Feeling Worn-down?

Sam, your boots look awful.

Sam, your boots look awful.

 

Sam Claiborne, the protagonist who many of you know, recently required some redirection.

Oh, he’s a smart enough fella, born of solid Missouri stock, but didn’t take well to schooling, so good speech habits were skills he never mastered.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not deriding Sam because he isn’t an English professor. He can ride, hunt, shoot, figure on matters well, and knows hornswoggling when he sees it. That pretty much qualifies him for survival along the Front Range in 1872 Colorado Territory.

Yet, there are a few things about Sam that have worn on me. One is his constant need to restate. Here’s what I’m saying:

“Sam, your boots look awful,” I said.

“Awful, you say? Hey, slick, they’re worn some and a mite dirty, but there’s plenty of cowhide to walk over the range with,” Sam said, disgust pouring from his dark–brown eyes.

“Guess there’s use in them yet. How about that broken-down derby you wear?”

“Yep, there you go again, spouting off about my simple pleasures. My black derby’s rode my skull for over five years, seen more trail than a pioneer, been rained on too many times to remember, and still keeps the prairie sun off my head. Now lay off of me,” Sam bellowed, spitting as he yelled.

“Sam, didn’t you tell me your eyes are dark–brown on page 12 when we first met?”

“Yep, but you’re nothing but simple-minded, so I got to keep telling you.”

“I’m not simple-minded.”

“You saying you aren’t?” Sam snapped, glaring hard as stone.

“Sam, it seems we aren’t getting along, so I think I’ll spend my leisure doing something else. Goodbye.”

“Tarnation, slick, aren’t you more than a bit touchy?” Sam shouted loudly.

“What? Where did you go, slick?” Sam asked, his face forming a question mark.

“Danged if slick didn’t mean it. He’s gone. What do you suppose I did to miff him?” Sam wondered, yanking at his dark blue bandana with white fleur de lis on it.

Are you for real, Sam? I asked myself after opting for music. Here’s what miffed me:

1. If a person is a competent reader, and most are who read novels, don’t describe on page 135 what you described on page 12.  Sam, I already know your eyes are dark–brown. Thanks, now let’s get on with the story.

2. “Awful, you say? Hey, slick, they’re worn some and a mite dirty, but there’s plenty of cowhide to walk over the range with,” Sam railed, disgust pouring from his dark–brown eyes.

Boring, too much detail, too many words, Sam –– and please, can’t you keep your speech succinct and allow it to explain your mood. Why not try this?

“Awful? Slick, they’re worn and dirty, but still get me around,” Sam said.

Or perhaps…

“Worn and dirty, but they still cover my feet!”

So, here’s what I’m saying, Sam. Never restate. I said your boots looked awful. Don’t parrot it back, please. Also, don’t rail and pour disgust out of your dark–brown eyes. Show it in your words. Don’t describe it.

3. “Yep, there you go again, spouting off about my simple pleasures. My black derby’s rode my skull for over five years, seen more trail than a pioneer, been rained on too many times to remember, and still keeps the prairie sun off my head. Now lay off of  me,” Sam bellowed, spitting as he yelled.

Thanks for your derby’s life story, Sam. I really don’t care. And don’t bellow, spit and yell simultaneously. It’s bad for your gall bladder.

How’s this sound?

“There you go again, tearing down my simple pleasures. My derby’s rode my skull for over five years and still keeps my head cool. Now lay off,” Sam said.

Better yet, drop the speaker attribution. I know it’s you who’s speaking, Sam. We’re face to face. You’re showing your vanity by referring to yourself too often.

4. “You saying you aren’t?” Sam snapped, glaring hard as stone.

I’ve already said I’m not simple-minded — and keep your snapping, glaring and bad analogies to yourself. Your response is redundant. Don’t squander my time. But if you insist, maybe I’ll forgive you this time.

“You saying you aren’t?” Sam asked, glaring.

5. “Tarnation, slick, aren’t you more than a bit touchy?” Sam shouted loudly.

You’re wasting breath, Sam. Tarnation sounds silly, “slick” is overused, and avoid shouting loudly. It’s a double whammy to your vocal chords.

6. “What? Where did you go, slick?” Sam asked, his face forming a question mark.

Never ask two questions in a row, especially when nobody’s there to answer them. Remember, I’m gone.  How on earth can you contort your face into a question mark? Get serious, Sam.

7. As for this monstrosity, I’ll leave it for you to analyze:

“Danged if slick didn’t mean it. He’s gone. What do you suppose I did to miff him?” Sam wondered, yanking at his dark blue bandana with white fleur de lis on it.

In closing, friends, the KISS principle often holds when it comes to dialogue. Keep it short and simple, so the reader isn’t overwhelmed; and let the words do the work, so Sam can’t forever rail, shout loudly, spitting as he yelled, wondering while yanking at his dark blue bandana with white fleur de lis on it

It’s time to get real, Sam!

 

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