Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What are Swifties? -- writing tip

Question: Whoever read my submission (the rejection just said "The Editors"), scrawled a note, "too many Swifties." Any idea what that means?

Answer: I have heard editors use the term. It refers to the dialogue writing style in the popular Tom Swift kids' series. Tom Swift and His Electric Locomotive, or, Two Miles a Minute on the Rails, was one, always featuring the newest of scientific gadgets in the 1910s to 20s. These books are now in the public domain and are free for the most part to e-reading devices. The books were famous for their use of "said, followed by an adverb" combinations as speechtags. Later, sometime in the 1950s I think, there was a Tom Swift, Jr. series, followed by a rash of Swiftie jokes:

For Instance: "That's the spark!" Tom said, electrically.

Okay, the jokes weren't very funny. But I often have heard modern day editors refer to the use of a "said followed by an adverb" combination as a Swiftie, and while it was the ultimate of style from 1910 on, it is now considered "lazy writing." Literary trends have fashion and will continue to do so. Using images is in style since Hemingway, and using adverbs is OUT. Any adverbs, and especially, Swifties are out of style, too, and can lead to unintentionally funny combinations if stretched too far.

Back in the day, the best of writers used them. Swifties abound in Agatha Christie, and other best selling writers who started in the WWI era and wrote through the 50s and 60s. But editors who are buying today will not respond well to them. Now I grew up on Tom Swift, Brenda Starr, and Nancy Drew and have read any number of Swifties in my time. Used to write a lot of them too, until I heard the editors comparing notes and telling jokes about them at a conference.

1 comment:

  1. In Hollywood they call swifties wrylies and they're equally unacceptable these day.

    Here we go again.