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  1. Wayne Harrison
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    Wayne Harrison New Member

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    How to get around "he knew" ??

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Wayne Harrison, Feb 16, 2014.

    I'm finaly setting down at the urging of my wife, to write the novel I've been researching for the past nine years. It is a current-day sci-fi novel that involves real places and incorporates some real things (like a particuar Native American Pueblo and their beliefs. It also involves science and researching those two subjects (both online, by book and prowling the Western History section of the Denver Public Library has occupied a lot of time. I've also procrastinated a lot, but I'm about to turn 65 and I really want to finish this. I do not desire a career as a novelist, as I've spent 50 years writing in radio, newspapers and TV. I have this one book in me that has been percoating for years in my brain and I'm ready to pour it out.

    So I've written two chapters of the first draft and I catch myself writing "he knew blah blah blah." As in "He knew he could never keep a secret from his wife." In just the first two chapters I've used that crutch several times. I'm hoping for some tips on ways not to use that phrase as it is already growing tiresome.

    I was pleased to see Scrivener as a sponsor here because that is the software I am using to write the novel.
     
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  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Why not just drop the "He knew"? "He knew he could never keep a secret from his wife" becomes "He could never keep a secret from his wife."

    I like Scrivener too! :)
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Hi Wayne, welcome to the forum. You are describing the new writer's 'telling not showing' tendency. You need to master a few principles and you'll find other ways to reveal what 'he knew' without hitting the reader over the head with it.

    "He knew he could never keep a secret from his wife."
    Nothing got by Millie. She could ferret out a single lying word in a book-full of truthfully sworn testimony.
     
  4. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Chuck Palahniuk has something interesting to say about all "thought" verbs.
    http://litreactor.com/essays/chuck-palahniuk/nuts-and-bolts-%E2%80%9Cthought%E2%80%9D-verbs

    To be honest the ephemeral nature of this technique is why he isn't one of my favorite authors. Sometimes I like to be straight up told some shit. But it's still a great read from a fantastic writer.
     
  5. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    It's a common problem, and has its roots in how we tell a story verbally. There, we're alone on stage and "telling" the story to the reader. What you're probably doing is thinking cinematically and describing the story you see unfolding, which means you're "explaining" the story instead of making the reader live it.

    Added to that, the style of writing we learned in school is compatible with that. It's an author-centric and fact based-style that encourages the telling approach.

    But here's the thing: If the reader doesn't see what you're telling them in the character's behavior what good does it do them to know about it? And if they can, why tell them?

    There's a natural tendency to tell the reader about the character and what makes them behave as they do. But that's background information that's not part of the story being told. If you make the reader know the character's reasoning as they respond to whatever has their active attention in the moment they call "now," the reader will see the various characteristics of personality and background coming into play and won't have to be told.

    For example. If the character has to do something impressively athletic in order to accomplish what needs doing, you could, as the author, stop the action and tell the reader about the years he spent with the circus. Or, you could preface the action with something like, "As Harold launched himself toward the scaffold he mentally gave thanks for the years spent as a circus acrobat." That way, the reader learns of the protagonist's background as enrichment to a necessary line, in passing, and never knows it was included as backstory.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    That's a very helpful link Jack.
     
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  7. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is useful. In my WIR I've been using "she knew" to signal my MC's increasing self-understanding, and to mark whatever is known as fodder for her ruminations. But I'm sure I could employ it a lot less promiscuously.
     
  8. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Thanks, @Jack Asher, for the insightful link. I will take the authors challenge and try my best to avoid thought verbs. I'll have to take a look at some of my writing and start picking it apart!

    Thanks to you too, @JayG! That, there, is some good advice, I tell you what.

    @Wayne Harrison Welcome to the forum and congratulations on setting out to your task. These days, we are all so youth minded, everyone wants to see young people chase after their dreams. I find it refreshing and inspiring to see the more experienced folks get in the ring and take a swing and something they've wanted.

    I'd listen to the advice above; it's good. The thing to remember is that the story typically exists in the unfolding moment. Most modern writers use first person or close third, which means the story generally exists inside the protagonists head. In order to create that illusion, we have to get out of the reporting mindset and get into the experiential one. We have to cut things that distance the reader from the protagonist by reminding us that we're being told the story (that is, unless the narrator is an active character and we have a framed story... though that isn't very easy to sustain over novel-length work).

    As to how to get around 'he knew' the trick lies in changing the way you think about the information. You must stop distancing yourself from the character and get into their mind. Think the thoughts as if you really would, so to speak (of course, remember to trim outlying fat). Just remember not to overload the writing with convoluted details that no one needs. Everything does not require extensive detail, rather the right detail.

    It is a case of "show don't tell" which should be amended to show and tell. Sometimes it would be better to say "He was tired" than "His back ached and his muscles were screaming. Every move he made was strained as he fought the urge to fall over." Too much of the latter can come across as melodrama, especially if something requiring more detail is coming up. Thus, one must use discernment to achieve a balance.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2014
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  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I see two separate potential issues: Filtering and spoonfeeding.

    By filtering (and I hope I'm using the word correctly in this context) I mean the tendency to filter the experience of the story through the character's brain and senses, rather than experiencing it directly. It's as if you and the narrator are standing next to the character while the narrator explains the character's experience to you, rather than you *being* the character.

    Examples of filtered experiences:

    John knew that Jane would be furious when the phone bill came.
    Ann heard sirens from outside.
    Joe smelled cinnamon.
    Jane saw a spilled puddle of tomato sauce under the table.


    Taking the filter out:

    Jane would be furious when the phone bill came.
    Sirens blared outside.
    The house smelled of cinnamon.
    A puddle of tomato sauce was under the table.


    Now, these are rather dull mechanical translations, because I wanted a sentence-for-sentence comparison. In a full paragraph, the changes are likely to be more extensive.

    Spoonfeeding, to me, means explaining a conclusion to a reader rather than letting them come to that conclusion based on evidence.

    Spoonfeeding: Jane was not an adventurous eater.

    Not spoonfeeding: Jane studied the menu. Goulash? Sounds foreign. Caesar salad? No, sometimes that involves raw egg. Perhaps the omelet...no, it mentions garlic. She settled on a burger, well done, no mustard, ketchup on the side.
     
  10. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    relevant and funny... nice one.
     
  11. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    I'm not that keen on narrating so I tend to use dialogue more to explain what my characters think and feel.

    I figure this will make it easier for the movie people when they are writing the screen play too...

    (If you're on first draft stage I would probably worry about just finishing it first and then go back to the word craft. A beautifully realised half finished first draft is a lot less use than a finished bad one.)
     
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  12. Wayne Harrison
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    Wayne Harrison New Member

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    Thank you all so much for the realy great feedback. It was much more than I had hoped for in a very short period of time (I wrote my entry before bed and woke up to all this help). And yes, @Andrae Smith , I do need to get out of the "reporting" mode. @Nightstar99 , your advice is exactly what my wife has been telling me: write the thing, THEN worry about polishing and correcting. @Jack Asher, thanks for the great link! @ChickenFreak @GingerCoffee @minstrel and everyone else, thanks for your quick replies, exampes and suggestions. I am invigorated!
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2014
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    welcome aboard, wayne!

    as for your 'he knew' problem, my advice is to follow the advoce given above to simply DON'T write it!

    use any of the many other ways you can word such passages...

    on another subjcect:
    where do you see 'scrivener' being listed as a 'sponsor'?... if you're referring to an ad, advertisements do not = sponsorship, or an endorsement of the product by the site management... they're simply placed automatically, as a necessary evil, to allow the site's owner to keep the site [and himself] in the black...
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    When Walter arrived home, Janice was waiting for him with a fresh scowl. He hung up his jacket, and prepared to face the music.

    "Walter, if you don't stop sneaking burgers on the way home, you're going to have another heart attack."

    "How in hell... Never mind. I cant get away with anything around you."
     
  15. Wayne Harrison
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    Wayne Harrison New Member

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    Another good alternative, @Cogito. @mammamaia on the right side of the top of each forum page I see "Community Sponsor" and the first one listed is Scrivener.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...that's odd... i don't see it on my screen... does anyone else here see it?

    ...could be because i'm a supporter, so i don't have to see ads... which could mean that's an ad, not an official 'sponsor' of the site...
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2014
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I see Scrivener listed as a Community Sponsor. That's in addition to the regular advertisement for Scrivener that runs at the top, so it seems to imply two different things (advertiser v. sponsorship), though I can't say for sure if anything different happens behind the scenes. That's just how it looks to me on the site.
     
  18. Wayne Harrison
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    Wayne Harrison New Member

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    I want to compliment writingforums.org for some outstanding forum software. I really enjoy how it allows name hashtags and keywords. Most of the sites I visit are phpBB3 and they just don't have that capability.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    wrey/daniel...
    can you please let us know if scrivener presenting itself as a 'sponsor' is true, or false advertising?
     
  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It's not Scrivener presenting itself. The site has a heading that says Community Sponsors, and there are three sponsors listed under it. Scrivener, Smashwords, and one other.
     
  21. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I must pull an Olly North on the "Scrivener sponsor" deal. I do know the heading to which @Steerpike is referring, though I've not seen it in a while. The forum's GUI is rather different for a mod and I just logged in under my regular account (used for just such queries) and I keep refreshing the screen and don't seem to get that particular image to show up, though again, I do remember it. Regardless, this is all rather off-topic to the OP.
     
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  22. Mikewritesfic
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    Mikewritesfic Senior Member

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    Wayne I would say it's just a rough draft at this point. Don't beat yourself up about the 'He Knew' situation. Keep writing the rough draft out and when the editing starts you can take the advice of these good people to heart and make the necessary changes too.

    BTW, I'm a Scrivener fan too. For non-fiction as well as fiction
     
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  23. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I concur. Filters get by me all the time because they are a natural part of how we talk about the world around us IRL. They are easily cleaned up and I don't think they should be something you focus on more than letting your thought process flow.

    Also, yet another Scrivener fan here. ;)
     
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  24. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Scrivener is a great program. I use the Windows and Linux versions, which haven't quite caught up with the Mac version (though the Windows version should be getting a major update soon).
     
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