The Spice Rule

45716708_ml-txtOne of the many things those who are new to novel writing fail to ask is, “How much is enough?” I’m not talking about length; I’m talking about specific kinds of content, something that impacts all writers in all genres, even those engaged in non-fiction (and not just memoir).

Writing “rules” can be worrisome for those who are compulsive about “doing things right.” So when they hear (from folks, like me, who profess to know something about the craft) that they should avoid using adverbs and stative verbs (is, was, were, etc.) they tend to go overboard, eradicating all such critters as if they were spraying a house for some sort of infestation.

This is nonsense.

As I’ve said so often before, the “rules” for writing are malleable. They’re not a one-size restricts all. They exist as guides, or suggestions, about what works well for most readers. An age-old maxim, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is that one should learn the rules before breaking them. And more specifically, before breaking them on purpose.

53191529_ml-txtIt’s at this point where the novice should employ the Spice Rule: “A little spice may save a dish; a lot may kill the diner.”

It’s true for many things one encounters in novels. Take dialog as an example. An occasional one-word sentence is fine; a steady stream of them isn’t. When using dialect with a character, be careful not to overload their speech with undecipherables like “you’ns” or “wud” or any other construction which reflects more on the writer than the character.

Southern accents, in particular, are often done in overkill mode, usually by Yankees and/or foreign transplants who simply don’t know any better. That’s not a valid excuse, however. For those of us who live in the South and have real Southern accents, dealing with such sloppy approximations is obnoxious and insulting. (Apparently, no one in Hollywood, and certainly, no speech coaches living there, have ever heard real Southerners speak. Thay nevah, evah, get it raht. Thay git this kine o’ she-it instay-yed. [snarl, heave])

When in doubt, don’t overdo it, whatever it is. Give the reader a break. To see the opposite of a practical application of this philosophy, spend some time on FaceBook. There you’ll be fed an unrelenting stream of cat videos and political rants, none of which interest anyone but the persons constantly posting the damn things. Where’s Emerson (“Moderation in all things”) when we need him?

Anyway, keep moderation in mind. Variety is the key–in dialog, sentence structure, subplots, characters, description, everything. Variety may well be the spice of life, but for everyone’s sake, don’t administer it with a shovel.


About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
This entry was posted in editing, Memoir, novel writing, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Spice Rule

  1. Sonya says:

    Admit it. You wrote this just for me.

  2. Pingback: Weed Out Weaklings | Sage of the South

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