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Writer Advice #1: There are No Rules

This piece is built around the defence of a very common example of “bad prose”, which uses some adult language and concepts. If you’re a young person or someone who might get in trouble with your boss right now, you might wanna mosey on. 

I don’t like writing rules. Writing advice? Sure, fire away, but there’s a tendency to treat general writing principles like immutable laws. Show Don’t Tell, strictly applied, would easily triple the length of the average manuscript, but a lot of folks in online spaces are evangelical about it, any instance of telling is an error and not a choice. 

I wanna put something out there: there are no mistakes in style, there are only choices. Some choices are harder to make work than others. Some choices require a peerless mastery of the craft that few of us (with the exception of, say, totally random example here, an early 20th century Irishman who was really into farts) will ever achieve, but none of them are objectively, factually wrong – there are choices you aren’t capable of executing right now, but that makes them the wrong choice for you right now, not a bad choice in-and-of-themselves. 

So here it is, the bit where I tell you why you’re allowed to replace said with ejaculated

It’s the ultimate example of bad prose, from 1000 different writers’ workshops. Said – as you’ve probably heard – is invisible, it doesn’t call attention to itself, it does the job and leaves without making a mess. Ejaculated is none of those things, it’s messy and loud, both formal and horny in a way that’s deeply offputting. The lover who’d say “ejaculate for me” is rarely endgame. It tends to most commonly be combined with “premature”; if it came on time, you’d just call it cum. It’s a funny word, it speaks to awkwardness, it’s the sort of word you’d hear from somebody who reads a lot of books and doesn’t go to a lot of parties. It’s also explosive, it’s big, there’s force behind it. All together, it calls to mind somebody inexperienced, intelligent but awkward, eager but lacking self control  

and, hear me out here

What if you want that? 

Tom’s face went red. “I didn’t think this was a date either!” he said. 


Tom’s face went red. “I didn’t think this was a date either!” he ejaculated. 

It’s a big choice. It’s certainly not a choice for every context, but my issue with so much writing advice is that it’s turned into writing rules, it’s unequivocal, NEVER do this, it is inherently bad craft. A lot of the time, it’s not actually a bad choice, it’s a big choice, it calls attention to itself, but sometimes that’s the goal. Big choices are harder to handle, they tend to be more contextual, and if applied broadly across a text they’ll cause absolute chaos. If Tom ejaculates every time, it’s ridiculous, but if he ejaculates and then he stammers during his date-not-date, you’ve done a huge amount of characterisation with a few small words. Said works 99% of the time, but 1% isn’t 0, and the average MS almost certainly has more than 100 dialogue attributions. Is Tom another guy in the montage of bad dates, or is he endgame who’s going to grow and change?  Could go either way, but we wouldn’t be asking that question if he didn’t ejaculate. 

Sometimes you can hit the gas too hard, but that’s harder than a lot of people think. Prose has a tempo and part of that tempo comes from choosing when to let the reader’s attention glide over the words and when to slow it down, make the reader stare or laugh or throw the book across the room. There’s certainly such a thing as bad purple prose, but there’s also good ornate prose, which can create a sort of literary maximalism, a feast for the mind. “He stood in a room” is invisible but what if it’s one of these rooms? 

Is it better art to just call it “a room” and move on? Well, it depends, and that’s sort of the point – unequivocal application of WRITING RULES tends to create slick prose, effortless, clean, uncluttered, but the point of art isn’t to be invisible

Which is why, sometimes, you gotta break the rules, you gotta ejaculate.

Published inNonfiction

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