1. aimi_aiko
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    aimi_aiko Contributing Member

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    How to Get Rid of the Habit of Listing

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by aimi_aiko, May 29, 2011.

    Hello!

    So, I've just started a new story today and as I was reading through it, I realized somewhere in the story, I began listing.

    Ex.)He reached up to the porch light and grabbed a key. He unlocked the door and swung it open.

    This is how my story is going. I want it to flow, but I want to get rid of my habit of listing. I don't want to begin every sentence with "I", "He", "She", etc.

    Is there any way to break this habit?

    Any suggestions, tips or ideas are greatly appreciated. :)


    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Generally breaking up the sentences with er... forgot the name, but it sounds funny, but that thing where you go:

    Reaching up to the porch light, he grabbed a key.

    The "listing" or just repetitive sentence structure usually slides by unless it's done excessively, because speech and description of things other than actions will mean you have to break the "subject verb noun" pattern. As long as you avoid having long strings of action with nothing in between (which is a bad writing habit anyways :p) you shouldn't be too worried.
     
  3. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Surely, good sir, surely you mean the "subject predicate object" pattern?

    Mix things up with genderless pronouns!

    Example from the beginning of my current piece (I wanted to use more, but decided that I'm not trusting enough to do so, so...):

    “What does the ‘E’ in your name stand for, sir?”

    Again, satisfaction. Mockery. An undertone of disgust, perhaps?


    If you want to avoid listing, use sentence fragments in fun, non-awkward ways. If you want to avoid listing, talk about things that are happening in a non-personal way. Just because a character isn't doing something, it doesn't mean that nothing is happening.

    It's like a cutaway shot in film. It shows action that isn't related to the character.
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, Mel's not a sir.
     
  5. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I refer to most people either as kiddo or good sir. It's not a gender thing.
     
  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm seeing two questions here: How to avoid using the "list" form when you do need to specify actions, but also whether you need to specify the actions at all. If this is how he normally enters his house, do you need that much detail? Are you offering it because the location of the key will be relevant later? Is it someone else's house and is he breaking in?

    But, responding to your actual question, I think that the key is to "untie" the actions from the main character, implying, rather than stating, that he's the one making things happen.

    Some random rewrites, along these lines:

    James eyed the porch light as he approached the door. Had Charles become less trusting over the years, or did he still... yep, the key was on top of the fixture, warm from the light. Moments later, James was in the apartment. He'd have to have a talk with Charles about security. Later.

    ----

    A surprising number of people "hid" their keys in the most obvious of places. James knelt to tie his shoe; it wasn't under the flowerpot. Or under the mat. Standing and stretching confirmed that it was, however, on top of the porch-light. Moments later, he was in the apartment, door shut.

    ----

    He took the front walk at a clip just short of a run. Mark's information was as reliable as usual; a moment grabbing the key from atop the porch-light, a heartbeat's argument with a stiff lock, and the door was swinging open. Ha!


    ChickenFreak
     
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  7. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    ... I'm calling the cops on you. *Fearful face*
     
  8. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's a case of deciding how much detail you actually need.

    Too much 'stage direction' is not such a good thing. Mix it up.
     
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  9. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agree with VM80
     
  10. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    I think I do this too at times...any advice on how to 'mix it up' from you?
     
  11. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I never studied grammarz, as you might be able to tell from that post. :p
     
  12. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm just a grammar nut, and learned all that from somewhat extensive study.

    GRAMMARZ! *High five*
     
  13. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    *high five* :D I think I know how to use all grammarz - I just can't tell you how or why without sounding like an idiot. :p
     
  14. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's fine. I'm slowly losing my knowledge of the 'why's. I think I need to brush up with my copy of The Elements of Style again. C:
     
  15. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Im the same! I know all the grammar (in my native language, I mean) I just cannot explain why and how and when. It's just something I know.
     
  16. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    Actually, (from another thread)...

    You could have just said you were sorry, or Oops, or whatever. We've all made the same mistake.
     
  17. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    I actually had this problem when I made a plan for a story (which I rarely do) and then wrote it following this plan of mine. It turned out being 'He did this...He did that...' etc.

    What I did was I figured out what I needed to say, and then experimented with ways I could write it. I would often go for the 'Reaching into the hole, he pulled out a dagger.' (or whatever). I can't remember what the proper name for that is, but what Melzaar said.

    Something that might help is going through a story and noting down how they start each sentence.
     
  18. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    I think it's something that comes with experience. There are people who say it's harder in first person POV but I disagree. I think if you have trouble with it in first you'll have trouble with it in the rest as well. It's something you learn to avoid by reading and writing, by rereading what you've written and by thinking of different ways to say what you've said to avoid it. Eventually it becomes natural (I hope :p).
     
  19. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    First person is so much easier because every sentence could be a thought, observation or description to begin with. :p You start to look unhinged if you attempt to write third person the same way... :p

    I was reading through my story to see what else there was and found this:

    So you just put off the subject predicate object pattern :)P) by sticking an interjection in. Since unless you've just read this thread you won't really be thinking about it, the reader's eyes should glance off it. :p
     
  20. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    I didn't say I think that, I said people say that. That you end up with I, I, I, I, ......
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sure... just start noticing when you do it and then don't!

    if you find that hard to do, then fine yourself a dollar/pound for every one you catch in a proofread, the 'pot' going to the favorite charity of your spouse/partner/best friend when your ms is ready to be submitted...

    there are many better ways to describe action... just browse through any 3 novels by good writers and see how they do it...
     
  22. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    To the OP: First, think about what details are important, and what can be safely left out.

    If someone enters a house, it's obvious that he first opens the door, so you don't need to specify it. It may or may not be obvious that he needs to unlock the door first, but unless it makes any difference to the story, you should probably leave it out. Instead, focus on those details which add something to the story, characters or setting.

    Once you know what purpose you have with describing something, it should be easier to know how you should describe it and get away from the list format. For example, if the above-mentioned door is part of a horror story, you might want to use the description of it as a mood setter ("The door slowly creaked open, and the streetlight cast a stark rectangle of light into the room")
     
  23. aimi_aiko
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    aimi_aiko Contributing Member

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    Thanks for all the tips and suggestions. They are greatly appreciated. Regarding my story, I plan on to continue writing from where I left off, then later on, I will re-read and correct the "listing" sentences.

    And as for the answer to half of the responders' questions...

    He is not breaking in anyone's house, or visiting someone else's house. He is offering a runaway girl shelter at his guest house, and that is where he has always kept the key. lol. :p

    Thanks again!!!
     
  24. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    ... That's an awesome idea. I'm going to make a tally of all the mistakes in my manuscript in my first revision when I finish it, then I'm going to donate some amount of dollars (maybe 50c per mistake, since I'm a poorbie) to my Salvation Army store where I work.
     
  25. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I dunno, mistakes do happen and a first draft can't be perfect. Maybe breaking a habit is hard, but ultimately no matter how much you write and however good you get, you're probably looking at £50 to charity every time. :p
     

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