A Note Going Forward

This is a sad day. The truth is I hoped the problem would fix itself, but those of us who read online advice columns know that’s not realistic, in business and/or personal relationships. We’ve got to face this thing head on. Fantasy authors, I’m issuing a moratorium on the use of “savor” as a verb.

As an unsolicited, upstart, dilettante cultural critic I generally prefer to stick to the cheerleading aspects of the job and go easy on the actual criticism. To be honest, and we need to strive for honesty right now, I’m aware I naturally lean toward the judgmental and I’m trying to resist the habit. But sometimes I have to step in and this is one of those times.

Let me break it down. Savored and savoring have been abused recklessly in works of fantasy and it needs to stop. Savoring comes off a little affected but that’s not the real issue. This pernicious verb shares qualities with the footnote, in that if you don’t kill it fast the first time you see it, it multiplies and swarms all over your manuscript and then people are savoring things right and left. Recently I’ve noticed savor employed in connection with unpleasant sensations, as in, “Brand pried his hand from the gauntlet, savoring the blood dripping down his arm,” or, “Morigan savored the freezing cold as it hardened her eyeballs.” This is just incorrect. Unless your character is a masochist, they should not be savoring pain. I mean, maybe the character is a masochist, but in that case you’ve got some other kinds of explaining to do.

Do you realize when you describe your characters as savoring something I picture them with pursed lips and crossed eyes, writhing and groaning? Is that what you’re aiming for?

I understand the impulse to use savor comes from a good place. You want to add sensory details and texture to your scene, and that’s the right track. But savor is a shortcut and it’s making things worse—washing out the scene with bland, unspecific language, and that’s something we all have to fight against. I know I have to be eternally vigilant against sentences like, “He shut the door,” or, “She shook her head.” In my first drafts you’d think people are having seizures constantly. We have to revisit those crutches and find a better way.

Instead of using savor, give the specifics it’s standing in for: what does the thing actually taste or feel like? If you do this with precision, you won’t have to tell the reader the characters are enjoying themselves. One final caveat: don’t go overboard on description. We don’t need a whole paragraph about how soft the sheets are in the castle or how silky the hair is on Pietor’s back.

For now, use of the noun and adjective forms are still approved. If you must, you may comment that a stew happens to be savory, and you’re welcome to say something like, “Ever since the mages’ guild surrendered, Stanton found chopping off their heads had lost its savor.” It’s a cliche but I’m willing to overlook it, so long as the privilege is not abused.

Some of you may see this as censorship, an abuse of your First Amendment rights. We’re all upset. I’ll tell you what, if you really feel it’s called for, run it past me and I’ll evaluate on a case by case basis. All right, back to work.