1. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    Confusing for the reader?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Renee J, Jan 30, 2016.

    I've heard that the first sentence of a scene shouldn't use words that convey something is not the first. And that it would confuse the reader. For example, you shouldn't say, "Charlie ate another apple." Is it really that confusing or wouldn't it be implied that Charlie had eaten an apple earlier and is now eating another one?
     
  2. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    This seems like one of those "rules" that some people proffer, but few writers actually adhere to. This is used all the time in writing, and, while it can be used poorly, it can also be used well. If you start the chapter with "Charlie drank yet another beer," it would be read quite differently than "Charlie drank a beer." The former tells us he's probably getting drunk (or already drunk) and offers some viewpoint perspective with "yet another."

    It may fall on the "telling" side of writing versus "showing," but I think it can be used very well to set the scene without having to pigeonhole in another sentence to explain he's drunk, and it can allow for more showing in the following sentences with less restriction. Basically, I think it works well when combined with showing, not used as a replacement for showing.
     
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  3. MichaelP
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    MichaelP Active Member

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    Charlie drank a beer and ate an apple.
     
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  4. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Is it confusing for you? Then it probably would not be confusing for your reader. Why I said probably? Esoteric stuff confuses people just do not start it off with "Charlie had another baptism..." or something like that.
     
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  5. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    ???

    Sorry, is this meant to be an example of what you're talking about?
     
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't call this a firm rule. If it feels coy and "I-know-something-you-don't-know!" it's likely to annoy. But Charlie and his apples seem fine, and I think there are plenty of other scenarios that would be fine.
     
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  7. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    Ok, that sentence doesn't make sense. (I was tired when I wrote it.)

    What I had heard was that you shouldn't use words like "another", "more", etc without mentioning the object in a previous sentence. For example, don't write Charlie ate another apple without showing him eating the first apple. But, there's also the advice to start late into a scene, so nothing may have been happening during apple number one.
     
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  8. Aster
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    Aster Member

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    Do you not understand the sentence or are you confused as to why it is an issue?

    @Renee J, why is it such a bad thing to begin the book by giving your reader the impression that they have walked in on a scene in motion?
     
  9. Sack-a-Doo!
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    The sentence is grammatically peculiar and, using standard rules of grammar, makes no sense.
     
  10. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Ah! I suspected something like that... the tiredness, not the apple. ;)

    In the case of the apple, starting late in the scene, you could say: he grabbed an apple, his second since he sat down... or whatever, like that.

    Hope this helps.
     
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  11. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I don't think it's a bad thing, but I'd seen it pointed out during critiques as something not to do. I was trying to figure out the difference between creating intrigue in the reader and confusing them.
     
  12. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't see any problem with it at all. It's so obvious that Charlie has eaten one or more apples before we 'enter' the scene. I'd worry about a reader who couldn't grasp that, to be honest.
     
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  13. Aster
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    I'm struggling to think in what context it would be confusing that your opening sentence states that this was not the first instance of a particular action. But it is very late and I am also very tired.
     
  14. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    Well I would ask, is the fact that Charlie ate "another" apple prudent to the story? Or will it suffice it to say Charlie ate an apple? If it is important, I would word it differently like "Charlie had spent all day working the fields and it had been a while since he had eaten. After consuming 2 Honey Crisps, Charlie ate another apple."

    See? I would need more detail as to why he would eat another apple.
     
  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that "another apple" is a style choice. While I can't say without context, it may have a breath of very dry humor that I like .
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    "Charlies ate another apple" isn't the least bit confusing. When someone says they are confused, you still have to fall back on your own judgment as to whether the critiquer is simply too easily confused. Readers are smart, on the whole.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Come to think of it, this is essentially a discussion about whether backstory (micro-backstory) is needed.
     
  18. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    Idk, in this case I don't think it's so much a backstory as, is there a point to put in potentially useless sentences in your work. Like if "Charlie ate another apple" was in a story and it served no purpose then why is it there?
     
  19. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    Then why do we need to know that he ate "another" apple?
     
  20. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    It could be important that he's shown eating an apple and that it's not his first. (The apple was a simple example just off the top of my head.)
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    I was taking it on faith that the fact that Charlie ate at least two apples has a purpose for being there. I was only responding to the question of whether it's permissible to have the "another" before the fact of the preceding apple has been established.

    As an example, if Charlie's a burglar robbing a place, then "Charlie ate another apple." might signify that Charlie has been engaging in that robbery for quite a while, and that he's relaxed enough while robbing a place to snack from the homeowner's pantry. The "...another..." would wrap a tiny moment of indirection around that, so that the reader feels, "Wait, he... Wow! The nerve!" The offhandedness of the apple mention could echo Charlie's offhandedness about his crime.

    I don't actually see a way to make precisely that sentence do precisely that job, but a similar sentence could do a similar job.

    I got my example. As the OPENING scene of a story:

    Charlie ate another apple as he bagged the silver. He finished off the caviar while lovingly nesting the first editions, each wrapped in acid-free paper, into UHaul boxes. He lowered the last few slices of nova into his mouth as he surveyed the walls. But Mr. Jenkins' taste in art was as bad as Mrs. Jenkins' palate was good. Charlie washed his hands, packed the last of the boxes in his van, called to make an appointment with his fence, and drove away.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2016
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  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    There are a lot of potential reasons it may be important to the story, characterization, etc. Can't say it isn't just based on the sentence itself.
     
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  23. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    Is it confusing? no. Its pretty obvious but in the big picture of writing technique, I think its an awkward way to start a sentence. In the example you gave, the fact the ate another apple is irrelevant, especially considering all the other stuff Charlie is doing. I can tell, without knowing he ate apples prior that he had extra time on his hands.

    I can see something like this:

    Charlie picked another apple off the tree and again savored the crisp juiciness of peak of the fall season. He enjoyed them and as he sat under the tree that afternoon, he found it hard to get his fill.

    So this give you a reason as to why charlie would eat another apple. So to answer the question again, no its not confusing but it should serve a purpose as to why he would eat another one.
     
  24. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    Well i think it can work if you some how find a way to explain it. Like why he would choose to eat another apple otherwise for me as a reader it would seem awkward and in the editing process it would seem pointless to have it in there without further explanation.
     
  25. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Could you really tell that he had extra time, with all the food stuff removed?

    Charlie bagged the silver. He lovingly nested the first editions, each wrapped in acid-free paper, into UHaul boxes. He surveyed the walls. But Mr. Jenkins' taste in art was as bad as Mrs. Jenkins' palate was good. He packed the last of the boxes in his van, called to make an appointment with his fence, and drove away.

    The above strikes me as much less leisurely. I suppose the "lovingly nested...wrapped in paper" suggests an unhurried robbery, but it seems like a different mood.
     

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