1. Letoatreides3508
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    Letoatreides3508 Member

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    Desperately in need of advice... With a touch of pity.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Letoatreides3508, May 23, 2015.

    Hi. I'm having a few problems with my creative writing and was hoping for some assistance. Their minor difficulties; at least they should be, but I'm finding them surprisingly frustrating to fix, so I was hoping to employ some well placed tactical groveling.

    My issues arise primarily around structure and grammar. I'm writing a short story in the third person, which centers around one character. I feel like my use of his name is excessive, but I'm not sure how to effectively substitute his name with identifiers which don't inevitably lead me into the world of the grammatically awkward.

    Another issue I have is my hopeless addiction to adverbs. I know I shouldn't use them, I know they're not good for me, but avoiding their siren's call is proving difficult and frustrating for me.

    Last but not least when I look at my drafts for revision, I really don't think I have a functional grasp on 'show, don't tell'. The prose and dialogue just feels awkward and forced.

    Any help on any of these issues would be greatly appreciated.
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    With respect to the first issue, you may look at whether any identifier is needed in all of those instances. Often writers will throw in identifiers more often than necessary, and it reads awkwardly.

    With respect to adverbs, I don't agree with an absolute prohibition, but whenever you find yourself using one see if you can't find a stronger verb to put in place of the verb/adverb combination.

    With respect to the last issue, I think we'd have to see a sample of your work to comment on this.

    Keep writing. Experiment with different approaches. Get outside of your normal, comfortable writing zone and find other approaches that work for you.
     
  3. Letoatreides3508
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    Letoatreides3508 Member

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    Well, here's a sample paragraph from a short story I'm writing right now. It involves animal abuse, and is a little on the graphic side, so I hope that can be overlooked. I think it represents well my issues with telling rather than showing.

    He felt the tears make their way down his cheek, and though he knew they would likely only result in the further infliction of pain found himself unable to stop. Unable to continue watching but lacking the fortitude to break his near silent vigil and run he looked down. The view below him held no promises of leniency. As he stood, cursing himself for his inability to move he watched the thin streams of blood travel like red molasses from Bessie's broken body to Hunter's shoes. He stepped back, and looked up. Grizzly Adams was still at work, hitting and kicking what used to be a vibrant living thing, being quickly reduced to a pile of meat.
     
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I can certainly relate to these issues, especially the first and the second one.

    As @Steerpike said, it's kind of difficult to illustrate without a sample of your writing. I take it you feel you're over-using the person's name? Is this person on their own throughout most of the story? If so, just using the pronoun rather than the name in most instances will usually work. If there is no doubt who you are referring to, that should be no problem, and pronouns don't call attention to themselves the way names do.

    If this person is mixing with other people, though, that gets tricky. If you have several men together in a room, and you're describing or showing what's happening, just using 'he' will be confusing unless it's obvious who the 'he' is referring to in each instance.

    If you could give us just a paragraph or two of your work that are relevant to this issue, it would help me (and others) to comment more specifically.

    As to the adverb issue ...I'd say the best way to cope with that, at least at first, is go ahead and write them if you feel like it. Don't worry overmuch or let it stop your flow. BUT once you've written the chapter, story, or whatever, let it sit for a few days to cool off, then make a copy of your file. On the copied file do a 'search' for any words ending in -ly. Every time you come to one of these, remove it. Let the whole thing sit for another day or two. Then read over the copied file, and reinstate any adverbs that are needed. You probably won't even notice the gaps, if they're not.

    I think the more you write, the more you'll notice this kind of thing and nip it in the bud. But there's more than one way to get around a problem!

    As for the show, don't tell issue? It's actually simpler than folks think it is. Show means you let us watch a scene and draw our own conclusions about it. Instead of telling us your character 'felt sad,' let us watch her cry, or quietly fold up the letter from the guy who just dumped her and stick it far to the back of her bookcase. Or maybe she'll just sit in a chair and stare out at the rain for a couple of hours. Cliches .... but you get the idea? We'll figure out that she feels sad without you needing to tell us.

    Telling has its place, though. If you need to get through something really quickly, then it's okay to 'tell' it and leave the drawn out scenes for the really important bits of your story. It's okay to "tell" something like: When she received the letter from Jim, telling her the engagement was off, Carrie went into shock. She stayed indoors for weeks, nursing humiliation and anger rather than sorrow, until the evening of the first Sunday in July, when the doorbell rang. (Here "showing" begins as we enter a real scene.) "Go away," she muttered, too quietly for anybody to hear through a solid oak door. When the bell jangled again, more insistently this time, she dragged herself out of the rocking chair and tiptoed to the window to look out.

    Hope this helps a bit?

    ..............
    edited: Sorry, your sample came through while I was writing but I hadn't posted yet, so I didn't know. Let me have a wee think about it, and I'll get back to you tomorrow. It's just after 1am here, and I need to get to bed! :)
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2015
  5. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do I fail for having to look up what an adverb was?

    Well personally I think you need to just push through. I mean the grammar and spelling style of writing isn't going to happen from talking. You need to see your problems and train yourself to avoid them. Personally I wouldn't worry. I don't think it is as hard as you might think.

    My own example. Less then one year ago I was writing like this.

    "Stop!" He said. "No!" She countered. Then she ran away. "Come back!" He shouted.

    Yep no separate paragraphing for new speaker. Along with loads of other things. I wrote well over 200k in that style. It never held this learned it wrong aspect to it. When I learned to write it right. I did. So I wouldn't worry too much at the moment. Masters of a craft need sheer volume of experience. While that doesn't mean don't worry about quality there simple isn't a way to cram it in so effectively that it changes that it takes time. It can be frustrating to want it now. Which is why I say relax.

    The fact you can notice bad sections is the first step to learning how to fix them.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    My dear Duke Leto,

    The problem is that your narrator is way, way, way too present. You are reporting everything through a heap of filter verbs. "Don't filter" is one of those rules similar to "don't use adverbs". It really means "know when to, and when not to", and goodness, but you need to do it less.

    Tears made their way down his cheek, ...

    ... and though they would likely only result in the further infliction of pain...

    Unable to move, he cursed. Thin streams of blood ran like red molasses...


    You keep bring us back to he/him/himself when we already know full well the who of the actions and observations. You don't need to tell us he felt/he saw/he noticed/he perceived unless the feeling, seeing, noticing or perceiving is the key thing.

    PS: This belongs in Word Mechanics. I've moved it to that subforum.

    PPS: The small excerpt you have used here as an example is fine to do. Please know that any more than that will constitute a critique and the forum critique rules and requirements will come into play.
     
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  7. UpstateWriter
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    UpstateWriter Member

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    or better yet.

    "Tears streaked down his cheeks"
     
  8. UpstateWriter
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    UpstateWriter Member

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    Once the reader knows who the narrator is you can abandon the "He felt, he knew, etc.'
     
  9. Letoatreides3508
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    Letoatreides3508 Member

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    Wraybies, thank you so much... Very very helpful feedback :D. Since I have a propensity for pushing my luck, if I write a revised paragraph with your suggestions could you look over that too? Seriously, thankee sai like cubed!!!
     
  10. Letoatreides3508
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    Letoatreides3508 Member

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    How about this?

    A fresh squall of tears strolled down his cheeks, and though they would likely only result in the further infliction of pain they still came down. Unable to continue watching but lacking the fortitude to break his near silent vigil and run he looked down at the ground below. The view below him held no promise of emotional leniency. With movement still beyond his capabilities, he looked down. Thin streams of molasses ran like tributaries from Bessie's broken body to his shoes, which finally inspired the courage to take a step back.Looking up, his eyes were assaulted by Grizzly Adams and the shifted target of his rage. So committed to the task of ending the life of his former beloved pet, Hunter thought he saw an expression of surprise on the old drunk's face as he realized his primary target hadn't already fled.
     
  11. UpstateWriter
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    UpstateWriter Member

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    Sometimes, for emphasis, telling can be as potent as showing.

    Example from John Steinbeck's "The Snake"

    Dr. Phillips began to be afraid. "You could come to look at him without owning him."

    "I want him to be mine."

    The sentence is passive and tells instead of shows, but in the context of the story it works.
     
  12. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    A squall is a violent thing. A stroll is a leisurely thing. These two things don't match.

    ...

    So here, lets address the adverbs about which I didn't really speak prior. There really aren't that many simple adverbs in this section, but there is this:

    This sentence is overlong, over-complex, and, believe it or not, it consists mainly of one giant adverbial phrase. There are nouns, adjectives and adverbs; and there are also noun phrases, adjectival phrases, and adverbial phrases. The latter is when a group of words functions together as a single unit. The bolded section above is one big honkin' complicated adverbial phrase. It all modifies the verb looked (in red). You're trying to squeeze too much into one little function: adverb. Instead of being dramatic, it's confusing.

    Same thing is happening here, same structure, a little less complicated, but you're still asking too much out of little old adverb.

    .....

    Any advice we give you on sentence structure is going to be mitigated by the fact that we don't see this small paragraph in the context of its larger context. That larger context cannot be posted in this area of the forum. ;) I would urge you to just do a couple of critiques so that you can post your own work in the Workshop. Therein we can really get to the nitty-gritty and look at the way things link up with other things.
     
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  13. Letoatreides3508
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    Letoatreides3508 Member

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    That would be great, but do I really have the nerve to critique others? We'll soon find out... :D
     
  14. UpstateWriter
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    UpstateWriter Member

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    Sometimes we see 'mistakes' in other's work that eludes us when we examine our own prose.
     
  15. UpstateWriter
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    From 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (one of the few writing how-to books I'd endorse:

    At their best, adverbs spice up a verb or adjective. At their worst, they express a meaning already contained in it: ·
    "The blast completely destroyed the church office." ·
    "The cheerleader gyrated wildly before the screaming fans." ·
    "The accident totally severed the boy's arm." ·
    "The spy peered furtively through the bushes."

    Consider the effect of deleting the adverbs: ·
    The blast destroyed the church office. ·
    The cheerleader gyrated before the screaming fans. ·
    The accident severed the boy's arm. ·
    The spy peered through the bushes.
    In each case, the deletion shortens the sentence, sharpens the point, and creates elbow room for the verb
     
  16. Dunning Kruger
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    Dunning Kruger Active Member

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    I've learned a hell of a lot by forcing myself to seriously think about what I like and dislike about others' writing. You sound like you are a bit green like myself. You probably will too. I got over my lack of confidence on reviewing by focusing on what I like and dont like as a reader rather than what I thought a writer would think. Everyone is a reader with opinions and everyone benefits from a second pair of eyes. If you have nothing negative to say then focus on the positive. Finally, dont worry if you have bad insights. Everyone here is quite capable of ignoring an opinion they dont like.
     
  17. UpstateWriter
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    Couldn't help myself. All in good fun, though.
     
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  18. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that rule is too generalized, and it should be handled on a case to case basis. Shortening the sentence may not always be the effect you want. In some cases, you may purposely want to drag out a sentence to increase tension, show a character's specific POV on an event, emphasize certain parts of the sentence, etc.

    For your church example, adding "completely" emphasizes that action part of the sentence. Depending on the context and preceding sentences, I might want "completely" in there so the reader knows to focus on that part of the sentence. At their best, adverbs spice up a verb or adjective AND improve the readability. At their worst, adverbs express nothing new AND worsen the readability.
     
  19. UpstateWriter
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    Of course exceptions exist. But many writers--even well published ones--rely on superfluous modifiers.
     
  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's difficult to answer any of the questions without a sample. When you've been here long enough to post samples in the Review Room, it would be good to post at least several paragraphs--maybe written for the purpose of being reviewed, since you may not want to risk "publishing" any part of your story--for commentary.

    But I'm going to try to answer anyway. (Oh, and now there's a sample. I'll post this anyway and then look at the sample.)

    One possible point: If your story is in "close" third person point of view, then it's assumed that everything mentioned is something that your character experiences. That means that you don't have to tell us that your character experiences it--it's assumed. So you may need to eliminate a lot of these identifiers.

    Short examples:

    John heard a bird chirping outside the window.
    changes to
    A bird was chirping outside the window.

    John searched through all the kitchen drawers, and finally found the pizza menu.
    A search of the kitchen drawers finally turned up the pizza menu.

    John felt that American Idol was a waste of the public airwaves.
    American Idol. Feh. A waste of the public airwaves.

    John looked up and saw Janet walking down the hallway. He found her very attractive.
    Janet was walking down the hallway, as gorgeous as ever.

    Longer example:

    John charged into the kitchen. Hungry. Hungry. Hungry. Where's that damned pizza menu? Not on the refrigerator, not in the junk drawer, not... ah, yes. He wheeled around toward the living room and there it was, under the TV Guide.

    A further delay ensued until he found the phone receiver under an afghan, and then, "Hello? Yes, I'd like to order a large all meat, and a six-pack of Coke. I... ninety minutes? Seriously? Never mind."

    He tossed the receiver at the couch and returned to search the kitchen, this time for actual food. The freezer was dedicated to vodka and ice. There was one box of Stouffer's Swedish Meatballs, but that had been there when he moved in to the apartment. The refrigerator, when opened, proudly displayed shining ranks of beer cans and one bottle of cocktail olives. The cabinets, he already knew, were overflow storage for the beer.

    Forty minutes to the game.

    "Meatballs and olives it is," he told the microwave.


    I like Jannert's suggestion for this.

    "Show, don't tell" is an ambiguous piece of advice. I rephrase it as "demonstrate, don't explain." I don't suppose that helps at all? To me, "show" implies that it's about seeing, or at least about sensory input, and that's not what this advice is about at all.

    My take on this advice is that truth is complicated, and that stating a truth flat-out inevitably simplifies and weakens it, and also makes it less interesting. So you're better off demonstrating the truth than stating it flat out.

    So instead of, "Joe's father was domineering," you give us a scene with Joe and his father. Instead of "Joe's mother was an obsessively neat housekeeper," you add Joe's mother to the same scene, fussing around folding afghans and trying to wipe up beer can rings. Instead of "Joe's father was protective of his wife," you have Joe's father shouting at Joe for causing those beer can rings, then apologizing in a soft voice to the wife when she objects to the shouting. And this same scene can carry plot--all the domineering and fussing and shouting can be a side note to a conversation about the weird alien egg that Joe just found in the back forty.

    Instead of saying, "Joe's father was a farmer" you just showed us that with the phrase "back forty". Instead of saying, "The farm wasn't doing well, due to the drought" you can work in a few conversational words about it being impossible to tell how long the alien egg has been there.

    ("How the hell should I know? I haven't set foot back there since they declared the water emergency. Priority for livestock; you know it's going to golf courses, not livestock, right? Right? They'd rather grow grass than soybeans. Oh, for God's sake John, don't give me that dryfarming brochure again. Dryfarming is for Caifornia hippies.")
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    If this were my paragraph, I'd remove most of the explanations and go with more specific sensations:

    He watched, arms folded, jaw set, eyes wet despite his efforts to blink back the tears. Waiting, just waiting, for it to be over. Streams of blood travelled like red molasses from Bessie's broken body to his shoes and he stepped back, swallowing his revulsion. He remained unseen; Adams was focused on the moaning animal, smiling with the joy of the slaughter.
     
  22. Letoatreides3508
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    Thank you Chicken Freak. You're adaptation is much more visceral, which is what I was going for. I'm still in the two week waiting period I think so I won't be able to post in workshop for a while yet, but would you (and others) be privvy to just helping me just kind of work on my prose until then like we've been doing? I don't have much to offer besides my unparalleled groveling skills :rolleyes:.

    Also, I was wondering what constitutes 'hate language' according to your guidelines. I'm a gay man, and this story is actually based on an incident which happened to me, and since it involves a hate crime of sorts, the word 'faggot' is used several times throughout the story. I could edit it out of the draft, but I really feel compelled to present this incident as it happened, and I don't think I can depict this incident realistically without that language in place. Is this acceptable?
     
  23. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    No, you're not. You joined in October of last year. All you're missing are your two critiques and having at least 20 posts overall. The 20 posts can be from any conversation anywhere in the forum, doesn't matter. You really do need to do the two critiques, though, to ask for and get the kind of help you are asking for. We are a full participation Workshop, and the upper quarter of the forum is meant for questions of a specific nature, not to work on one's overall writing. That's what the Workshop lower down on the front page is for.
     
  24. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Try to figure this out on your own, as much as you can, because then you're building your writing skills, not your grovelling skills! :)

    What I notice when I look at @ChickenFreak's version is that it is a lot simpler. No "infliction" "fortitude" "vigil" or "leniency". These aren't bad words, but they're words that caught my attention the first time I read your passage. They made me focus on the writing, not on the scene being described.

    To me, your original version felt overwritten, as though you were trying too hard to be writer-ly. Ease off a bit, if you can, and you might find you're more pleased with your results.
     
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  25. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    As a fellow member of the LGBTQ tribe and as Forum Staff, let me give you the official take on this. In your story, if it's part of your story, then it's part of your story. Do not edit it out. We're not a PG or PG-13 forum. I've been called faggot more than once in my life and to have it whitewashed out of a piece of writing is the gravest kind of revisionism. What would be hate-speech in our forum is for the word to be dolled out in a direct manner from one member toward another member or members, and/or in a general fashion about others, in the discussion areas. Your story may most definitely contain the word in the context of the narrative or dialogue if it be called for.
     
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