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Alliteration: Don't Do It!

This year I resolve to read more books written for grown-ups.

Over the past two weeks I've read The Pinhoe Egg and re-read The Last Unicorn. Now, I'm by no means an expert but it drives me up the wall that a lot of published authors commit offenses against grammar. I've noticed this mostly in young adult fantasy novels but lately I've been seeing it everywhere-- why why why do people insist that alliteration is the mark of a clever writer? It's not cute, it gunks up the prose and makes the reader feel like they're wallowing through quagmire. If I read a sentence like, "The serpent slithered secretly through the shallow water," (I just made that up.) my heart muscle constricts and I'm overwhelmed by the urge to punch the author in the face. The reader shouldn't have to feel like the author is grinning at them over their shoulder and whispering, "Aren't I a poet?"

When I was in school my creative writing professor attacked our rough drafts with a pen and circled the first letter of each word in a sentence if too many started with the same consonant. At first it seemed like nit-picking. If you read each sentence out loud, however, alliteration makes a line into a tongue twister. Imagine what it does to a reader's brain! It is a huge pain in the ass to keep this from happening; words that start with the same letter attract each other and that's why my rough drafts are filled with cross-outs. It slows down the writing process but it's worth the trouble!

Oh ho, that undersea cave dungeon in TOD is in Aquaveil. They didn't cut it out! It's kind of dark and scary, though....


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 4th, 2007 08:46 pm (UTC)
I can't stand alliteration. I remember in The Elements of Style they said it was a big no-no. Nothing alienates me more as a reader than an author who is too hung-up on his/her own alleged cleverness. Unfortunately, a lot of people misinterpret that kind of smugness as good writing. Kind of like overloading your story with purple prose and saying, "Oh, it's just beautiful writing." No, it would be beautiful if you could communicate your point without having to rape a thesaurus.
Jan. 4th, 2007 09:28 pm (UTC)
I have to disagree with you on this one.

Alliteration, like all literary devices, is something to be used in moderation. It has its uses; the example you gave, for example, successfully communicates the inimitable serpentine qualities of the snake and its motions. You criticize the author for self-indulgence, but what's the point of written language if it can't be beautiful?

I'm a fan of carefully choosing words to contribute to the sound of a sentence as well as proper grammar, and I'm quite frankly unsettled that anyone would have such a violent reaction to word-play.
Jan. 4th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry if I offended you. I know I'm in the minority on this one.

It's just that I was always used to being penalized for doing things like that to the point where my brain can't handle reading it. I wish I could read all kind of books and not criticize but that was my field of study. I would've preferred to major in something else, but that was the foolish choice I made.

As for the sentence, for me something like, "The serpent glided secretly through the shallow water," would be better. Maybe it wasn't the best example but I just made up the sentence off the top of my head.

Jan. 5th, 2007 12:37 am (UTC)
"The serpent slithered secretly through the shallow water" .....::dies laughing:: Were you remembering that episode of Speed Racer, where there was a "secret meeting being held secretly".

A major problem I have with word play is that a lot of authors who rely on it too heavily only produce one good book, and then it just gets old. And it does get tiring to read. My own writing tends to be lean but I figure that if I'm not satisfied, I can just rewrite and rewrite and rewrite... "When in doubt, leave it out" is advice I hold dear. That's something that a lot of writers have a hard time coming to terms with, but all writers have to deal with criticism. I guess it's a matter of who can sit and listen to their critics, and sort out what is valid and what isn't, or those who just shrivel up and get bitter and resentful because they can't believe there's something wrong with their writing.
Jan. 5th, 2007 01:17 am (UTC)
Yeah, I was thinking about that! ::laughs::

I wrote a lot of purple prose in high school. I remember that Rudy K. (high school English teacher) referred to my description as "mind-numbing narrative." It ended up being a problem for me as well because I lost myself so deeply in creating pretty sentences that I had no idea where my stories were going. Even now I have a hard time ending stories without the details bogging me down.

Even though I bitched about alliteration in The Last Unicorn, there was a phrase I found beautiful in its simplicity; something about Lady Amalthea's hair shining in the dark like a flower. To me, that image stands out because each word sounds different.
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Jan. 5th, 2007 01:32 am (UTC)
I looked up Sarra Manning on amazon.com and read a sample from one of her books. I thought it was pretty funny! :D I had never heard of her before. When I was in high school I read mostly Christopher Pike--I loved those trashy horror novels!

Alliteration bothers me the most during climactic scenes. It makes it difficult to follow what's going on because it's like author intrusion that puts up a wall between the reader and the action.
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Jan. 8th, 2007 08:20 pm (UTC)
That's the one I read the excerpt from! I only read three pages but it was pretty entertaining.

::cyberhugs back:: *^_^* It's funny because I can't stomach violence on TV. I don't have a problem with reading horror stories. Those Mikey Spillane books are quite the commodity! $175 for one on Z-shops? I think the oldest book of my father's in our house is a hardcover first edition of Watership Down, and it's falling apart. It's a great book, though.

I read that line out loud and saliva ended up flying all over the room! That's what you have to watch out for! :D
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )