Thursday, April 29, 2010

We Can Do Better

Every once in a while—okay, it happens all the time—I will do or say something that causes my wife to roll her eyes. Today’s post happens to be about one of those moments. Now, I’ll admit up front it's a personal quirk. To date, I haven't seen anyone raise a similar objection; and likewise, you may not find this as annoying as I do. However, I have recently noticed a growing lack of creativity in the written word. Without exposing the writers, here are a few examples:

  • She got murdered by her husband, who soon realized that she was faithful after all.
  • [He] got in the truck and pulled the door shut, bringing with him the smell of damp denim and the ozone odor of the storm.
  • While the cost of Greek debt has spiked higher in recent weeks, the situation for the Euro area, one of the most important economic blocks in the world, just got more dire as Greek bond ratings were cut to junk status.

Like many of you, I have spent considerable effort, time and money trying to advance my craft. My shelves are full of material, fiction and otherwise. I have studied books on writing that deal with dialogue, plot, characters, and description; in fact, I could almost set aside a shelf just for this collection alone. I also have a cabinet drawer stuffed with collected magazines, from both The Writer and Writer’s Digest. Like you, I have done all of this in order to learn style, to study the rules and to improve. Even now, I am reading a good book on grammar, as boring as that may sound to some of you.

As a writer who has broken many rules, it would be hypocritical of me to suggest that writers stick to the strict rules of grammar, or to suggest there is a correct way to write, when it can stifle their voice. Still, I have observed some writing, and specifically some word use, that hit my brain like a room full of colicky babies. The use of Got is just one of them.

Using as a tool, I looked up the word for today’s post. Here is what I found:

Got –verb
a pt. and pp. of get.

–auxiliary verb
Informal. must; have got (fol. by an infinitive).
As in: You have got to see this movie. (my example)

verb,got or (Archaic ) gat; got or got•ten; get•ting

Then the website offered practically a scroll of examples. Here are a few:

  • to receive or come to have possession, use, or enjoyment of: to get a birthday present; to get a pension.
  • to cause to be in one's possession or succeed in having available for one's use or enjoyment; obtain; acquire: to get a good price after bargaining; to get oil by drilling; to get information.
  • to go after, take hold of, and bring (something) for one's own or for another's purposes; fetch: Would you get the milk from the refrigerator for me?
  • to cause or cause to become, to do, to move, etc., as specified; effect: to get one's hair cut; to get a person drunk; to get a fire to burn; to get a dog out of a room.

And that is just a few. But there are more, my friends. Oh yes, there are far more examples. Even using it as slang, we can find the following:

  • To tell someone to leave: Get out!
  • To escape: He got away.
  • Vulgar idioms: Get off, Get it on, Get some.

I could keep going. However, I think you understand. (Note: Other people would have probably said, “I think you get it.”)

Years ago, I read The Rape of the A.P.E., a book by Allan Sherman, the same guy who penned the song, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.” In that book, he devoted a whole chapter to the F-bomb and its versatility in the English language. Instead of saying that person made a mess of things, we tend to say: “He f---ed up.” Instead of saying that person is in serious trouble, we say: “Oh, he’s f---ed.” Somewhere along the road, people opted for the easy way, like buying a Whopper or a Happy Meal, and started using slang in place of the legitimate.

I submit that the overwhelming use of Get and Got has fallen to the same status. Just listen to the news on any given night, and I’m sure you’ll hear it. Read a book, and you’ll probably find it there too. I’ve already given you a couple examples.

The overwhelming use, however, should not mean that it’s okay in every circumstance.

I don’t have anyone to support me on this, but here is my rule when using Get or Got in writing fiction: In dialogue or monologue, it’s okay; in exposition, try to find another way. When the character uses the words in dialogue, it reflects his education, his culture. When the narrator uses it, however, it reflects upon the writer. And not in a good way.

Not to be hypocritical, for I can be the worst of sinners. In everyday language, I catch myself using variations in speech, and I'm often stopping to correct the problem. My kids are probably thinking: Jeez, dad, even I can talk better than that. The misuse of the word has also found its way into my writing. In fact, while reading through the manuscript of my novel, I noticed multiple transgressions. I circled every one. After revision, with the exception of dialogue, I'll probably hit many of them with a squirt of the writer's bug spray: the Delete key.

Again, this is probably just me.

Other news:

This morning, I finished a first draft on a short story. I am excited about it for two reasons. First, it involves a plot device that has been on the mental shelf for a couple of years, and I’m glad I finally found the story behind the story. I’m also excited because it’s the first new short story I have written since before I started the novel. It’s been a while.

And speaking of the novel, I had lunch with a friend the other day. He’s a doctor, and he freely gave up some time to discuss a couple of areas in my novel. I have also sent out e-mails to other friends to discuss separate issues related to plot devices. I am in debt to all of these wonderful people.

Until next time…


  1. Yay! Doesn't it feel so AWESOME to write something NEW and FRESH?! I am so sick of my novel -- thank god for April and poetry! Peace...

  2. Egads, another word for my Control + F "search and revise" manuscript purge.
    Glad you were able to finish your short story. Hope to see it ensconced in a happy home somewhere soon.


  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Linda: Yes it does feel good to write something new. Novels are great, but they can certainly take you away from other projects.

    John: I understand. It seems like we have a long list of things to search and purge, the misuse of contractions like It's and Its being just one example. The problem with Get and its past participle Got is that they are weak verbs. The call to arms is to find a better way. Find stronger verbs.

    FloyKnob: I appreciate you stopping by; however, because of the link in your post, I had to remove it from this blog. I'm sorry about that.

  5. well you certainly attained my attention and I too will CTRL + F to search out this scorned word.

    (Git it? Attained instead of got) lol

    I wrote a poem about the F word

  6. Paige, a poem about the F-word? I'll check your blog. If it's not there, you'll have to send it to me. My curiosity is piqued.

  7. I'd say, "Got it," but Paige already pretty well stole that thunder.

    Of your three intro examples I don't see any real problem with got in the truck, but I may not be as sensitized to the word as you. I agree the other two are pretty lazy.

    The old Search and Replace - the writer's best friend. :)

    Congrats on the new short story. Hope you find a happy, and paying, home for it.

  8. Jon,

    I just finished a book (won't post it in my blog) where the author used Got far too much. As I wrote, I agree with its use in dialogue. As a 3rd Person POV narrator, though, I think it should rarely be used. Again though, it's only my opinion.