1. nickbedford
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    nickbedford Member

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    "It seemed to him"

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by nickbedford, Oct 18, 2010.

    I've got a curious phrase embedded in my writing brain that I have half a mind to start using in due moderation. I've been reading the audio books of the Lord of the Rings novels once again and whilst I know many of Tolkien's "Old English" writing style is not considered to be strictly "correct", I'm wondering how correct or useful this phrase is.

    He tends to use it a lot in the novels. Maybe too much, but it does seem to make the following description or action more subjective (by explicitly saying it seemed to [insert person]).

    (not a quote from the novel, just it's use)

    An example of where I've used it in my science fiction novel:

    Should I steer clear of this?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with using "it seemed to him." But I would recommend rewording that long sentence and/or breaking it into two different sentences. It reads awkwardly as you've written it.
     
  3. nickbedford
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    nickbedford Member

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    I agree ;)
     
  4. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd be careful with use - I do use it but only when I'm writing third person strictly to one character, and they're thinking about another, or for introducing an idea that isn't actually true. Like, in your example, the ship's engines probably have stopped or at least done something to quiet down, unless he's having hearing problems. In my novel, I use it for, like:

    (not the main character's room - if it was, I'd probably have her happily confirming that it was :p)

    or like I was saying, another character reacting in a way to the viewpoint narrator that the MC doesn't understand:

    (Lin being narrator, Katie not currently contributing anything to the narration)

    Tolkien uses it a lot because he writes in a kind of asbtract way about his characters like they are historical figures, a lot of the time, and that's mingled with left-over writing for kids attitude and all sorts of stuff that makes his writing a bit strange. Great novels, but not really up for imitation in the writing style department.
     
  5. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    This makes it sound like the people and the machines didn't actually change, just the character's perception of them. Like he was going into a light trance.

    If that was your intention, I think "it seemed to him" is an adequate expression.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Lose it. It's unnecessary.
    We already know it's from his perspective, so stop reminding the reader it's his senses and perceptions. Also watch your verb tenses. The sentence about the previous noise and activity should consistently use past perfect tense.

    It seemed, he felt, he saw, he heard, etc. are generally disposable. Just describe what he saw, heard, noticed, felt, or smelled.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i have to agree with con... 'it seemed to him' borders on [or is?] passive voice and active voice works much better in fiction...
     
  8. nickbedford
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    nickbedford Member

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    I suppose for this specific example, to avoid relying on the "it seemed to him", even if I describe as if it is actually happening, I can bring it back by doing something like this and it resolves to being only what he experienced. Would you say?

     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would say that you're still unnecessarily reminding us that it's him seeing and thinking, when we already know that. I'd eliminate much of that. One possible rewrite:

    Something whispered behind him, and he twisted round, looking wildly for the noise. He grasped his pistol instinctively.

    A dark figure appeared down the corridor. It was more than two metres tall, its shape unfocused but not unlike that of a human. But it wasn't human.

    Then, like a mist driven off by a gust of wind, the figure was gone. The corridor came back into focus and the noise of everything happening on board the ship came roaring back.


    ChickenFreak
     
  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I missed your example the first time I read your post, so sorry about that. I agree with the others that "it seemed to him" should be deleted in this case.

    In general, however, "it seemed to..." is perfectly valid to use, although you should know when it might make a sentence weaker (as in this case).
     
  11. nickbedford
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    nickbedford Member

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    Once again, I'm humbly shown the way. As much as it might be valid, I have come to realise I can definitely get a better result by forcing myself to describe the situation without it along with other hints suggested.

     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It seems to me that you're still telling us, repeatedly, that your viewpoint character is the one seeing, and the one hearing, and so on, when we don't need to be told that. But I said this before, so I'll say it this one more time and stop. :)
     
  13. nickbedford
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    nickbedford Member

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    By the end he knows it was his own senses being distorted, hence why I write it like: "His vision cleared and like a train screaming past in the night, the noise all around him came rushing to his ears."

    While your version is fine, for the way I want to describe it, it's not the corridor that comes back into focus, its his vision which is coming back to normal. Two view points, of which I prefer to write this in the latter. Subjective but still third person.

    P.S. Not that I don't take your ideas on board for the future.
     

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