So earlier today I took a break from catching up on my e-mail. There were sounds of intense tickling happening in Sarah’s bedroom, and Oot was doing one of his best laughs: sort of this helpless throaty chortle that means you’ve *really* got him going.
I don’t know if Sarah realizes, but he gets that laugh from her. When something happens that strikes Sarah as really funny, she does this deep, throaty laugh. It’s like the sound a donkey would make if it was suddenly turned into an cartoon stereotype of an overweight geek. It goes heah heah heah.
It is in no way a dignified sound. But it is my favorite laugh ever. It’s full of genuine amusement. And whatever it lacks in dignity it makes up in honesty. True laughter is rarely dignified.
Anyway, Oot is doing his version of this laugh, which means she’s probably managed to get his ribs. She’s good at the ribs, I’m a leg man myself.
I would like to digress slightly to say that I’m a master-class fucking tickler. Seriously. I’m amazing. I could teach a class on tickling. I could do a TED talk.
Anyway, I come in to Sarah’s bedroom and lay down on the bed all casual-like, ready to produce some bespoke tickling.
Then Sarah looks at me with lust in her eyes and says, “You smell so good. It’s making me stupid.”
To understand her statement, you have to realize that I am the next stage in human evolution. My pheromonic musk is developed to the point where it’s practically a weapon. In the best of circumstances, I smell masculine. And on a day when I’m staying home and have skipped my morning shower…
Well…. suffice to say that you know there’s a man in the house, even if you can’t see me.
On top of that, I’d been writing. I don’t know why, but when I’m writing, my man-smell gets particularly strong. It’s like my body is trying to establish its dominance over reality itself.
The effects of this pheromonal cocktail vary, but with a select section of the female populous it has two profound, complimentary effects.
1. It delivers a message directly to the woman’s hindbrain, saying: THERE IS A MAN NEARBY, AND YOU MUST MATE WITH HIM.
2. It immediately drops the woman’s intelligence anywhere from 10-50 IQ points, which makes it hard for them to realize that mating with me is *obviously* a bad idea, while at the same time rendering them more vulnerable to my not inconsiderable charm.
You have to admit that evolutionarily speaking, this is a winning combo.
Anyway, Sarah says that, and we laugh. Then, after giving Oot a good tickling, I ask her if I can post her comment up on facebook.
She agrees, and I go to amuse the internets.
But here’s the problem. I can’t find a way to accurately portray what she said.
It should be easy. I know exactly *what* she said. Eight words. Two independent clauses.
But it’s not easy. The trouble lies in the punctuation.
Let’s start with the most generic way of doing this.
- “You smell so good. It’s making me stupid.”
Punctuated like this, her statement feels choppy and wooden. More importantly, the statement feels matter-of-fact and emotionless.
But if you try to spice it up with an exclamation mark….
- “You smell so good! It’s making me stupid.”
There’s a reason exclamation abuse is a crime. Punctuated this way, Sarah seems hopelessly manic. Like she was hopping up and down, excited. That’s not right at all.
You can’t do it the other way, either….
- “You smell so good. It’s making me stupid!”
Then it seems like she’s excited that she’s stupid, which gives the wrong impression on every conceivable level.
And neither of those options address the other problem, that having a full stop in the middle makes it feel like she’s making two separate, unconnected statements. That’s simply not the case, she’s making one complex statement.
Here’s how I’d like to punctuate it…
- “You smell so good, it’s making me stupid.”
But that’s a comma splice. I’m not opposed to them entirely, I’m no slave to grammar. But when you’re relaying one line of dialogue and it’s grammatically incorrect…. That’s just not classy. It’s sloppy writing.
Technically, you could fix this with a semicolon….
- “You smell so good; it’s making me stupid.”
In some ways this is the right thing to do. A semicolon is the official way to show two independent clauses have a close relationship to each other.
Here’s the problem: Semicolons are for wankers. Seriously. You can go your whole life without ever needing to really use a semicolon.
Unless you’re an academic, of course. If you’re an academic, you’ve got to use semicolon to impress other wankers with how much of a wanker you are so you can get your paper published. You know, that paper you wrote detailing your in-depth Marxist interpretation of the last eight lines of John Donne’s “The Flea?” The paper where you used the word “moreover” twenty-seven times in eleven pages?
Most importantly, a semicolon looks really strange in a piece of casual dialogue. People don’t speak using semicolons. Unless they’re wankers.
A lot of time, I’ll default to an ellipsis. Because I love ellipses.
- “You smell so good… it’s making me stupid.”
But it implies too much of a pause in the middle of the statement.
What about an em dash?
- “You smell so good— it’s making me stupid.”
Nope. Just looks weird.
And don’t even think about using an en dash, you little fuckers. That’s *not* what an en dash is for….
In the end, the only way to make this piece of dialogue “sound” right to the reader is through use of interstitials.
- “You smell so good,” she said, looking at me with half-lidded eyes. “It’s making me stupid.”
That’s not quite right either. We need some foregrounding *and* an interstitial….
- Sarah looked at me lustily. “You smell so good,” she said, her eyes half-closed. “It’s making me stupid.”
There. That’s just about right. That conveys her tone and mood in the appropriate way.
What’s my point?
Well, first off, let me say that I never promised there would be a point here. Sometimes I just idly muse about shit. Sometimes I just tell stories. Sometimes there’s no point.
But if there *is* a point it’s probably this: When you’re writing, there are no small choices. Or perhaps it would be better to say that writing is nothing *but* small choices. And all of them have the opportunity to effect your story in a disproportionately large way. Punctuation can change the tone of a sentence. The tone of a sentence can change the feel of a scene. And the feel of a scene can change your impression of a character’s personality.
A secondary point is that this is why my revision takes so long. When you think all these little things to death, you tend to fidget with a text a *lot.*
More cool stuff this week. Stay tuned.