Ain’t No Southern Twang

I await with bated breath. Or is it waiting baited? Or with breath abated? Turns-of-phrase easily drive me nuts. In fact, a friend I’ve known all the way through gradeschool writes (and speaks), “sorta speak” instead of “so to speak,” and I’ve never had the heart to correct her.

Personally, I feel it gives her character. On the other hand, the writing Nazi in me screams for reparations. Given my gutteral response, she is now the framework for a character in my latest work.

Should you use turns-of-phrase while writing? The simple answer is yes, sometimes, depending on the situation. Should the whole book be entirely in a conglomeration of phrases? No. Never. Just like some neurobiologist writing latinate in some science periodical should use it sparingly—even for the experts in his field—or a drummer that only hits the drums hard and fast with no rhythm to speak of, one should always avoid drowning the reader in slog.

I also prefer turns-of-phrases remain in dialogue (unless you’re going first person: different animal altogether). Again, there are always exceptions, but they’re like pieces of flair: too many of them and you’re in danger of glaaamorizing to the detriment and, sometimes, death of the book. A fabulous character and a fabulous style are two very different things. If you can keep them separated, more power to you. If you can bring them together to work well? Even more power.

But, power corrupts. Remember. The fool leads the king, doncha know.

Of course a writer can follow the phrase turning to the basic structure of the sentence: it worms its way into everything. By the time a writer gets there, he’s given up on writing a book and decided to do A Study… of a Sentence: Diagramming a voice. Or simply being anal. I’m not talking about the roots of the matter (heh), I’m talking about the stumbling blocks. The “Hell yeah! Pardon my French.” Topped with “In my humble opinion.” Stephen King did a lot of this–A tisket a tasket–to develop the mood and environment. It helped to put a creepy song in the reader’s head, and overall, it worked: he’s wildly successful. And I like him, to boot (there’s another one).

Turn-of-phrase can be a garnish, or it can be a plate full of gristly filler. Divide and conquer, cut the fat, and dodge the bullet, sorta speak.

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