Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Avoid Annoying Alliteration  by Andy Scheer

 I enjoy beautiful literary writing when I see it. But like those of California Condors, the sightings are both wondrous and rare.

Instead, the samples I see labeled as literary often remind me of girls trying to use makeup for the first time. If a little is good, a lot must be better. Rather than highlight the natural beauty, it calls attention to itself—and the lack of skillful technique.

For me, excessive alliteration serves as a dead giveaway of an author trying too hard. Like a child in a Christmas pageant waving and shouting, “Hi, Mom!” the action calls attention to itself—and away from the content.

This past week as I prepped for a writers conference, I looked at the opening chapter of a historical romance (not a genre I'd ordinarily consider). From the first sentence, the alliterations almost knocked me over.
Clara’s arms were wildly whaling about in the open air as she sought to grasp the looming figure that stood at the top of the cliff-head.

But the author was just warming up. Two sentences later, she sprang this five-pointer:
It did not flinch, even though her screams echoed off the cliffs strata until they were suddenly silenced by a sharp shrilling strike in the low tidewater at the base of the cliff.

How can a reader keep her mind on the story when every other sentence shouts and waves? If a little bit of makeup is good, stop there.


sally apokedak said...

Sometimes we let this stuff slip by without seeing it. I love to use alliteration on purpose, but I missed some in a piece I recently submitted. I was pretty upset when I noticed it later. All those words hit me like a big, booming, brass bell. :) I'm hoping the people judging the piece don't notice. (And thanking God I didn't submit it to you, because you would see it and blog about it. Ouch.)

The same goes for rhymes and repetitions that you don't put in on purpose. They almost always detract from the story.

Rick Barry said...

I should think that overdosing on alliteration would also create challenges for the talent hired to record a novel as an audio book.