1. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    Is it a good idea to copy and paste interesting word choices?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Magnatolia, Apr 3, 2014.

    Hi guys,

    I've been reading a couple of books, not for the story, but for the choice of language. One example is The Walking Dead.

    What I'm thinking of doing is copy and pasting specific phrases to a word document as a descriptive prompter. Does this sound like a good idea? For example I was reading through the ones I had and stitch knifed into his side caught my eye. It reminded me of a scene in the beginning where my character is running until their lungs burned for oxygen.

    I ended up with They ran as fast as they could, and kept running until their lungs burned for oxygen. Clair gasped as a stitch knifed her right side. Pain burned her vision for a moment; black dots dancing in her face. Sometimes I struggle with different word choices and I think this will help, even if it's just to use as a prompt.

    For example, two others that caught my eye as I was reading the book were Fingertips brushed and voice range strong and firm. I have a character that the second one would go well with. And fingertips brushed is a good way of including the sense of touch which is one sense I don't employ much in my writing.

    I quite like The Walking Dead way of describing things and want to incorporate some of that into my writing.
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Any phrase likely to catch your attention as you do this stands a good chance of coming from beyond your idiolect, so as an exercise to expand out from your idiolect, it sounds like a worthwhile endeavor. :)
     
  3. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    You have to really watch you don't sway into plagiarism. But I don't see a big problem with your sentence. The key thing is when you're reading something you like be inspired, but discover why you like it by dissecting the sentence - then go off looking for your own descriptions based off the dissection - cool verbs, the lack of a filter word, words that make good rhythm
    as a pair.

    If you dissect Fingertips brushed - what makes it great is eliminating the usual I touched, or I felt - and felt is a filter word.
    If you take it apart you can realize using an exact body part helps connect the reader to the character without a boring filter.

    Descriptions really reveal who the author is, and how they think. It's part of their voice even more personal then a story because it's not what you're saying but how you're saying it. Something you don't want to borrow. A good way to start stockpiling your own descriptions is to grab a note pad, take it with you where ever you go and start jotting observations. Take the time whether your at the beach or a park or even a restaurant to observe and examine. Handle a leaf or a broken shell, smell it jot down the sensation, the scent, everything. It will help you build up ideas when it actually comes time for writing. Also reading poetry can help you sharpen your descriptions as they teach you how to say things briefly but beautifully and they do wonderful things with verbs.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i would see using other writers' phrases verbatim to be dishonest at best... plagiarism at worst...

    i would caution you to use them only as inspiration and come up with your own wording that is similar to, but not an exact quote...
     
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  5. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'd agree with @mammamaia here in many cases, but not really in this one. The phrases you want to copy and paste, @Magnatolia, are pretty hackneyed. There's nothing particularly special about them and I've read them before. It would be hard to accuse you of plagiarism for using them, I think.

    I usually don't trust myself to come up with something original when I'm writing full bore. Too much stuff comes out like, well, those phrases. I often just take a blank sheet of paper - a notebook, usually - and leave my desk. I seem to think differently when I'm not in front of the computer. I just concentrate hard on my scenes and the images in them and I try to spot something unusual about them, something I've never read before. Then I try to come up with a beautiful way of saying that. It takes time and effort, but it's worth it. I can usually come up with a page or two of fresh ways of describing things. Then I return to my desk and incorporate them into the scenes.
     
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  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Also, and to amplify your statement, Minstrel, not contradict, I count at least two clear caveats given by the OP indicating that the exercise is not meant as a direct pull and use, but only as syntax stretching exercise. Not sure how much clearer the OP could have been without entering into auto-lampoon.
     
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  7. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    Thanks guys, @mammamaia and @peachalulu, taking generic words that have been strung together in a great way is not plagiarizing. Now on the other hand if the person used their own words to describe things (made up words) then that would be plagiarizing, or taking every single descriptor verbatim so my book resembles theirs would also be plagiarizing.

    @minstrel, thanks that's a great idea.

    @Wreybies thanks for that. Yeah I did use the one descriptive choice I found, then added my own inspired words to it. I then continued to show her with her hands on her knees massaging the muscles, trying to ease the stitch. Five words left me with about twenty.
     
  8. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I haven't read the Walking Dead, but I've come across brushing fingertips, a voice ringing [insert adjective+conjunction+adjective], and "to knife" as an alternative to "to stab" before.

    Sometimes you end up "stealing" by accident, and sometimes it's totally ok to borrow e.g. some verb you hadn't thought up yourself but saw it used elsewhere. It's different if you start stealing e.g. similes that have a particularly original ring to them (I don't mean something generic like her eyes sparkled like stars... Which is pretty horrible, but just as an example).

    Structures like that show you what you can do with the language, how you can bend nouns into verbs, how to be innovative with the tools you have.
     
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  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well said.
     
  10. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    You don't have to be caught out to be plagiarising. Just because nobody could really pick you up on stealing the occasional phrase doesn't mean you didn't straight up copy someone else's wording, whether you change it up slightly or not. It's just unimaginative. If it's a syntax stretching exercise, take the phrases apart and work out how to describe completely different situations with the same flair. It's unimaginative to just apply the same wording to your own work.

    That said, They ran as fast as they could, and kept running until their lungs burned for oxygen. Clair gasped as a stitch knifed her right side. Pain burned her vision for a moment; black dots dancing in her face. in her face gives an image of her face becoming spotty. ... black dots dancing in her eyes would be better.
     
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  11. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess if just used as a prompt, I see nothing wrong with it. Putting it into your actual writing... awfully tempting to do it again, and then again, and then again. Developing as a writer is learning how to coin our own stand-out phrases.
     
  12. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    @KaTrian Yeah I agree, similes or anything especially unique is stealing, taking the concepts is not. Even if you use one small phrase, reworded to your style, then continue on from there isn't plagiarizing.

    @AlannaHart Sorry but I disagree. Also, nobody mentioned anything about not getting caught. As kaTrian commented, they've seen some of those examples before in other books. Does that mean whoever uses that idea is plagiarizing the first author who used it? If so then every future book will be plagiarized. You see most authors read, lots. I don't personally, that's my choice. So what they read goes to their subconscious and they may have a particular scene. Words will come to them, yet those words don't come from the ether, they come from those subconscious memories. The differnece is I'm doing the same process but consciously.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    minstrel...
    to clarify, my comments were in re the practice 'in general' and not in reference to the examples given by the op... i thought that was clear enough from my wording, but apparently not...
     
  14. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's true we all do this subconsciously, but I think there are better ways to approach expansion of our style.

    I think that physical professions and hobbies are the best method (yes, even better than reading fiction). If we learn how objects and actions are applied in unique situations, we can learn how to apply those to our imaginary situations. It doesn't just have to be verbs, though; the more we know about our beautiful world, the more similes and contrasts we can draw as well.

    Edit: Changed 'you' to 'we.' Just me not paying attention at first.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2014
  15. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I just cautioned. We have a lot of writers that show up here that have different levels of experience and knowledge in writing.
    I definitely didn't think the way you were using it as plagiarizing.
     
  16. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think this applies when the wording is particularly unique.

    However, if one was to write how someone got knifed or shivved instead of stabbed just 'cause they saw the two former in some book doesn't really make them unimaginative.
    We read to learn our craft (in addition to other stuff we do to learn it), and I think it's perfectly okay to use the reading process to learn new words, instead of go like, damn, I can't use this word 'cause another writer already used it. Writing doesn't come down to just how imaginatively you can turn words around. There's also the story. The best wordsmith is worthless if they can't produce anything riveting with their tools, methinks.

    But I'd also like to add that making up expressions and similes of your own is super fun and scouring the thesaurus for alternatives to the age-old clich├ęs is like going treasure hunting :D
     
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  17. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    I didn't suggest never using any of the words found in other books, that would be absurd. I'm talking about taking a particular phrase like stitch knifed into his side and applying it to the exact same situation (knifed/stitch) in your own work. Sure, it's not plagiarism in the sense that nobody could pick you up on it, because of course reading other works inspires authors, etc. but I think it's unimaginative in the sense that you're not becoming a better writer by using other people's descriptions. You'd do far better working on your own phrasing. Just my opinion.
     
  18. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    Thanks guys, yeah I agree that simply copying and pasting repeatedly from other books, while it may not be plagiarism in the typical sense of the word, it's lazy. Sometimes I'll be sitting there knowing what I want to write but having no idea how to word it.

    @AlannaHart True, I wasn't implying of gathering a list of phrases I think I'll need, then picking the best one from the list. I may get to a spot where I haven't got a clue how to word it, or at best, I write something that works, but doesn't have that extra something. That's how the stitch came about. I read that phrase in my life and recalled a 10 word sentence in the beginning scenes where they're running, and the image I had of the scene was that they'd run until their lungs were burning. So I added those words which then inspired a creative spark and I added extra details afterwards that came from me.
     
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  19. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Well, it's not like you're ripping off Shakespeare (although you wouldn't be the first if you were). Something as old and popular as his works would likely come across as a tip of the hat to one such great mind. This... the expression works--very well in my opinion--but not enough for me to want to copy it. It is the expected. A stitch is something of a piercing pain, so invoking the image of a knife is all to obvious--not bad, but not entirely unique. It doesn't compel me any more than saying it "plainly."

    Now "until their lungs burned for oxygen" is a bit better in my opinion. It is similarly un-unique but it is subtle enough--especially as you have used it--to make me revel in that little line (at least a little bit).

    One that really compels me is a line I've mentioned before from Raymond Carver's "The Student's Wife."
    In that one statement I could just see a car rolling by, hearing the sound of rubber tires over wet pavement. It is a refreshing way to express that idea, and yet it is as simple as the phenomenon.

    It is so striking, I wished I could use it. But anyone who's read Carver would know it was his. What's more, why should I take his brilliant line? If anything I should be inspired to try to write better, improve my skills until I can have my own little coinages.

    Not to put you down, but I think word for word copying in anything outside of practice is kind of lazy (on the worse end) and unimaginative (at best). We should be inspired to find unique new ways of creating riveting lines, not trying to copy what's been done. I'm less worried about emulating a certain style or voice, but I think it should only be a part of practice while you are coming to learn new constructions with language. After a point you should be so full, you can look at great moments/lines, enjoy them, then say, "I can do one better." ;)
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2014
  20. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    We all start to compile our lists of favorite lines and passages. The trick is to enjoy them, admire them, and maybe be inspired by them. Sometimes they do make nice stems, giving way to new constructions with some thought and creativity. :p
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2014
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  21. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    That sentence sounds awful to me. I'm not trying to be horrible and I understand where you're coming from with the rest of your comment, but that use of "rubbered" makes me cringe. Different styles for different folks though. That's what makes a unique voice so important.
     
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  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    mine as well, alanna... thanks for putting it so succinctly for me!

    hugs, m
     
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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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    And therein lies my point exactly when I hold to the idea that as an exercise, I think this has merrit. If one refines the sentiment you expressed in the above-quoted statement by just a hair, you come to a rather eloquent definition of linguistic idiolect. Under the umbrella of linguistics, an idiolect is simply the personal manner in which an individual comes to use the language they speak. In any language there are myriad ways in which to express a given thought. Never mind creativity or wordsmithyness yet; let us first look at fundamental structures.

    For example:

    The following subjunctive can be created in at least three different ways that come easily to mind:
    • If I were you, I would go. common register
    • Were I you, I would go. higher register
    • Would that I were you, I would go. highest register

    They each have identical meaning. There's not a lick of difference in what they convey other than the register of the speaker. The choice one eventually settles on as the one that is naturally used, without thought to assembling the structure, organically issued, is one's idiolectic choice.

    The OP, in my opinion, is expressing a wish to expand his/her flexibility of idiolect. When we say "You'd do far better working on your own phrasing", I feel this is a sentiment made from a vantage point of linguistic privilege. I know full well that my idiolect is extremely flexible and very open ended, always willing to pick up on the new and replace the mundane, but I also know that I have a talent for this that existed even before I began to flex that talent onto the page. I speak from a vantage of acknowledged privilege. I think we must must remember that perhaps this is the place from which the OP is setting out on the quest of "working on [his/her] own phrasing", that this is the OP doing exactly that. Taking note of what is foreign to his/her idiolect, playing with it, becoming comfortable with the exotic feel of it, learning that words can be used this way and that way, not just these exact words being practiced upon, but all words.

    I learned to drive a stick-shift in a '78 Toyota Corolla. That knowledge allowed me to drive all stick shift passenger cars, not just '78 Corollas. ;)
     
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  24. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    No no, that's fair. I didn't mean to suggest you had to like it. We all have different tastes for language, that was just my example. My main point was that we shouldn't limit ourselves to copying, but acknowledge a line that compels us and try to see how we can reproduce a line just as compelling. And like all art, that will be fairly subjective.

    @Wreybies. Thanks for the lesson! I so appreciate that ha ha. I'm going to have to remember this, as it is absolutely true. I like that you mentioned this possibly being a starting point for the OP. More than a handful of writers start by, more or less collecting expressions and reusing them until they get a stronger grasp on language. The more one begins to understand language and how one likes to use it, the easier it becomes to develop. I think this is what the OP might have meant now that you mention it. As you said, in practice, it's fine, no worse than emulating different writers voices, but it should all be leading to developing one's own repertoire to pull from. ;)
     
  25. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    @Wreybies and @Andrae Smith Thanks guys, yeah I don't have this goal of having a 'dictionary' of choices so I don't have to worry about that. It's a prompt, as per my first example I wrote the a stitch knifed her right side. The corresponding mental image opened up the words that flowed beyond that. Those additional words came from me. Plus it gave me a much deeper understanding of the three senses I fail to describe - smell, touch, taste. Touch I do use but it's very simple. Like She ran her fingers along the wall. Frowned at them. Dusty. Now I could write Her fingertips brushed the rough wall, feeling like thousands of little braille dots, sharp and unsharp at the same time. Fingers buzzing as each point activated a different nerve ending. I hated these walls; it always seemed to catch the dust.

    And of course the word brushed can be substituted. scraped, caressed, grazed, etc.

    @Andrae Smith That's true about copying. Don't forget however that sometimes a simple phrase works perfectly and can then lead you to additional detail. The stitch knifed her right side. Gives a very clear image, but also gives us something concrete to associate the pain to. Some people might not fully understand what a stitch is, and you don't want to give them an anatomy lesson. I could easily write Clair clutched at her side as pain caused her to double over. She imagined this was what it felt like to be stabbed. Unpleasant to say the least.
     

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