I’m aware that this blog is withering on the vine, a limp shade of its thrusting former self, back in the days when I was plugging a movie or, apparently, didn’t have anything better to do. But here’s an attempt to kick off 2017 (only ten weeks in) with a recap of my two writing objectives for the year. No, it’s not Win A Bafta or even Get A Movie Made. Those are both fundamentally out of my control. The only thing I can control is my writing, and making that better. Here are the two small, specific things which are helping do that: no adverbs; no exclamation marks.
I’m a fan of JK Rowling, her storytelling and her imagination. I am enjoying reading the Potters to my two eldest kids at bedtime. But she has (or had, back when she was writing them) a terrible case of adverbitis. Concernedly. Scaredly. Confusedly. And the worst of the lot, excitedly. Leaving aside the fact that these words both look and sound ugly, they are almost always redundant. I just miss them out when I read the books to my kids. The flow is smoother and no sense is lost. Why should it be? The storytelling is in the action, in the dialogue, in the event, not in the manner in which it takes place. The same goes doubly for a screenplay, where economy, clarity and what-can-I-show-on-screen is everything that matters. Just cut them out.
Over the years, I’ve been known to try to bump up an underperforming joke with the addition of an exclamation mark. As if to say: if you were in any doubt whether or not I was trying to make a joke, I was. The danger here is obvious. If there is any doubt, then either you’re not doing your job, or the reader isn’t doing theirs. So do your job: write a joke or an observation or a piece of sarcasm in the confidence that the words themselves will carry the meaning. The lack of exclamation mark (let alone the dreaded “?!” double-mangle) indeed adds to the confidence of the line and therefore makes it funnier / better observed / more sarcastic. And if the reader doesn’t get it, well then that’s their problem. I should state that an exclamation mark could be used when a character is, indeed, exclaiming or shouting or otherwise urgently expressing something. “Run!” I think is valid. Although I’m trying to avoid that too. “Run.” probably has more dread in it, don’t you think?
So there, my belated new year’s resolution top tips for you.
“Enjoy!” he said, excitedly.