Thursday, May 28, 2015

The State vs. Debi O’Neille, Case 55-cr-13-6514


Debi sat in the witness stand, her long hair in a neat fold on the back of her head. She wondered if she could avoid perjury by creatively answering the gray-haired, arrogant, no-necked prosecuting attorney’s questions.

“Didn’t you, in fact, use the word “looked” in your first chapter a total of three times, and similarly, the word “glanced” twice?”

Jerk. Of course he’d ask questions designed specifically for yes or no answers—only an idiot would misunderstand.

Idiot speaking here –“I always restrict those verbs to situations where absolutely necessary, but I didn’t count how many instances were necessary in this particular chapter.”

“Yes or no?” the attorney asked.

Geez, could they cut down on the furniture oil in this place? The lemon smell was nauseating. Debi clasped her hands tighter together in her lap, as if that would help her nerves. At least she wasn’t shaking. Not on the outside, anyway.

“I don’t recall the exact number of times,” she said. “Overused verbs can usually be avoided, because—”

In a half-turn toward the jury, the prosecutor said, “Ms O’Neille, a yes or no, please.”

“You don’t need to tell readers that a character is looking at something—”

“Your Honor, ple-e-ease,” the prosecutor said to the judge, who expelled a long sigh.

“Not when you're in that character’s point of view,” Debi continued, “and you describe the something being looked at.”

She had him there. He seemed a bit confused. He rubbed a finger over his brow. Oh how she wanted to smile.

“So by your own admission, it’s likely you didn’t need to use either looked or glanced in your writing, and yet you did; isn’t that true?”

Well holy cookies and ice cream—of course I did. Who doesn’t? “Again, sir, I don’t recall.” Oops. That might be a little white one. She didn’t remember how many times she’d used either word, but she did believe she’d used them. At least once. Or more.

“Ms O’Neille, would you like me to repeat the question?”

Which was …? “I’m sure I would have used them a time or two, but there are situations where it isn’t ridiculous for them to be included in a great sentence. For instance—”

“That will be all,” the attorney said, his shark gaze right on her. “No further questions.”

The heat of seven hells washed through Debi, a mixture of anger, frustration, and humiliation. Anger because she hated being cut off, as if what she had to say didn’t matter. Probably a lot of ex-husbands in the world had become exes for that very tactic. The frustration stemmed because she had a good answer, right on the tip of her tongue, and though no one was waiting for it, she wanted to let it out. The humiliation sprang from the collision of anger and frustration, which no doubt showed in bright flaming color on her face. She worked her hands in her lap. Would it be legal to ask to be excused?

She was saved from further worry when her own attorney addressed her. “Ms O’Neille, you looked like you had something to say at the end of that … battering interrogation.”

“Objection,” the prosecutor shouted.

The long-faced judge looked at the defense attorney. “Mr. Diehl, please rephrase your statement, and perhaps you could ask a question.”

“Yes, Your Honor.” He smiled then trained his dark eyes on her. “Would you please share what you had been about to say?”

“I was simply going to explain that there are times when looked and glanced aren’t errors in understanding how point of view works, so it’s only natural they’d show up in anyone’s writing, including mine. For instance, when the narration directs the reader to watch a character who is not the point-of-view character, but a secondary character who is glancing or looking about, then we can use those words. We wouldn’t be in that character’s point of view, and the point-of-view character would certainly notice and report if the other person looked in a certain direction or gazed at anything specific. The point-of-view character would describe that little action of the other character turning his attention to this or that, whatever the case may be.”

“So, to simplify, you’re saying that using looked and glanced in your work might have been a deliberate decision?”

“Exactly. You just can’t use them too close together in a paragraph or per page, or they’ll echo. You’ll see that when you read this transcript.” She nodded toward the court reporter.

The defense attorney smiled at the judge. “I have no more questions, Your Honor.”

When Debi stepped down from the witness stand, with all the smug arrogance of a true writer, she walked with an air of royalty, chin up and eyes welcoming to the many smiles she expected to see. “Case closed,” she said to no one in particular. “And so, I rest my case on the case of looked and glanced.”

29 comments:

  1. Doesn't conviction carry the death penalty for that? Close call, LOL!

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  2. This is hilarious! I hope I can similarly avoid conviction on my overuse of "just" and "even," but it's looking pretty dicey.

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    1. Yeah, I'm pretty fond of "just" and "even" too. :-)

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  3. lmao, I tend to use looked a tad much sometimes. Good thing the precedent has now been set to get me off the hook

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  4. This is funny:) I loved how you placed yourself on the stand and triumphed over the prosecutor.

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    1. always wanted a chance to do that. :-)

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  5. Excellent defense! You are correct (and the case does need to be dismissed, and that lawyer's neck wrung).

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  6. Glad you won your case, but maybe you should check just how often you did use those words.

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    1. Actually, I only used them a couple times, but I still thought it a good fight to fight. :-)

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  7. So funny, and a great reminder/lesson!

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    1. Thanks. I'm keeping my attorney on retainer, just in case I slip up. :-)

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  8. Like everyone else, enjoyed this immensely. We all have words we love love love to use. What did writers do before the Search/Find tool?

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    1. I can't imagine. Read it aloud fifty million times? :-)

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  9. Ha, ha. Great post! I have words I overuse and have to do a search and destroy during editing. I can't seem to help it.

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    1. Me too. I keep a hatchet by my side when revising. :-)

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  10. Let there be filler words in the world, they were given to us as gifts by the language Gods for a reason, don't care what the judge says. :) Great piece, Deb.

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    1. Thank you, and I love your new picture (with your book) Yay for Stranger of Friend. I've shown my autographed copy to lots of friends. :-) You're the best!

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  11. Hi, Debi,

    I really enjoyed your post.... Very imaginative and a great way to explain WHY we MAY use words more often than usual. As writers we all have our favorites and use them often. But, as you so passionately stated, sometimes they ARE acceptable in our writing....

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    1. Thanks, Michael. I'm still trying to weed them out of my own work, winning case or not. :-)

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  12. Haha that made me laugh! For some reason I overuse little. I put it everywhere I can and then I have to go hunt each one down.

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    1. Yep. Good thing computers make that easy nowadays. Can you imagine back in the day when rewriting meant literally starting over with paper and pen? I probably would have a hundred scribbles on each page. :-)

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  13. Excellent!! It appeared that you neatly put the judge and P. A firmly in their place: taking up battle against a writer who knew her stuff.

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  14. LOL! Yeah, we all do it. It's funny how just a tweak in perspective makes everything okay. We only uphold certain rules because the big publishers say they're necessary. Readers really don't care 95% of the time. (Yes, I totally pulled that number out of the air.)

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