1. CGB
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    CGB Active Member

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    Help with this wording?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by CGB, Apr 17, 2016.

    This is the very beginning of a chapter. My current wording just sounds awkward and... idk... wrong?

    “Before the war ends, girl,” Prescott Harkensee said, raising the gun to her head.

    On the dais in front of them, a Sofoi sentinel towered high above the ancient train platform, the light from its hologram bathing the cavern in an orange glow.

    “I’m going as fast as I can!” Valera said, beads of sweat forming on her forehead.
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I was waiting for the rest of the first sentence, like "Before the war ends, girl, we'll [something]." Maybe "Hurry up. Before the war ends, girl," ?
     
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  3. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Switch the second and third paragraphs. Give us her reply before you set up where we are, so you don't break the tension. I was seeing "holy fuck, someone's got a gun to her head. What's gonna happ--oh there's a robot there. Guess that's important."
     
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  4. United
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    United Member

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    Is it just me or is the language a little ambiguous in the first sentence?

    I know Prescott mentions "girl", but it could very well be two girls in the scene and Prescott is just referring to the other girl as "girl".

    You have a modifier ("raising the gun to her head") which can apply to either the "girl" that Prescott is addressing. OR it can apply to Prescott (in that case, Prescott would be a woman since you refer to "her").
     
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  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree that there's ambiguity. I'm usually an advocate of allowing ambiguity, but in this case there's IMO too much of it, with too little payback.

    The "the" in "the gun" suggests that we've already heard about the gun.

    We don't know who "her" is--I initially assumed that it was Prescott, and that Prescott was threatening suicide.

    "Before the war ends..." is confusing without the knowledge that Prescott is waiting for something, and that's not clear.

    Assuming that Prescott isn't threatening suicide, "Raising the gun to her head" suggests that Prescott and Valera are very close together, but the scene-setting then suggests some distance. And "I'm going as fast as I can" suggests that Valera is engaging in some activity, which suggests at least a little movement, but then the "gun to her head" suggests the gun is almost touching, and so how can she be moving, and...

    I'm just confused. I choose to assume that Valera's sitting-still activity is struggling with a computer, and then I find myself tweaking it to:

    "Type faster, girl." Prescott Harkensee raised his gun, almost touching the head of the woman in the chair.

    On the dais... (etc., etc., and maybe including a description of what device the woman is typing at.)

    “I’m going as fast as I can!” Valera said, beads of sweat forming on her forehead.
     
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  6. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Maybe something as simple as a little introduction about what's going one.

    Sweat rolled down Valera's face and neck as she cleared debris from the ruined train platform. It was here, it had to be, and she better find it quick before this psycho--

    "Dig faster, girl. I'd like to be out of here before the war ends," said Prescott Harkensee, raising her revolver and training it on Valera's head.

    I don't know, something like that. Something to give a little orientation to the reader before plunging into the action. I don't know if Valera is looking for something, it just seemed like maybe Valera's goal should be right up there at the beginning too. It sort of gives the reader a focal point and helps clarify why Prescott is so trigger-happy.
     
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  7. CGB
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    CGB Active Member

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    Ok, here is what I have, edited thanks to your suggestions. I've expanded it a little bit also for context.

    What is happening here is this: Valera is using a type of techno-science-magic to communicate with an artificial intelligence (the enormous hologram that takes the form of one of the "Sofoi" - basically a long dead alien race). The conversation she is having with the AI takes place in her mind, through a special computer implanted in her brain. The AI is the "gate-keeper" of the wormhole that the nearby train leads through. Harkensee is a bad person who is holding Valera hostage because of her strange gift of speaking to the Sofoi AIs and thus being able to open these wormholes.

    Valera felt beads of sweat rolling down her face as a gun was raised to her head.

    “Hurry up, girl,” Prescott Harkensee said, pressing the barrel hard into her temple. “Get this train running before the war ends.”
    “I’m trying!” Valera said.

    On the dais in front of her, the Sofoi sentinel towered high above the ancient train platform, the light from its hologram bathing the dark cavern in a soft orange glow.
    “Where does this path lead?” Valera asked the AI, with nothing more than a thought.
    “If you wish to pass, you shall pass,” the Sentinel said.

    “What is it saying?” Harkensee demanded. In the corner of her eye she saw him glancing back and forth between the AI and herself, as if looking for some sign that a conversation was taking place. He had been her traveling companion now for close to two years, yet his distrust of her had only grown the closer their journey came to an end.
     
  8. United
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    United Member

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    Regarding the part with the gun, you still have the modifier which seems to suggest that Prescott wants to kill himself (herself).

    In order to eliminate the ambiguity, you need to refer "Valera" as a girl or woman, etc etc.---not "her"----in the second sentence in your new edit.
     
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  9. CGB
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    CGB Active Member

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    Can I just say:

    “Hurry up, girl,” Prescott Harkensee said, pressing the barrel hard into Valera’s temple. “Get this train running before the war ends.”
     
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  10. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Yes. That is good. I like your changes.
     
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  11. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    I don't understand why the pronoun "her" makes this hard to understand. Doesn't the previous sentence make it obvious who the gun is pointed at? Why would Valera sweat about a badguy threatening suicide? How would referring to Valera as "girl" or "woman" make it less confusing if Prescott is also a woman? Is this is from Valera's POV, wouldn't that break the POV?
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2016
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  12. United
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    United Member

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    Yup. It works. :)

    @Elven Candy

    The reason why it is still ambiguous (even after Valera is mentioned in the preceding sentence) is because the clause "pressing the barrel hard into her temple" is a clause that specifically applies to the subject of the sentence. And the subject of that sentence is obviously Prescott. It would be a much clearer distinction if the subject (Prescott) were "I" because that would be a first person pronoun instead of a third person pronoun. But both Prescott and Valera take third person pronouns, so that's why it can sound ambiguous.

    Think of it this way:

    “Hurry up, girl,” Prescott Harkensee said, pressing the barrel hard into her temple.

    A reader can validly ask: is there another "her" in the scene? I mean, Valera sounds like girl's name, so there's obviously a girl in the scene. But Prescott could also be holding the gun to another girl's head, right---a girl we haven't been introduced to yet? Or maybe Prescott is also a girl and she's holding the gun to her own head?

    But you are right. Sometimes if you introduce the character to conversations like this, then it's okay to use "her", "him", etc etc.
    However, in this case, we aren't introduced into the scene. We are simply being put into the middle of it. We don't know how many people there are in this scene.
    We know there's at least two people, Valera and Prescott, but that's all we know. And because this is written in medias res, we as readers should never make the assumption that there is only what the author shows.

    This is a prime example that shows the potential ambiguity in writing in 3rd person. (Then again, this is also written in medias res, which also added to the confusion).
     
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  13. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    Grammatically speaking, I now understand the confusion. I think the reason I found others' confusion confusing (hehe) was because the one part in the first example I understood was that the gun was pointed to Valera's head. Prescott isn't a name I hear often, and only when referred to men, so to me it sounds like a man's name. I also don't tend to think of people threatening others with suicide. All that combined into a giant, "Huh, what are you guys talking about?" head scratching moment.

    I now (sort of) get what you guys are talking about. Thanks for explaining! I'll be studying on this subject a bit, since I'm also writing in third person and I have a feeling I have a few sentences like this . . .
     
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  14. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    I just read “Hurry up, girl,” Prescott Harkensee said, pressing the barrel hard into her temple to my brother, and he heard it as the gun was pressed to Valera's temple. When I read the first sentence as well, he said, "Well that just makes it more obvious."

    But he and I both think of Prescott as a man's name, so maybe it has something to do with the assumed gender of Prescott? Is this the first time Prescott was mentioned in the book?
     
  15. United
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    Oh, no it's perfectly fine if you thought about it that way. In fact, the way you interpreted the sentence should be the "right" way of interpreting the sentence (that Prescott is a man holding a gun to Valera's head).

    The only problem is that it can also be interpreted to be the case that Prescott is a woman holding a gun to herself (probably not to the majority of readers, but some readers may see this to be the case).

    And unless if it is intentional, authors should never leave something up for reader interpretation, especially not scenes that depict character and setting.

    General writing tip: if you don't intend to make something ambiguous for a specific reason (character-related or plot-related, etc.), then be as clear as possible. Leave no room for reader confusion.
     
  16. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your sentences are very busy to my little brain. Cleanse and de-clutter

    Some things you might try - well, for me particularly, completely ditch simile, ditch the 'like' especially, be bold, say it, the reader understands. [update, dont think there is any simile in yr piece, umm]

    Kill off the linking clauses in the draft, it is tiresome to the eye, rumble along, I'll come with you, all the best :)

    Only suggestions: the vision is strong, tidy up...



    Valera felt beads of sweat rollinged down her face, as a gun was raised to her head.

    “Hurry up, girl,” Prescott Harkensee said, pressinged the barrel hard into her temple. “Get this train running before the war ends.”
    “I’m trying!” Valera said.

    On the dais in front of her, the Sofoi sentinel towered high above the ancient train platform, the light from its hologram bathinged the dark cavern in a soft orange glow.

    “Where does this path lead?” Valera asked the AI, with nothing more than a thought.

    “If you wish to pass, you shall pass,” said the Sentinel said.

    “What is it saying?” Harkensee demanded.

    In the corner of her eye she saw himHarkensee glanceing back and forth between the AI and herself, as if looking for some sign that a conversation was taking place. He had been her traveling companion now for close to two years, yet his distrust of her had only grew own the closer their journey [together?]came to an end.
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2016
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  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @CGB - I did have to read it a few times for clarity, but I think the problem is that we haven't seen what came just before. I don't think there would be a problem with the pronoun if we knew who these people were. And Prescott saying "before the war ends, girl," can be exactly the phrasing you want, if he's being sarcastic. I've said the same kind of thing myself, if somebody is doing something way too slowly. "Sometime before I die...?"

    Incidentally, you can indicate that a phrase is incomplete by either doing what I've done above, using an ellipsis which indicates the phrase has trailed off. Or, if the person is speaking more abruptly, you can use an em-dash. "Sometime before I die—" Either one makes it clear it's not a complete sentence, so your readers won't be left wondering if something got left out.

    I think you do need to vary your sentence structure, and don't be tempted to over-use 'said.' It's a very dead-sounding word when it's used in just about every line of dialogue. I know there are people who think it's an invisible word, but it's not. Repetition calls attention to it, and not in a good way.

    Since you asked for suggestions, here is what I came up with (not knowing what came before.)

    “Before the war ends, girl—” Lifting the gun to her head, Prescott Harkensee turned his quip into a threat.

    On the dais in front of them, a Sofoi sentinel towered (high—redundant word—'towered' implies 'high') above the ancient train platform, its hologram bathing the cavern in an orange glow.

    Beads of sweat had formed on Valera's forehead. “I’m going as fast as I can!”
     
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2016
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  18. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    Ohhh, okay, that makes sense.
     
  19. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Well as long as everyone is changing your voice here, I say you make Valera a guy. That would be better for this passage. You can change her back when it's done.
     
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  20. CGB
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    CGB Active Member

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    Eh just still doesn't sound right, but heres what I have. Let me know what you think.

    Beads of sweat rolled down Valera’s face as the gun was raised to her head.
    “Hurry up, girl,” Prescott Harkensee said, pressing the barrel hard into Valera’s temple. “We’re out of time.”
    “I’m trying!” Valera said, panic in her voice.
    On the dais in front of them, the Sofoi sentinel towered above the ancient train platform, the light from its hologram bathing the dark cavern in a soft orange glow.
    His heartbeat pounded in his ear. “What is it saying?” Harkensee demanded, looking between her and the A.I. hologram.

    This is 3rd person limited btw and the POV is of Harkensee
     

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