Wednesday, October 15, 2008

All Together Now, One, Two, Three:

Another one of those writing things that bugs me (see previous rant on screaming) is when writers have their characters say things all together or altogether or they all answer in unison. It always makes me stop short. It kicks me out of that story world. Yes, if you're old enough to have heard a record scratching then I hear a record scratching. Insert said sound.

Do people act like this in reality? Does more than one kid say the exact same sentence at exactly the same time?

"We want some of your chocolate chip cookies, Mommy," the three kids all said together.*
* [Don't even get me started on the proliferation of chocolate chip cookies in stories]

Come on, no way, right? Are they reading a script? Are those kids robots? So don't write that in your stories.

I get that sometimes people will say sort of the same thing more or less together. Maybe everyone cheers or boos or hollers or something. That's fine. But not in complete sentences.

Maybe it's more like:
"Mom, can I have a cookie?" Carson asked.
"Yeah, me too," said Mark. "Chocolate chip, please."
"And me!" added Stanley. "Don't forget me!"

Wordier, definitely, but definitely more realistic.

So does this "all together thing" ever work? Are you dying to tell me you've seen it in: insert title here? Yes, you know there are always exceptions. But the one I can think of is a lot of years old. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper has reams of characters saying the exact same sentence at the exact same time ("said all the dolls and toys together"). So why does it work?

Simple: It's old.

So it's allowed to sound old, or okay, old-fashioned. Think of the precedent set by all kinds of voices reciting a single sentiment in unison: the chorus in Greek tragedies. Hey, it works too, but like it's a Greek tragedy. Is that the flavour you want to invoke for your writing voice?

So yes, if you want to create an old-fashioned feel or a folk tale or a large tale or even a bunch of robots then by all means give it a try. But don't insert this in the middle of your modern story or you'll hear that record scratching (oh, okay, maybe a CD skipping...or the sudden silence of crickets chirping after someone yanks your iPod ear buds outta your ears).

(Disclaimer: Lizann really does enjoy her work as an instructor for the Institute of Children's Literature, where she can help writers not to do this. Unless of course they really want to.)

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