Today, I’m not going to introduce a new story. I’m not going to introduce a new character. Today, I just want to rant and pass along a public service message that can benefit those of you who wish to write in any form of writing especially in the wonderful, make-believe world of Fiction.
Okay, so some of you love to read. Some of you love to write. Some of you, like me, really enjoy doing both. For as long as I have been telling stories, reading stories, and writing them, there has been one word in particular that has been the BIGGEST no-no word in the writing language when writing in the form of the descriptive storytelling of the writing and not within the actual dialogue of the story storytelling. It is the ever-growing presence of the word “you”. Let me give you a bit of background of how the word “you” became the bane of my reading and storytelling…
When I was in the 5th and 6th grades (back when 6th grade was still an elementary school level grade), I was fortunate enough to go to a school that primarily focused on teaching proper English in speech and writing. Every quarter we were tasked to write a story or essay. We were even taught the basics of playwright. From this, I grew a passion of becoming a writer. My teachers loved my ability to convey a story. I loved it even more when my grandmother took a very big interest in my writing. Sometimes I would even write short stories just for her to impress her. She absolutely loved it. For one assignment in particular, my 6th grade teacher (I loved my 6th grade teacher. I wish I can just say “Hello” to Mrs. Goldstein again) wrote a beginning paragraph and we were to finish the story in just two pages over the weekend. Of course, me being the happy, wanting to write a dazzling, impressive story, kind of child I was, I went straight home, and went to work. I was even more motivated by the fact that I was going to see my grandmother that weekend, and I wanted to make a big impression upon my grandma. I wrote down my brain storm, then my rough draft, then my edited version, then my final piece. What I read within my writing had me all smiles. I was ready for grandma. What I wasn’t ready for was my story to be grandma’s great big head ache. She crumbled it all up and tossed it to the floor. My heart went right along with each and every ball of paper.
As I gathered each individual ball while trying to flatten them back out again, as well as my heart, my grandmother taught me a lesson I still to this day keep within my writing heart, “Never use the word ‘you’ in your writing unless you intend to interact with the reader directly, or within character dialogue.” And I had done that very thing all over my story. At first I didn’t understand why. Then I read my work, and I understood. Oh, wow. I understood right away. I just wanted to tell a story. I wasn’t even trying to interact with the reader. Instead, I was just ordering the reader around.
Basically, I ended up telling the reader how they should be feeling. How they should be reacting. How they should be associating themselves to the story. That’s not the way of the fictional writing world. A fictional writer is to tell the story, bringing the reader within that world, and allow them to see, hear, and feel the world around them within their own minds through the writer’s descriptive word. I swear, every time I now come across a piece that has the word “you” outside of the dialogue without interacting with me… Crumple. Crumple. Trash. Delete!
I’ve been eating books for breakfast here lately, and I’ve wanted to throw my phone -which is my e-reader- against the wall in hopes of never seeing another word from that writer again too many times. I have grown the same reaction to the word “you” as my grandmother has, and right now, I can’t afford that much Tylenol. So, I’m begging you. Please. Leave me out of it!
I don’t belong in your storytelling, and I’m not going to have you tell me how to interact with your story without direct interaction between your narrator and myself.
Now, I just want to help those of you who wish to write a wonderful story and help it become a wonderful story. I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings here. Believe me. Let me just show you a few examples between the right way and the wrong way to use the dreadful word “you”.
The right way. In a dialogue…
Seamus and Jessica sit face-to-face staring longingly into each other’s eyes. Their love for one another over the last few years has overflown their very souls. Now, with their beautiful, newborn daughter cradled against her breasts, their joy of family has become a tsunami of loving emotion. Seamus softly says to her, “I love you so much right now. You have no idea how proud I am to have such a beautiful woman like you holding this beautiful child of ours. I can think of nobody better to be a wonderful mother to her than you.” He kisses Jessica’s soft lips then places a gentle hand onto his beautiful daughter’s head as tears of joy begins to trickle down from his eyes to his cloak covering his chest.
A tear flows from Jessica’s eye from his beautiful words to her. She swallows hard to contain her heart within her chest and whispers to him, “Thank you, my loving husband. I am beyond joy with love for you, as well. You are already a strong, and magnificent king to this land. You are also a strong, and magnificent husband to me. You will make a strong and magnificent father to our beautiful daughter.”
Go ahead. Grab a tissue. I’ll wait.
This is the proper use of the word “you”. They are addressing each other in dialogue. As some of you read this, you can see and hear these lovers speaking to one another as if you were there. I used descriptive words to show the emotional conditions of the conversation that was taking place. I haven’t once told “you” how to convey the conversation.
The wrong way. What I mean is…
Seamus and Jessica sit and stare into each other’s eyes as you would with the one you love when you feel the love they feel. Your very soul overflows with emotion just as theirs from the last few years of being together. Now, with this beautiful child cradled against her breast as you would cradle her, their joy of family would cause you to feel a tsunami of emotions. Seamus says to her just as you would say to her in that moment, “Who’s child is this?”
Okay. I threw that in their because I had to stop. I know I was exaggerating a little bit, but, as you can see, I was telling “you” how convey the emotions of the story. This becomes distracting to readers. Now they can’t react as I had intended for them to react because they had inadvertently become the actual participant of the story by the use of the word “you”. And for you, the storyteller, to put them into that position has also inadvertently placed some readers into a position where they cannot relate so, the emotion becomes impartial to them. Also, I told “you” how “you” would cradle a baby against “your” breasts to which I must ask, “Why are you holding that baby to your man-boobs, sir?” …Uh, oh. Bad storyteller. Please. Leave me out of it!
The right way. Telling the story without dialogue…
Jessica runs forth onto the top of the grassy hillside. Before her lies a wondrous bloom of colors created by the new blossoms of springtime flowers. She smiles as the breeze brings warmth to her skin reminding her that the cold of winter has ended and her life has been renewed with this first day of spring. She lunges into the field of flowers as butterflies suddenly fly up from her disturbance creating a magical fluttering of colors all around her. She stares into the clearest, bluest sky she has ever seen. Then, she turns and closes her eyes allowing her to feel the beautiful rays of sunshine radiate upon her smiling face. “Spring is here!” she thinks to herself. “Finally. Spring is here!”
This is gonna be bad…
Jessica runs forth onto the grassy hillside. You see before her a wondrous bloom of color created by the new blossoms of springtime. She smiles as she feels the breeze bring her warmth onto her skin reminding you that the cold of winter has ended and you realize her life has been renewed with this first day of spring. She lunges into the field of flowers as butterflies suddenly fly up from her disturbance creating a magical fluttering of colors all around you. She stares into the clearest, bluest sky you have ever seen. Then, she turns and closes her eyes allowing you to feel the beautiful rays of sunshine upon her smiling face. “Spring is here!” you hear her say to herself. “Finally. Spring is here!”
Umm… is “you” a ghost (I know. I had a bout with improper sounding English there). As, you can read in the right way of writing, I am portraying the sights and emotions of Jessica on the hillside. She’s the center of the story as she should be. Not “you”. The wrong way gives “you” the feeling that “you” are a part of the story. “You” feel “your” emotional standpoint of the story, but not Jessica’s. These leave a lot of distracting questions to the reader, “Why am I doing anything?” and, “Do I really have to involve myself with her?” Again, please. Leave me out of it!
The right way. Interacting with the reader…
Ok. Check this out! I have this beautiful, red race car here. Take a look. She’s low to the ground. She’s as sleek as a cheetah. I’ll just rev the engine a little and… Vrooom!… Listen to her growl! She’s ready to take on this track. She’ll go from zero to one hundred in less than three seconds giving you a ride better than the fastest roller coaster you’ve ever been on. Just sit right here in the driver’s seat. Watch your head! Feel how comfortable that seat is? Check out the gauges. They tell you everything you need to know without taking your eyes off the road. Go ahead! Press the gas. You know you want to… Vrooom!… Oh, yeah! Feel that engine rumble to life. You want to take this baby out and see how bad you can tear up this track don’t you? What do you say? Wanna drive?
I hear some of you saying, “Hell yeah!” This is the storyteller interacting with “you”. This kind of interaction is commonly done in children’s stories where the main character is the first person and is involving the young reader with the story to get a genuine reaction from the child to keep them engaged. Others use this type when the main character is the first person and they want to use “you” to convey a comparison and give “you” rhetorical conversations. Others, like my favorite modern fiction writer whom I shall call “Stephen” for the sake of keeping Mr. King’s name private… oh damn… anyway… “Stephen” uses a style of interaction of “storyteller to reader” to guide “you” through what has happened or what is happening within the storyline.
Quite simply, if you do intend to write a piece of fiction and you find yourself coming to a point to referencing “you” within the storytelling without the intent of interacting, then consider using “one” (I use this word sometimes), “him”, “her”, “it”, or “they”.
Seamus stood before the professor as nervous as you would do if you were in his situation.
Seamus stood before the professor as nervous as one would in this situation.
Even better, edit out this type of comparison all together. Yes, it’s a bit lengthy, but hey, you are trying to be a great storyteller…
Seamus stood before the professor. The professor noticed the same hint of nervousness as those that have come before him in this exact situation.
Okay, I understand that some of you believe that I am exaggerating here, and some of you are holding your heads going, “Oh, my goodness. He’s not lying.” As I have previously stated, I read books for breakfast. I am trying to be a part of the storytelling world, so I read to give myself references, and to see how active the “indie” world of writing is when my own piece is finally released. I see “you” so many times it drives me insane. I know some don’t know they are doing this. Some only rely on “spellcheck” as their only editor. Some, as I’ve seen, don’t even have “spellcheck” and are publishing their rough draft because they think they are the greatest storyteller ever and don’t need no stinking editing. Some do, at least, have someone (friend, relative) proofreading their work, but those chosen aren’t really all that great at content, phrasing, spelling, or knowledgeable enough to understand how to properly use the word “you”. I’ve seen and trashed them all. I’ve also seen some that was beautifully written, and even became successful in their choice of career in the “indie” world. I’ve even seen some that have gone on to becoming “traditionally” published. ***(If you don’t know the difference between “indie” and “traditional” publishing, then please educate yourself. This is a matter of choice, direction, and steps that some take to be their own success in the writing world.)
What I’m trying to say is, I want to pass along a lesson that I’ve learned about storytelling in the written world of fiction, and that is, “Please. Leave me out of it!”
**Note to reader: The author wishes to convey his apologies to anyone who has assumed the name “Stephen” was associated to the great Mr. Stephen King. By no means was he trying to make that association. (Yes he was!)
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Thanks again to you all.