We’ve been putting away the Christmas cards in preparation - once we've checked which cheapskates on our list failed to send to us, that is - for recycling. It seems to be a feature of our sceptical times that every year there are fewer religious cards and more little red robins. My survey also revealed that one 'robin' card actually contained one of those dreaded round robins. (Tho I don't think the author was aware of the irony.) Now, while I do believe that cards should carry more than just the sender's signature (or worse, their printed name), I don't appreciate round robins. This one was sent by an American friend – they usually are – and is efficient and well-meaning, but it’s a very rare person who can recount a year’s activity of his/her person or family without sounding self-serving.
Round robins are no occasion for excessive modesty. The word ‘proud’ appears frequently. No-one says, ‘A shit year. Screwed up massively at work, was deservedly fired, and now am lucky to be employed as a bag boy at the local supermarket’. You say,’ I realised my job was not stretching my talents to the full and that I needed more direct contact with people’.
I also find - despite my having used three so far today – that people whose only creative writing is an annual round robin tend to overdo the adverbs. Especially (make that four!) when describing the tone in which something was said, as in “she said sadly”, or “he asked ironically”. If you need “sadly” or “ironically”, it means the dialogue hasn’t made it clear.
I’ve written a scenario to show what happens when such adverbs get out of hand. A writer goes to see a doctor:
‘Can you lend me a pencil sharpener?’ asked the writer, bluntly.
‘I’m a doctor, not a stationer. What exactly can I do for you?’ replied the doctor patiently.
‘I’ve been changing my type font’, said the writer boldly - and switching to ragged right margins’ he added, quite unjustifiably.
‘Are you still writing fairy tales,’ asked the doctor grimly.
‘Yes, and I’ve spent so long at the keyboard I’ve got blisters’, the writer went on callously.
‘Would you like me to amputate you at the wrist? asked the doctor, offhandedly – ‘or even at the shoulder,’ he added disarmingly.
‘No thanks, but I think I need a knee replacement,’ said the writer, lamely.
‘But you were never in a car crash’, said the doctor recklessly.
‘Sorry, I didn’t hear that’, said his patient deftly.
‘That’s because your hair is too long,’ said the doctor, barbarously.
‘I haven’t had it cut because I was on a camping holiday’, the writer answered intently.
‘I prefer to take my holidays at that Film Festival in the south of France,’ said the doctor, cannily - ‘or visiting modern art museums’, he added abstractly.
I have to say that many of these came from a web site dedicated to this whole subject. My favourite - though I couldn't work it into the above script, is "'I think the answer's 22/7', he said piously". They've got a site for everything these days - even sore eyes.