Character who overuses a word. Too annoying or correctly annoying?

Annoying?

  • No

    Votes: 2 40.0%
  • Yes

    Votes: 3 60.0%

  • Total voters
    5
  • Poll closed .

msstice

200 words a day = 1 novel/year
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I have a character who has decided they are going to use the word "Stupid" a lot. Like "Who leaves stupid lego bricks on the carpet." "Why won't the stupid car start." "Who left the stupid door open."

I decided to leave this in because it's their voice and it fits their character (young, impatient, outspoken) and I found stupid to be a lot less offensive than "f*ck" which is what a lot of real people use, and is heard in movies and books. I think people find that word funny, especially when over used, but I get a little tired of it. Stupid however does not sound so bad to me.

What's your opinion. Would it cloy you if they kept saying this every third sentence or so?
 
Every third sentence? Way too much. Cloying isn't the right word for that. Exasperating. A reason to put the book down. These would be closer to the mark.

The issue, imo, isn't the word. The issue (for readability) is any character who is going to be annoyed with the world that frequently is a character who is going to annoy me directly. That sort of character strikes me as shallow and uninteresting, so any verbal tics are only going to reinforce the impression.

A character can be young. That's been done. A character can be impatient and outspoken. Also been done. Looking at you, Holden Caulfield.

None of the examples came across as outspoken. Nor impatient, or particularly young. "Stupid" is fine. Truly. Overuse of f*ck annoys me to no end, so I'm happy to have you use an alternative. Just consider the context.
 
I have to agree with sknox that every third sentence is far too much. But let us imagine it was fairly often but not nearly that often. Whether it is too annoying or correctly annoying would depend in part on how I am supposed to feel about the character. If the character is supposed to be annoying, then perhaps it would be correctly annoying.

Although even then it would not be a good idea to be too heavy-handed. After all, unless the book is very long, many readers might read the whole thing in a day or two (or even a single evening if they are the type who stays up all night to finish a book). Say that the character says the word "stupid" (or any other descriptive word) 100 times in the course of a story that takes place over months or even years. On the face of it, that might not seem like so much, yet in the experience of the sort of readers that I am talking about that might be 100 times over the course of a single day's reading, which could get pretty darn tiresome, pretty darn quickly. (Whereas the reader who takes a week or two to read the book might not even pick up on it at all.) It would probably be better to use the word more selectively, placing it in the story in such a way that each use makes more of an impact. In that way, it would do more to illustrate the character, and perhaps even amuse readers (in the manner of a tag line) rather than try their patience, as sprinkling it in more often and more carelessly would surely do.
 
The first character that comes to mind with a repetition of word(s) is Gollum/Smeagol. That's ok as he's a side character, but I think that it would get quite annoying quite quickly if he had been one of the main characters.

As a reader, if you had a young character who used the word 'stupid' a lot, I would probably want to see a reason why he would use this particular word more than a stronger, more commonly used one. I always remember Steven Donaldson's Thomas Covenant who seemed to use the word 'hellfire' quite a lot, and although that is loss offensive a word than some others, it still seemed an odd turn of phrase.

Swearing can be effective, but usually when used sparingly and at the right time to emphasise what is being done or said.

I think we all take it as a given that written dialogue in a book is not how people speak in real life - otherwise we would have to include slight stutters, mispronunciations, umming and erring etc etc. It my be better to draw a picture as to the type of character your fellow is and let the reader draw their own conclusions as to how the dialogue would be delivered.
 
I could see using it in bursts, perhaps when the character is angry. If the intent is to literally count the sentences spoken by the character and inject 'stupid' every third one, then it fails to provide any defining flavor to the character.

Different speaking quirks have different tolerances for repetition. The best guide is to read large chunks of text and using one's own judgment (or having trial readers do this and give their observations). As I tend to write in bursts, I often do not see patterns of overuse. Even if I go back over short sections of text, I will not see them. It takes a sustained read, often multiple chapters in a go, to see patterns that may be annoying and separate those from patterns that are interesting.

Another thing to consider is the frequency of appearance of the character. For a main character, the speaking quirks need to be toned down, while for an infrequent character, it can actually be enjoyable to have them almost overdone. If the character is the cranky next door neighbor, who only shows up every several chapters, then that character might get away with using 'stupid' in every sentence. If the character is the primary POV, then frequency of use should be dialed back.
 
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The issue (for readability) is any character who is going to be annoyed with the world that frequently is a character who is going to annoy me directly. That sort of character strikes me as shallow and uninteresting
This is a side character (younger adult sister of the MC, say 20yo). As she has evolved in my mind she is good hearted, impatient, superstitious, sometimes skeptical of others and impulsive. She suddenly started to say "stupid" I'm guessing when my subconscious decided she needed an outlet for being in a strange and scary situation.

It would probably be better to use the word more selectively, placing it in the story in such a way that each use makes more of an impact
(y)(y) I love this. Strong language loses meaning if overused. (Which is probably why my parents taught me not to use it. If you use "f*ck" when you miss a bus, what you gonna use when the aliens attack?)

I would probably want to see a reason why he would use this particular word more than a stronger, more commonly used one.
Ah, so it's my story so my "prudery" leaks everywhere. I do not like expletives. I am very ashamed when I let one out myself. It means I've lost control. It means I'm not a good role model for my child. My characters say milder things, and, since they are not from Earth, they use choice words that are based on the environment they are in. (Sludge Bucket is one such term, for example).

This is a topic for a whole blog post. How to keep the "vernacular" I've invented but not make it too comic. "Stupid" however is a regular English word and I chose it because I don't believe in writing dialog full of hard swear words. <shrug>

It my be better to draw a picture as to the type of character your fellow is and let the reader draw their own conclusions as to how the dialogue would be delivered.
Nice. I aspire to do this. As other advice here hints at, a light touch is essential.

I could see using it in bursts, perhaps when the character is angry.
++

Another thing to consider is the frequency of appearance of the character.
Yes! Great point I should keep in mind. This character does have a decent tenure: 1/3 of the book, so a light hand is indicated.

This is all super excellent advice from you all. We are definitely lucky to have people on these forums who think deeply about technique!
 
I do not like expletives ... My characters say milder things, ... I don't believe in writing dialog full of hard swear words.
I strongly encourage this trend. I try to write very PG (US movie rating scale) dialog. I do not believe that coarser language really adds anything to the character. I do allow my characters to use stronger expletives than I would use, but I also put them into much more stressful situations than I have ever had to endure. I keep the characters language at and below the level used on network TV and I appreciate that you seem to feel the same way. Keep writing that way; a story can be well told without words with starred out characters.
 
Ah, so it's my story so my "prudery" leaks everywhere. I do not like expletives. I am very ashamed when I let one out myself. It means I've lost control. It means I'm not a good role model for my child. My characters say milder things, and, since they are not from Earth, they use choice words that are based on the environment they are in. (Sludge Bucket is one such term, for example).


This now makes more sense; if they aren't on Earth, then you can omit some of the language. It may be worth considering that if words are based on their environment, 'stupid' may not suit as well as certain other words? Perhaps 'muddy' or 'sticky' as alternative expletives?
 
What's your opinion. Would it cloy you if they kept saying this every third sentence or so?
An associated issue, one that has come up more than once, is how to deal with a character who uses non-idiomatic speech.

The advice has usually been to introduce that character while gently sprinkling their dialogue (or narration if it's first person or very close third person) with examples of their non-idiomatic speech but to then use such words far more sparsely, specifically just enough to occasionally remind the reader that non-idomatic speech is being used by the character, but not enough to draw the reader out of the story.
 
I strongly encourage this trend. I try to write very PG (US movie rating scale) dialog. I do not believe that coarser language really adds anything to the character. I do allow my characters to use stronger expletives than I would use, but I also put them into much more stressful situations than I have ever had to endure. I keep the characters language at and below the level used on network TV and I appreciate that you seem to feel the same way. Keep writing that way; a story can be well told without words with starred out characters.


I agree, and something similar was discussed on another thread. Personally I think it's just as suitable to say 'he swore profusely' or 'he cursed under his breath' as alternatives to using actual swear words. I think that there are numerous benefits to doing so, a major one being that the reader can choose the most appropriate words or phrases themselves.
 
An associated issue, one that has come up more than once, is how to deal with a character who uses non-idiomatic speech.

The advice has usually been to introduce that character while gently sprinkling their dialogue (or narration if it's first person or very close third person) with examples of their non-idiomatic speech but to then use such words far more sparsely, specifically just enough to occasionally remind the reader that non-idomatic speech is being used by the character, but not enough to draw the reader out of the story.


Yes, you don't want the reader to wonder if the character has been taking elocution lessons somewhere between pages 5 and 250!

I suppose the idea is to get the reader to read the dialogue in the character's voice; then you've pretty much cracked it.
 
If it feels true to the character then use it as often as you feel the character would, and if it produces the right effect.

In the play Hedda Gabbler, Ibsen portrays Hedda's husband, George Tesman as a tedious, mediocre bore. One of the ways he does this is by having George constantly repeat the word "Eh?".

As an audience member you begin to understand why Hedda despises George - and, after a while, every time you hear him say "Eh?" in that dull, affable way of his, you can feel Hedda rolling her eyes. His character is painted very quickly by just the repetition of one word.

To be able to answer the question "is the word 'x' used too much?" you need to consider why you're using it.

The words we use can reveal insights into a character's psychology. Why does your character say "stupid" so much - is it something that they heard a lot from their parents or teachers and so they've internalised? Are they insecure about their intelligence? Is it how they secretly see themselves? Do they long to be seen as intelligent? Is intelligence something they value? Is stupidity the worse thing in the world to them? How do they view stupidity?

Basically - why do they use the word stupid so much? What are you trying to tell the reader?

If you can't provide a good reason to repeat the word, then you might just be using it as filler, in which case you could edit it out.
 
The lead character in one of my books is a young woman. Her verbal tic is "obviously." She drops here and there, but not often and it's not a substitute for swearing. It's just a way to indicate attitude. Obviously.
 
Kind of want a third option for the poll. My vote would be to use it often, but /not/ as often as you think the character would in real life. Conveys the annoyingness without actually being too annoying to read.
 

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