By Cheri Chesley
Don't worry, by the time I'm done this will make sense. I hope.
There has been a lot of talk about Smurfs in my house lately, what with the release of the new movie. Turns out my husband hated the Smurfs; I watched them as a kid. My kids want to see the movie, and it looks like I'm the one to take them.
Yesterday, on our way to a launch party for an author friend, we stopped and got the girls Happy Meals. They both got Jokey Smurf in the meal. I pointed out to them that Jokey only had one joke--the exploding present. As a writer, I got to thinking about that. And here's what I got from it.
Jokey's presents, like certain plot points, need to be used sparingly. I know, from my memories watching the show, that they often used the exploding present as a running gag, but they didn't often use it as the means of escaping the evil wizard--because that would be trite and overdone. I think of those TV show writers who worked tirelessly to write shows about little blue creatures, and wonder how many discussions they had about over-using some of the well known elements of the story. Papa Smurf's wisdom. Jokey's exploding presents. Hefty's strength. Etc.
Writing for TV and writing fiction has its obvious similarities. We don't want to over-use certain story elements or our writing will become trite and ineffective. Recently, on one of my author groups, someone worried that he was over-using the word "sleep" and wondered if there were other options. Several people weighed in, most with sound arguments one way or the other. Sometimes you have to call a tree a tree. Creating other ways to say the same thing can come across as forced, and we don't want that. On the other hand, some words become invisible in a book, like the word "said" (at least to most readers. I have a couple of less glowing reviews of my book where the reader says I used "said" rather than mixing it up with other terms).
No matter how you look at it, writing is a balance. The trick is finding that balance that feels best, and works best, for you.