People used to tell me I was a decent writer. So, last year, when I decided to write my first manuscript The Prison, I wrote like a madwoman. Afterward, I started researching different aspects of writing novels and discovered that so many rules of writing English had changed as well as wha’s trendy as far as the “in thing” for novels right now (which sometimes makes me question if I ever wrote well at all). So, I learned all I could and recently started editing everything I’ve written so far. Now for the complicated part…
As I’ve told you plenty of times, I am autistic. I have what was formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome. And because of that, I’m exact-word oriented. For the most part, I’ve learned how to adapt over the years, but sometimes, things still stump me.
For example, once when my son was near the end of sixth grade, he came home from school and said he couldn’t go back until he got a booster shot for one of his immunizations. I thought that sounded strange, but he swore that was what his teacher said. He then proceeded to pull a note out of his backpack which said:
Please be advised that your child needs a Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (TDAP) vaccine booster shot before s/he may return to school. Please take care of this matter at once.
So, it seemed that Jeremy was right. However, I didn’t get paid for another week and a half, so I couldn’t afford the doctor’s appointment. As such, during that time, I did as the note implied and kept him home from school.
Now in Florida, you can only keep a child out of school for three days before a doctor’s note is required to return. But since he was not sick, I didn’t even bother to ask the doctor for an excuse when I took Jeremy for his shot.
Immediately following his appointment, I took my son to school and signed him in late. But before I left, the attendance lady stopped me and said Jeremy couldn’t return to class without a medical excuse. I told her I didn’t have one. She told me that in that case, I was in violation of the state’s truancy ordinance, and I could be arrested!
Then I got heated.
I pulled the note out of my purse and showed it to her, and said that the school practically ordered me to keep him home until he had the required shot, and that I couldn’t afford the shot until I got paid. I further reminded her that not only did I have an autistic child, but I was autistic myself, so the teacher might have explained things better if the words written on the note were not actually what the note meant.
We went back and forth for a couple of rounds, and she ended up calling the principal out to “calm me down.” (Bad idea… I only got louder.) But in the end, the school realized that the note was poorly written because what the note was trying to say was that the sixth grade child could not return to school the following school year without the shot.
They reluctantly admitted their mistake (only after I threatened to get the school board involved which they already knew I wouldn’t hesitate to do), and Jeremy and I were off the hook. (By the way, don’t let the word autism keep you from laughing. This was a pretty hilarious mistake, wasn’t it?)
Now, this brings me back to my current exact-word conundrum concerning writing. If you’re reading a novel and come across a part of narration (not dialog) that concerns time, do you prefer to read the words “last week” and “tomorrow” or do you prefer “the previous week” and “the following day?”
“Jen was so enamored by Dave, she couldn’t believe they’d only just met yesterday.”
“Jen was so enamored by Dave, she couldn’t believe they’d only just met the previous day.”
Personally, I think the sentence with yesterday flows better. However, as a reader, I might’ve read the chapter when they met a few days ago, then put the book down and just got back to it. So, in that case, it’s not the reader’s yesterday.
I know that sounds stupid, but I can’t find any written rules on this; however, I find plenty of rules that tell me I mustn’t “confuse the reader.” (And, yes, I understand that my ultimate goal is that the reader shouldn’t be able to put the book down for several days before reading again, so this point would be moot.) I know I’m probably over-thinking this, but I don’t want to have this be the thing that keeps a good story from being told well.
So, my question to you is concerning the passage of time or the mention of some future time, which do you prefer? When did it happen?