Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thanks, Jackie. Nice to meet you, too, Jackie. Likewise, Jackie.

I remember learning at the age of 12 or so that the secret of success was using someone's name in conversation. We're in love with our own identities, so it stands to reason we love to hear our name.

Right? That's how it went?

Only not. I'm encountering a trend in young writers -- overeagerness to overattribute.

The Larson Dictionary & Stylebook definition of overattribution: To hammer someone over the head with their last name, repeatedly, within the confines of a story. Ouch. OUCH!

A woman I reported with in my early days said her college journalism prof told her to imagine she was being whapped with a quirt across her knuckles every time she overused someone's name.

"It was great," Schlmiel said.
"The first thing we did was have tea," Schlmiel said.

The extra name usage is generally slipped in in the note transcription process. No one sets out to use the same name in every paragraph. But believe me, it happens. Now, imagine you're the subject of the article, only you HATE your last name, because it sounds like slang. So how much more do you hate the rhythmical insertion of your last name at every opportunity?

Make changing up attribution one of your closing routines on a piece. There's spell-check, length-check, fact-check, sound-check.

Now there's duplication-check. Look for repetitions (and remove them!). And if Schlmiel is going around and around in your story's head, get it out. Sub in "he said." or "the Harvard grad said."

And probably if there's this big a ring to it, you need to de-quotize some of the interview and serve it up as fact.

And I haven't even talked about the quaint but irritating use of Mr., Ms. and Mrs. at evey turn, like the Dallas Morning News insists upon.

"Mr. Lecter escaped custody this morning. He had been jailed - and muzzled - for seven serial murders." See? Doesn't that sound odd?

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