Part One: Words and Sentences
"Said-book" ism. An artificial verb used to avoid the word
"said." "Said" is one of the few invisible words in the
English language and is almost impossible to overuse. It is much less distracting
than "he retorted," "she inquired," "he ejaculated,"
and other oddities. The term "said-book" comes from certain pamphlets,
containing hundreds of purple-prose synonyms for the word "said,"
which were sold to aspiring authors from tiny ads in American magazines of the
Tom Swifty. An unseemly compulsion to follow the word "said"
with a colorful adverb, as in "'We'd better hurry,' Tom said swiftly."
This was a standard mannerism of the old Tom Swift adventure dime-novels. Good
dialogue can stand on its own without a clutter of adverbial props.
Brenda Starr dialogue. Long sections of talk with no physical background
or description of the characters. Such dialogue, detached from the story's setting,
tends to echo hollowly, as if suspended in mid-air. Named for the American comic-strip
in which dialogue balloons were often seen emerging from the Manhattan skyline.
Burly Detective syndrome. This useful term is taken from SF's cousin-genre,
the detective-pulp. The hack writers of the Mike Shayne series showed an odd
reluctance to use Shayne's proper name, preferring such euphemisms as "the
burly detective" or "the red-headed sleuth." This syndrome arises
from a wrong-headed conviction that the same word should not be used twice in
close succession. This is only true of particularly strong and visible words,
such as "vertiginous." Better to re-use a simple tag or phrase than
to contrive cumbersome methods of avoiding it.
Pushbutton words. Words used to evoke a cheap emotional response without
engaging the intellect or the critical faculties. Commonly found in story titles,
they include such bits of bogus lyricism as "star," "dance,"
"dream," "song," "tears" and "poet,"
cliches calculated to render the SF audience misty-eyed and tender-hearted.
Brand-name fever. The over-use of commercial brand-names to create a
false sense of gritty verisimilitude. It is useless to stock the future with
Hondas, Sonys, and Brauns without accompanying visual and physical detail.
"Call a Rabbit a Smeerp." A cheap technique for false exoticism,
in which common elements of the real world are re-named for a fantastic milieu
without any real alteration in their basic nature or behavior. "Smeerps"
are especially common in fantasy worlds, where people often ride exotic steeds
that look and act just like horses. (Attributed to James Blish.)
Roget's Disease. The ludicrous overuse of far-fetched adjectives, piled
into a festering, fungal, tenebrous, troglodytic, ichorous, leprous, synonymic
heap. (Attr. John W. Campbell)
Gingerbread. Useless ornament in prose, such as fancy sesquipedalian
Latinate words where short clear English ones will do. Novice authors sometimes
use "gingerbread" in the hope of disguising faults and conveying an
air of refinement. (Attr. Damon Knight)
Not Simultaneous. The mis-use of the present participle is a common
structural sentence-fault for beginning writers. "Putting his key in the
door, he leapt up the stairs and got his revolver out of the bureau." Alas,
our hero couldn't do this even if his arms were forty feet long. This fault
shades into "Ing Disease," the tendency to pepper sentences with words
ending in "-ing," a grammatical construction which tends to confuse
the proper sequence of events. (Attr. Damon Knight)
Next: Paragraphs and Prose Structure