FRIDAY REFLECTIONS – JUST HOW SUBJECTIVE IS WRITING

I’ve been giving this subject a lot of thought as it is one that concerns every writer; be it the writer sitting at #1 in the NYT bestseller lists or the person self-publishing a book that no one knows about outside of their immediate circle of influence.

We each have our own style of writing and methods of expression, yet there is a literary Stasi who say we have to conform to certain rules and styles.  One of my favourite writers, James Herbert, was unapologetic in his style and rightly so.  A writer is within his/her rights to adopt whichever style they wish.  No one has to read it if they don’t want to.  Perhaps the point being made here is that unless we conform to the machinations of the literary Stasi then they will harangue us publicly until no one wants to read our work.  They have done this to E.L. James though I don’t think it has harmed her sales any.

So what is correct and what is not?  In proper English the colon and semicolon is used frequently.  Lynn Truss in her famous 2005 article claimed, “The difference between them is too negligible to be grasped by the brain of man.”  Is that a good enough reason to dismiss these items of punctuation?  If we are to write in correct English should we not then use them?  Just because Hemingway or Vonnegut or King would not use them in their works?  Where was the literary Stasi then?  And to you Ms Truss: Is it fair to assume that there are those of us that don’t know the difference to fit with your argument?

Yet in the main American writers refuse to use them.  Kurt Vonnegut was much more lambasting in his criticism of them than Truss.  Stephen King, another favourite of mine, will never use a semicolon in a million years but will happily berate anyone using an adverb in their text.  Many argue that they are old-fashioned, which I would accept as true.  But then so is using the word “said” as a speech tag all the time.

Jane Austen was a great writer; it is undisputed.  But the way she would follow speech with “-,” said Darcy or “-,” said Miss Bennett belongs back in the early 19th Century, perhaps with the semicolon.  Would anyone dare criticise her use of adverbs?

For me the largest bone of contention I have is the use of dialogue tags and separating them from actions in the text.  I have a particular dislike of the word “said” and its blatant overuse.  Members of the Stasi will say that it is a word that usually escapes the eye and that people don’t see it.  Well, I see it and seeing it over and over again irritates me no end.

I will use an example.  It would be normal for me to write something like: “It is the way of the world,” Dracula grinned.  The Stasi would insist that reads as, “It is the way of the world,” Dracula said, grinning.  The latter may be correct, but to me it breaks the flow and definitely so if written that way five hundred times in a novel.  As far as I am concerned every use of speech in text is followed by some manner of punctuation: be it a comma; a question mark; or an exclamation mark.  To me that separates the speech from the action that comes after.  When I write: “It is the way of the world,” Dracula grinned – a comma has separated the two and the action then follows the speech.  The Stasi will no doubt berate me for this and I will most likely conform.  I certainly don’t like to be accused of errors in grammar when I do know the difference for it is such comments that hurt me the most as a writer.

So I would like to open a discussion on this issue.  What do you think?