Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Why Can't Characters Sit Down and Stand Up Any More?


One of the things that has been said the last few years is not to use the terms "sit down", "stand up", or "stood up" because if you sit, you usually sit down, and if your character stood up he stood because all he can do is stand up.

 I took all this seriously even though it bothered me because what the average person from all walks of life says is, "Come in, sit down." Or "He sat down and we had a good talk."

In the classroom, teachers tell students to stand up all the time. "Stand and get in line" just doesn't sound right.

So why are we, as writers, being told to reeducate the public not to use the words they've always used and continue to use?

I've been paying attention as I read some of the best sellers on the NY Times list. And, I know when you are famous you can break the rules, but these authors let their characters sit down and stand up a lot. Some follow the rules most of the time, but usually there's a slip-up. One even wrote that his character, "...sat down on the couch..." So why has this become a big no-no?

I'm trying hard to follow the road of rules set forth for the unpublished but sometimes it just doesn't seem natural. How do you feel about this? Are you making changes in your own work?

22 comments:

  1. I ignore that business about not letting your characters sit or stand. I have worked on not having them "turn" so much. In one of my early books I counted 50 times my MC "turned and looked." Good grief!

    Loved the post.

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  2. That was quite a chuckle I just had:) Thanks!

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  3. Yes, on the one hand it's redundant. But it's also part of our vernacular so I don't think writers should get paranoid about using common speech. After all, it's the character that's speaking. :) You want the language to be true to the character. Um, I think I would draw the line at using phrases 50 times, though :giggle: Just saying... ;)

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  4. I have honestly never noticed it in a book, either way (with or without the ups and downs). Didn't realize that it was a big deal or red flag for agents. Good to know, though I'm not sure how important I think it is..then again, I'm not published, so I'm guessing I should put it in my "To Care About" box :)

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  5. Andrea, I agree, it's part of the common speech.

    Jess, I'm at the stop caring about it stage myself :)

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  6. I haven't noticed, but I suppose using the entire phrase is redundant, and as writers we can move beyond that. I'll pay more attention now!

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  7. These are things we say naturally, but yes, I've read a few times that the up and down are redundant. I've lessened the number of ups and down I use, depending on details I'm writing. Of course, I can't wait to be able to make some new rules of my own. :D

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  8. I'm not too worried about the word sit, stand, stood or otherwise. If it's a rule, I haven't noticed it in most published works. I do know, however, that directional phrasing will slow the prose and kill the pacing. That may be what the "rule" is? I'm not sure. I search out prepositions and cut 'em if I don't need 'em.
    Example I stood up, I sat down. Cut the preps for cleaner sentences. I stood. I sat. Usually it's inferred as to what the character is about to sit on so preps like down aren't necessary ;)
    I sat down on the couch. I sat on the couch. That's my take on it anyway :D

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  9. Liza, J.L., and Erica, thanks for stopping by and commenting :)

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  10. Good question, Catherine! These little rules have been driving me crazy lately. I know they are good ones and are meant to help us cut down on unnecessary words, but I feel like, as new writers, we need to focus more on voice than following rules. I guess the rules are good for the editing stage, but we shouldn't obsess over them too much. That's just my two cents! ;)
    Amy

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  11. Amy, I totally agree. Thanks for stopping by!

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  12. I have noticed it in my own writing and for the most part I remove them but once in awhile I keep them there on purpose. There are other words like this too, though I can't think of them off the top of my head.

    Great post!

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  13. Kimberly, I do the same thing now. If it feels right and natural, I go ahead and use it.

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  14. My characters do a fair amount of standing up and sitting down and they'll keep doing it. One thing I've got to be careful of is when they sit down after they've already sat down -- without any standing up occurring between sittings.

    And my characters do far too much turning, nodding, eye-rolling, frowning, and hissing. God knows where that hissing thing came from, but my agent found over a dozen hisses in my last ms. Not good.

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  15. Mary, I use all of the ones you mentioned except hissing! :) absolutely love that!

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  16. Now I'm going to have to go back over my ms. and see if my characters stand or stand up, etc. LOL! Honestly I've never noticed it in a novel, which means it certainly isn't jarring, with or without the ups and downs.

    I wouldn't worry about this one, and I don't think it harms the pacing. I'd edit it if my publisher cared, but otherwise I'd write it the way I was comfortable writing.

    Will have to make sure my characters aren't hissing too much, though.

    The CRITTER Project and Naked Without A Pen

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  17. I don't mind removing the ups and downs most of the time, but in dialogue, I always pay close attention to why it's being said and how. 'Sit." can come across as curt or demanding, and that might fly in the face of what the speaker is feeling, right? Sometimes one word can make a difference.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  18. Yes, Angela, it's amazing how one word can express so much--anger, disdain, love, and so many others.

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  19. I'd never heard about this rule. It seems sort of petty to me. You can break rules if you do it with skill and style.

    I can see how adding "up" or "down" is redundant but then it does give a certain tone and voice and may be useful at times.

    Here's a new rule: No hard and fast rules!

    Catherine, I've given you the Stylish Blogger Award, come by and pick it up.

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  20. Thanks for the award, Perri, I picked it up right away :) Love it!

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  21. I had a couple of changes like this in my manuscript, but it's true, established writers can break all the rules...can't wait until that's me :)

    demitrialunetta.blogspot.com

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  22. As long as it's organic to the writing I think it's fine. You just don't want too many, or you have a bunch of characters bouncing up and down. He he he. Rules are important to learn, so that when we break them, we know we're doing it not out of laziness or ignorance, but because there's a darn good reason. At least that's my two-cents. :D

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