venting.

Emails, blogging, texting, etc, are all similar. Do you have to be grammatically correct all the time? No way. That's exhausting. (Though when dealing with business communications, one should endeavor to be as close to perfection as possible.)

Novels, on the other hand, well, let me say I learned things the hard way.

Here is an unedited line from the very first book I wrote. (Someday I'm going to go back and rewrite the entire book.)

“Gilbert what’s going on?”
“Nothing! But it’s got to be the red ones. I don’t like the green ones!” Gilbert shook his head vigorously and furrowed his brow in disgust.

There are many things wrong with this scene (not just this little passage). In the interest of time, I'll refrain from dissecting it and get to the point.

The characters are talking about apples. Gilbert is a pudgy little boy with a big heart. He's got dirty cheeks and holds his hands behind his back as he talks. Can you imagine someone asking him suspiciously, "What's going on?"

Gilbert, who is innocent, shakes his head, his eyes as big as saucers. "Nothing," he insists.

Does he really shout the answer? Probably only if he's being defensive, which, in this case he isn't. When he also insists that he can't stand green apples, does he really have to yell?

If he were strapped to a table and men covered in lab coats and masks were forcing his mouth open to shove in a sliver of green apple, it would probably warrant him shouting, "I don't like the green ones!" Other than that? No raising of the voice is necessary.

But the real question is, how do I know he's shouting? Because of this nifty little invention: !

When my sister announces to everyone she's pregnant (hypothetically speaking, of course), I will say, "Congrats!!!" and put as many exclamation points on there as I please. In literature, however, the exclamation point should be used as sparingly as possible and only when appropriate.

For instance, if your character wakes in the middle of the night to a smoke filled room and heat licking at the door, he will probably sit up and shout, "Fire!"

If, as the author, you were to write something like: "Fire," he shouted. - The meaning would be totally lost. Your reader would lose confidence in you and probably write horrible things about you on their blog. Just kidding. I hope.

If your character is really, honest-to-goodness shouting, give him an exclamation point! (But only one.) If he is insisting, scolding, excited, nervous, issuing a warning, and a bushel of other adjectives and verbs, well, then, some discretion is advised.

I just started reading a book that is not exactly published by a major publishing house. I put it down after the first page and rubbed my temples. 

"Are you alright?"
"Well, I'll leave you to it!"
"Yes. I'll be home in time for supper!"

(Not a direct quote.)

The dialogue consisted of so many exclamation points, I finally had to ask myself, "Why is everyone screaming at each other?" With the exclamation point, I read it in my head as yelling, and that's enough to give a person a headache.

What you really have to remember is, yes, there are times when your character will shout. And when those times come, you must make sure enough emotion is otherwise portrayed in the scene so that the reader knows the exclamation point is warranted.

Punctuation is not used to show an emotion. You are the author, that's your job. You are the lead detective, punctuation is just the back-up. Pin It

1 comment:

Talia Jager said...

Love this post - hmm... should I use one ! or !!!!! :D
I am very guilty of using an extra ! sometimes more, but only in email, FB, blogging, that kind of thing. I try very hard to remember the rules when writing. I agree with you, some people just don't get it.