Sunday, November 11, 2007


This public service announcement is primarily aimed at those of you out there in blog-land who didn't cringe or frown when you read the words "playwriter" and "fictional novel" in the title of this post.

The proper term for someone who writes plays is "playwright" as I gently pointed out to the relative who proudly proclaimed himself his church's premiere "playwriter."

For the record, there is no such word as "playwriter." It's one of those made up words, like its ghetto cousin, "conversated." If you don't trust me, look it up for yourself. Unless you're using the New School Dictionary of Ebonics, I'll doubt if you'll find it. The same applies to "fictional novel." If you are currently using this term, for heaven's sake (as well as your own credibility and self-respect), please stop. Seriously, it readily marks you as someone who doesn't have a clue or a dictionary.

Short lesson here, so take notes. A novel is by definition a work of fiction. To insist on describing a novel as fictional is sort of like using the ebonics expression "kilt dead" or "killed dead," if you will. As much as I enjoy the playful use of language, I'll be d@m# if I ever get caught dialing up 911 and yelling into the receiver, "Send the police! Somebody got kilt dead over here!"

One day, years ago when I worked at the public library in Memphis, a gentleman, who fancied himself a writer, told me he'd come in to do a bit of research on his "non-fiction novel." I just nodded, smiled and said, "Uh-huh, good luck with that." Of course, besides wanting to laugh, I couldn't help but think, "What the ---?!"

Still not convinced? Okay, not long ago I watched a reality program on TVOne called "Stage Black." The show featured the playwright, David E. Talbert and his attempts to help a group of young actors break into the business. In the process of critiquing some of their work and upon noting how defensive they were becoming, he paused and said something that had me waving my hand and shouting, "Amen!"

Talbert explained that most people in the business weren't going to be as honest with them about their shortcomings. He said folks were going to let them make a plumb fool of themselves, only to shake their hands afterward, smile in their faces and assure them they'd be in touch. But as soon as they'd exited the theatre, that same director would frown and say, "Scratch him/her off the list and don't ever allow him/her back up on my stage again."

If you don't think that same kind of truth applies to those of us who are out here looking to be respected as writers and authors, you're fooling yourself. To borrow a phrase from the COS, "Come on people!" wake up, do you homework and stop trying to half-step.

Really, I'm not trying to be mean. We all fall short of the mark sometimes. I have no problems admitting that I'm a horrible speller, a lazy proof-reader and I could very well use a refresher course in the basics of grammar. But in addition to relying on my computer's spell check and keeping both a dictionary and an English text nearby, I've learned to accept being called out on my errors. After all, isn't that how you learn and grow?

So hey, if this post rubs you the wrong way, maybe next time, rather than hanging out here at the "Old School Mix," perhaps, instead you ought to dive into that "fictional novel" you've been planning to read. You know, the one written by your friend, the famous "playwriter?" (Smile)


Malcolm: said...

Excellent post on the art of writing. The use of the term "conversating" has annoyed me for awhile. It's right up there with people who use the word "ax" as in "Can I ax you a question?"

Lori said...

Hey Malcolm. Yes, "ax" for "ask" is one of those oldie, but goodies (smile). Sometimes it's a matter of deprogramming. I've watched people attempt to correct their pronounciation only to flub it up even worse.

Also, if you've ever hung around folks who speak that way, you may, inadvertently, find yourself doing the same . . . at least I know I have (smile).

Emanuel Carpenter said...

Yes, yes, and yes again! If I hear someone say conversate again, I'm going to bust. You know what I think is happening? Uneducated folks are making music and publishing their lyrics, and the general public reads them and hears them thinking they are grammatically correct. This is especially true in Hip Hop but certainly not limited to it. For instance, this Fergie lyric irks me. "And I'm going to miss you like a child misses their blanket." Shouldn't that be a child misses her or his blanket? And just about every person I know says every since instead of ever since.

Now I'll admit I've made mistakes in grammar myself, especially when leaving comments on blogs and messageboards without the luxury of spell check. Even in my self-pubbed novel (which by the way was reviewed by an editor), I used the word pass when I should have used past. That "past" word always tripped me up in sentences like: He drove past me.

By the way, if you check out the reviews of my second book "Where is the Love," you will find many people mistakenly called it my second novel when it fact it was my first novel since my first book was a nonfiction humor book. Many people think novel and book are synonymous.

My other pet peeve is the apostrophe plural like: I bought some new book's. I also can't stand it when people spell definitely with an "a".

Lori, if you're not a professional editor now, you ought to be. When I have doubts about grammar, I use my copy of "The Elements of Style" for clarity. How about you?

Lori said...

Thanks for the compliment, but I'm smart enough to leave the editing to the "real" editors. I only wish more folks would do the same (smile).

I've noticed how much the misspelling of "definitely" irks you (LOL). Of course, I'm sure you've noticed how often it's spelled with an "a" on the OTHER blog we both frequent.

But you know, we all have our THING . . . that one THING that trips us up every time. One of mine is "that vs. which." I'm never quite sure which one to use when.

And yes, I do keep a copy of Strunk & White nearby. I really do need to make better use of it though (smile).

Sharon J. said...

Thanks Lori. "Fictionalized novel" does sound goofy. No one will take a writer seriously who cannot use the correct terms. I get annoyed when people pronouce "kindergarten" as "kenny garden" and pronounce "Yvonne" as "Ya Von."

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

You go, Lori!!!!

pjazzypar said...

Lori, how about this one, instead of saying library many people say liberry. I have actually heard people with PH.D.'s pronounce it this way. It is what I refer to as "lazy speech". People being just too lazy to try and pronounce something correctly.