Wednesday, July 6, 2011

That Ol' Black Liquid Got Me In Its Spell ...

There are a few phrases that ensure I will read no further in a novel, no matter the $7.99 I paid for it in eager anticipation of a few hours of delightful escape. One of them is "You just don't get it, do you?" Another is "the black liquid" in reference to coffee. This invariably follows the hero ordering, pouring, or contemplating a cup of coffee. Having established that there is a cup of coffee in close proximity to the protagonist, the author then adds, "He drank the black liquid," " He gulped the black liquid," "He sipped the black liquid," etc.

Look, I know he has a cup of coffee in front of him; I assume he's going to drink it. I also know that a good cup of coffee is, if not exactly black, at least dark in color.  The phrase used is *always*  "the black liquid" and appears often enough in novels to make me believe there's some deranged high school creative writing teacher at large in the land, racing from class to class, telling all his students that describing coffee as "the black liquid" will give their stories a touch of class. Or maybe that by describing the liquid as "black" the writer will also establish the hard-boiledness of his protagonist or the noirness of his story.

It won't. In fact, it drives at least one reader crazy. Look, you writers out there -- if you're going to be redundant, at least be creative about it. Details are fine; just make them telling details. And if you can't tell the difference, well, you just don't get it, do you?


  1. Maybe I can interest you in my novel about oil eating aliens? Here is an excerpt:

    I set the cup of the black liquid in front of it.
    "Sweet crude or high sulfur?" it asked me telepathically, extending its intake mandible.
    "Neither" I replied. "Starbucks."
    "Gulp!" It quickly withdrew its mandible. "Trying to cut down on the caffeine." It said.

  2. I've never thought about it much, but now that you mention it, it bothers me, too. There are so many better ways to describe a cup of coffee.