Tuesday, December 11, 2007

You Scream, so I Scream, and I’m Not Talking for Ice Cream

Here's something I’ve got to get off my chest because it’s been there awhile. I’ve read a lot of stories both published and unpublished (the “un” variety as a writing instructor for the Institute of Children's Literature for the past ten years, and as a children’s magazine editor in my previous life). From all that reading I have come to realize that I have some language usage pet peeves. One of those is screaming. Yes, screaming.

How, you might well ask, could I be peeved about screaming? It's like this: When a story character starts screaming in complete sentences I go off into a peevey little fit (warning: it’s not pretty).

Who screams in complete sentences? The technical dictionary definition might disagree but to me a scream is an inarticulate and high volume expression of complete terror or pain. How do you even spell that?

Aarrgghgh!!!!!?

Nah, too tame. Only works in comics with a visual for the facial expression to get the right feel. To be honest I can’t even come up with a spelling for a scream. I’m a big fan of the obvious:

He screamed.

There you go. That’s all you need. Brief. Powerful. I think it conveys all you need to know.

So when I see something like this I want to scream:

“Get in here and put on some shoes or your socks are gonna turn black!” she screamed.

Okay, confession time. If you’ve ever procreated you’ve surely uttered a phrase similar to that at some point in your child-rearing career. But surely a better dialog tag would be:
hollered,
yelled, or
shouted.

Disagree? Think it has to be ‘scream’ because it needs to be a really forceful sentence and the woman is really, really mad? Imagine, then, that sentence uttered in a state of terror or pain or as a desperate last-ditch plea for salvation. Go on, imagine it. Here it is again:

“Get in here and put on some shoes or your socks are gonna turn black!” she screamed.

Now if in your story the effect you were going for really is some crazed and insane laundry-obsessed woman with spittle flying out of her mouth and maybe the suggestion of rabies about her, okay then. I concede. Go for it.

But if not may I humbly suggest:
hollered,
yelled, or
shouted.

I’m sure my man Roget could suggest a few dozen others. But then again that’s probably where the prolific use of scream in this way comes from in the first place, isn’t it? Thesaurus abuse! Thesaurus abuse!

So please, I beg you, save what little sanity I’ve got left. Save me from my peevey fits. If you’ve got to scream, scream with careful consideration, okay?

The English language...what a scream!


(What are your writing related pet peeves?)

3 comments:

Rebecca said...

Thanks for the laugh. I imagined myself actually "screaming" that sentence, and I thought my imaginary self had gone utterly mad. :-)

One of my pet peeves is the use of unnecessary adverbs. Several weeks ago I read the first Harry Potter (I know, I'm way behind on the whole Harry Potter craze) and I can't stop thinking how annoying it was I read this line: "(Ron?) said reasonably." Ugh. How irritating.

Rebecca said...

Hi,

I really like your blog, so I decided to put a shout out to you on my own blog. So, you've been tagged. :-) Check out my blog to see what the game of tag is all about. I'm new to it, but it's really just a fun way to help spread the word about your blog.

Cheers!

Lizann Flatt said...

Thanks, Rebecca! I love playing tag. Sure, I'll check out your blog. But if I do anything stupid please forgive...I am new at this too!
Lizann