Monday, October 16, 2017

The Petulant Writer

A couple of months ago I wrote about some selfish critiquing from my frenemy John Oberon on his blog.  He dedicates more than half of his blog to writing advice so it's kind of funny that with his own writing he really can't take what he dishes, even with something relatively straightforward and obvious.

Here's a sentence from his kiddie torture porn novel The Unlikely Son:
“It never left me,” frowned the creature. “Can I have more?”

One of the things I corrected newer writers about on a lot was that facial expressions and such are NOT dialog tags.  Basically if it's not a synonym of "said" then it's not a dialog tag.  This was something that I also did for a while until someone corrected me and when I thought about it, it seemed obvious.  The whole point of the dialog tag is to indicate who is speaking.  That's it.  What does "frown" mean?  According to

verb (used without object)

to contract the brow, as in displeasure or deep thought; scowl.
to look displeased; have an angry look.
to view with disapproval; look disapprovingly (usually followed by on or upon):
to frown upon a scheme.

verb (used with object)
to express by a frown:
to frown one's displeasure.
to force or shame with a disapproving frown:
to frown someone into silence.
 None of those definitions relate to speaking.  Thus "frown" is not a synonym of said and thus is not a dialog tag.  Pretty simple logic, no?
You can add facial expressions and such, so long as it follows said.

So if Oberon said:
“It never left me,” said the creature, who then frowned. “Can I have more?”
“It never left me,” said the creature. And then he frowned.  “Can I have more?”

That's acceptable if not all that poetic or anything.

Now this should have been an obvious correction for someone who has written for a long time and who has charged other people for editing their works.  Right?  Right?

Well, no.  Because like the Fonz on Happy Days, Oberon can't admit he was wr-wr-wr-wr-wr-wrong.

Ah, yep...that's a tag. What's wrong with it? You're thinking because you can't "frown" words, that makes it unacceptable?

[Duh.  Of course you can't frown words!]

RULE!? Did you just say RULE? Don't you always say there are no rules in writing, that plausibility doesn't matter, that you can punctuate with a comma however you like, and that pretty much anything goes so long as you like it? You've said that for years. Don't tell me you've swung to MY side. Welcome, brother! Why so late to the party?

[Smoke bomb!  He often refers to something I said on, though he always takes it out of context.  I was talking about things like commas, not elementary grammar.]

 Nah. I like it, so it's OK.
 [Oh, well, as long as the author LIKES it then they can do any damned thing they please. 😁 ]

Since when are you a fan of grammar? Have I finally rubbed off on you? By the way, you don't HAVE to read my stuff you know. I would think you'd want to avoid writing that causes you this much angst.

[Wah, go away!  Leave me alone!  Wah! 😭]

All this angst over what was a cut-and-dried mistake.  He's just mad because he knows it's a classic newbie mistake and can't admit that the great John Oberon would ever commit such a sin.  But obviously he did.  He should have simply owned up to it and made the correction.  It's a good thing he's printing this shitty book on his own because there doesn't seem any way he could possibly work with an editor at a real publisher.

It's just as well because this book is fucking awful.  The last 5 chapters or so have all been about this Christian jerk-off torturing a bratty kid.  First it was psychological torture at a McDonald's where he forces the kid to keep playing in the Playland because the kid didn't want to leave when the guy said to.  Once they get to the guy's house, he literally treats the kid like a dog by chaining him up outside, having a neighbor scream pig calls in his face, and feeding him fucking dog food all because he didn't want to wake up and do things at the guy's convenience.  I'm not going to say the kid is an angel but there is such a thing as a proportional response and chaining a kid outside and making him eat dog food is not a proportional response for refusing to get up early or make his own lunch.  It's just gross.  I doubt any sane editor or publisher would have touched it anyway.


  1. I agree that "frown" doesn't relate to speech although it is a method of communication.

  2. First of all, the book sounds horrible. It might end up banned if anyone published it. Second, I used to do a lot of critiquing and I've never seen anyone use verbs as dialogue tags, not even newbies. He must not be used to getting feedback to have such a reaction.



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