Shout outs Week #1 (with a wee bit o’ sentiment)
September 23, 2008 § 5 Comments
SHOUT OUT to my brother, his wife, Kace, and also to all writers who manage to affect great lines without resorting to sentimentality.
There are some writing lessons that take a while to absorb. Avoiding sentimentality in writing is one of them. One of my professors could shoot you a look and nail a rule about it, sending a clear arrowed point across the room that would knock you sideways in your seat and you would forever more do your best to avoid sentiment in anything you handed in ever after.
I can’t shoot anyone the look or the point. I can only warn against it. I cannot verbalize sentimentality, exactly, but when I read it or see it, sentimentality is as blatant as a pimple on a pale face. And just as undesirable.
Oh yeah, there should be emotion in writing. But unless it’s character driven, exaggeration, generalities and cliches can oversentimentalize a piece, even ruin a sentence’s essence, like “grandma made the best cookies in the world” or “she was the sweetest human you’ll ever meet.” She might have been but we can’t write it that way, or the reader will either be puking or throwing the book across the room.
Sentimentality is really just exaggerated stuff. Was she the sweetest grandma in the world, really? If so, paint that world. “She could sweet talk the mailman to post her letters for her, deliver a sermon without making us blink or reel with quoted verse, and bake a cake, iron three shirts, set down a bowl of cream for the cat and plan the week’s menu all while helping my sister with her math without once chastising the teacher for being too young to know her way around 4 times 4.” (Even that line is clicheed in a way with the “setting down a bowl of cream for the cat.” Who does that? (except in a fairy tale).
What’s all this yakety yak about sentimentality? Well, since I’m doing nothing but shoutouts this week to people and places and things that I love or discovered or considered, and the first one is to my brother and his wife, I must work very hard in the next sentence or two to avoid sentiment.
“You’re the best brother in the world.”
OK, no. That’s sentimentality.
“You and Kace are the coolest couple ever.”
OK, no. That doesn’t tell the reader anything.
“You are always happy when I call. You call me ‘sis’ and I like that. You laugh even when I repeat old jokes because I never remember new ones. And you didn’t hesitate to come visit us when we were 2.5 hours away from you in Florida two weeks ago. Four stars for you both. Go to the head of the class, take a bow, you take the cake.” (purposely wrapped it up with a few cliches, for fun. They are not ALWAYS bad. Sometimes, they’re good for humor. Oh, I long to be a humorous writer. I digress…)
And, big brother, I love how you tie your shoes to your belt when you go walking on the beach with Kace. Who I also love.
aaarrrghggh. pooh. OK, sometimes there’s no avoiding sentiment.