Profanity in dialogue doesn’t always work for me; too often it seems gratuitous, the product of lazy writing. But when it’s not overdone and when characters are believably profane — when profanity suits their personality and background, and when it surfaces as part of a well-constructed scene with rising tension — it can make the dialogue sing. For examples, read pretty much any scene in David Mamet’s Pulitzer-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross.

Now imagine two professional cage fighters, seated in separate TV studios in Las Vegas to promote their upcoming championship fight through a series of split-screen interviews with reporters across the country. One interview ends, and while the next is being queued by the producers, what might these rivals say to one another? Would the fact they’re temporarily “off-air” affect how they interact? Will they try to intimidate one another? Will they be profane? — something they know they can’t be on live TV due to FCC restrictions prohibiting “language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.”

Could such a scenario make for a good scene in a novel or play? And could moderate use of profanity enhance the dialogue and dramatic tension of such a scene? Here’s how the scenario played out in real life between UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and challenger Daniel Cormier on the evening of August 4, 2014. Despite lasting just ninety seconds, this exchange has it all: immediate conflict, rising tension, humor, sarcasm, insults, death threats, and yes, profanity. Here’s the transcript:

Read the rest of this entry »

The perfect Tweet?

Posted: August 5, 2014 in Social media, Twitter

Tweet Best PracticesDon’t know much about Twitter, but I’m learning — and the attached “Tweet sheet” was a big help.

Twitter compiled it for advertisers with branded content to help them boost the “performance” of their Tweets. The suggestions are based on Twitter’s analysis of its own internal data — specifically, 80,000 Tweets from 35,000 paid advertising campaigns.

The good news for Twitter newbies like me is these advertiser “best practices” can be used by anyone with a Twitter account to make their Tweets more engaging.

Here are Twitter’s six “best practices,” in order of effectiveness: Read the rest of this entry »

One of the few things I know with any certainty about good (or bad) writing is that a single ill-considered adverb can diminish or ruin an entire sentence or paragraph. But they’re hard to kill. Here’s a sampling of what others have written about adverbs, beginning and ending with Mark Twain:

  • “I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me.” —Twain
  • “In order to write good stuff you have to hate adverbs.” —Theodore Roethke
  • “The road to hell is paved with adverbs…. They’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day.” —Stephen King
  • “Overuse at best is needless clutter; at worst, it creates the impression that the characters are overacting, emoting like silent film stars. Still, an adverb can be exactly what a sentence needs. They can add important intonation to dialogue, or subtly convey information.” —Howard Mittelmark
  • “At their best, adverbs spice up a verb or adjective. At their worst, they express a meaning already contained in it.” —Roy Peter Clark
  • “Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’ … he admonished gravely.” —Elmore Leonard
  • “If you see an adverb, kill it.” —Twain

Further reading: “Why the Adverb Is Not Our Friend” by Richard Nordquist

Follow me on Twitter: @adverbkiller