1. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    It seems to be that writers are almost doing and seeing things...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by JJ_Maxx, Oct 21, 2013.

    I've noticed a lot lately that many writers are using 'seem' way too much.

    Everything 'seems to be' happening.

    Is this just a poor way to use a metaphor?

    The trees seemed to be dancing in the breeze. The rocks seemed to be shining. The wolf seemed upset.

    What do you lose from cutting all 'seems' out of your writing?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Result, a seemless story?
     
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  3. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    They are just trying to tailor a good story?
     
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  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Ah hem.

    All joking aside, direct assertions make better writing. Also, the last example is an instance of (weak) telling instead of showing. The writer provides the reader with a subjective conclusion (the wolf seemed upset) instead of the observational details that caused the narrator to draw the conclusion (the wolf paced, head lowered and hackles bristling).
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2013
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  5. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    It seems to me that some people may simply favor that expression. I suspect that once it's pointed out to them, they'll edit them out. Until I read my m/s, I never realized just how much affinity I have for the word "actually."

    I think the larger criticism, however, in your examples, is that they're all examples of "telling" us something that most likely we should be "shown."
     
  6. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    You could intertwine the two no?

    "The wolf snarled, his sharp canine teeth shining against the moon as he paced in front of his den. He seemed angry and agitated."

    There are always going to be certain instances where, even though you may show the reader something, it can still be ambiguous enough that the reader might need another bread crumb to get to your desired destination.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Not really, Liz. The first two could be stated more assertively for a stronger metaphor. The trees danced in the breeze. The rocks shone. Or more colorfully, the trees danced to an unheard ballad. The rocks shone in the cold moonlight.

    Lew, you could, but there's a fine line between repetition for emphasis and beating a dead horse.
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, but yes. I make this very comment in almost every critique I make at this site and others.

    Seems... It was as if... Seemingly...

    They all speak to me of a lack of commitment to the imagery.
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    "Seems" is on my list of words to edit out whenever I see I've used it (with a few rare exceptions).

    Other words on my list:
    just
    really
    like
    sort of
    kind of
    very
    totally

    and any other words in the same category.
     
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  10. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    I just feel that rules like these are totally silly.
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    These aren't rules. These are guideline, and the fact is that these words do get overused to a great degree in novice writing. I do the same as Ginger. I allow my fingers to type those words in the first pass because they are part of the greater general sociolect, but when I go back through my writing I trim, trim, trim and commit, commit, commit to my images.
     
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  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Rather than rules, consider them "points of awareness." The words exist for good reason. Overuse or misuse of them is the problem.
     
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  13. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with Cogito, I'll punch myself later for saying that, but good writers in my opinion don't delete words from their vocabulary, they just know when and how much to use them without it becoming a crutch.
     
  14. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Yeah, I'm with Ginger, there are words that are just better off avoiding if at all possible.

    Whenever I'm done with my first draft, the first thing I do is search for 'ly' to delete all the adverbs I peppered into my writing.
     
  15. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    The problem is that filter words (sometimes called crutch words) can distance the reader from the narrative because in most cases it's not the character's view but the author's. And, those words are often indeterminate. "Heard" is another one. We can say, "He heard a footsteps in the hallway, and came fully awake." Sounds straightforward. But if we state it that way the character has already heard the noise, and it reads like a report from the author. And, because it is it's not only in the past tense, it's in his past, so it's not his perception in the moment he calls "now." No matter the tense we use, for the protagonist it's always "now," and filter words run the risk of taking the reader out of that moment.

    But stating it as, "The sound of footsteps in the hallway brought him fully awake..." He's hearing it, in real-time and reacting.

    Because it's stated as an opinion, it's not as strong, or as involving as it could be. The author is telling us that the protagonist is guessing. But we tend to think in absolutes and act on them, and the reader expects the writer to know, so if it was stated, "The wolf snarled, his sharp canine teeth shining against the moon as he paced in front of his den." It's up to the character and the reader to decide, based on the situation and their knowledge of it, if that wolf is angry. And if we're unsure, we'll act on that, or perhaps look around for the source of agitation (or want the protagonist to do that). That's more involving then a general overview.
     
  16. rhduke
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    rhduke Contributing Member Reviewer

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    Use of "seem" might also depend on the POV you're writing from. If you're writing in first person, it may "seem" to the POV character that another person is a backstabbing traitor, but he doesn't know for sure.
     
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  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's not a rule--if you take this as a rule, then every piece of writing advice that anyone can give is a "silly" rule. The fact that modifiers can weaken a sentence without adding any value is something to be aware of.

    For example:

    The air outside seemed kind of hot.
    It was hot outside.

    She seemed to be speaking a little bit quietly. I could just barely hear her.
    She mumbled something, and I strained to hear.

    He seemed really tired.
    He dropped into the chair and leaned back with his eyes closed. "I'm never working graveyard again."

    The food at Chez Maison de la Casa House was really expensive. I just couldn't afford it.
    I considered Chez Maison de la Casa House, but I didn't have time to apply for the second mortgage.
     
  18. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Would we, the readers, know any less if you said, "Rules like these are silly"? It's clear the sentence is the opinion of the writer. There might be times one needs to emphasize one is stating opinion not fact, but not in most novels. In such a case I would say, "it's the opinion of this writer," rather than "I just feel". "Just feel that" stretches the sentence out, hemming and hawing.

    'Totally' isn't the most articulate adverb. If it's dialogue and represents your character's voice, of course you would want to use it. But there are very few times it would be interesting for a narrator to say something was totally cool or totally silly. A well written work uses precise verbs when they exist, in the place of unnecessary adverbs.

    'Like' is OK as a comparative: rules like these, rules similar to these, rules in this category. I am not including every definition of 'like', just as ;) every definition of 'just' and 'very' are not the words I refer to. Instead, the point is eliminating words that don't add anything to the communication because we know it without those words.

    It's a 'rule' as has been said, and it is not an absolute guideline, but it is a guideline that will improve your writing, IMO.
     
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  19. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Things can be silly but not totally silly, so I believe the use of 'totally' is not as bad as you portray it to be.

    "The legislation to re-open the U.S. government was silly because of some of the pork barreling that went into it."

    verses

    "The legislation to re-open the U.S. government was totally silly."
     
  20. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Intensifiers such as 'very', 'totally', 'basically' and 'quite' just pad your writing instead of adding anything substantive.
     
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  21. Macaberz
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    Macaberz Pay it forward Contributor

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    Don't forget suddenly!
     
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  22. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Not sure you've made your case there, but if you insist on defending it, your adoption of the guideline is not something I have much stake in, if any.

    Good writing has certain qualities. I learned a lot and continue to learn from my critique group. I also see people in the group who too often defend their work instead of learning from useful comments. There may be times you specifically choose to use the words we are referring to, that's why I say, there are rare exceptions. But if you use them regularly it will affect the quality of your work.
     
  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But "totally" here has no agreed-upon meaning. Something can always get sillier, so "totally" in this context has a meaning closer to "extremely". "Totally" could be useful on occasions when it does have a more or less agreed-upon meaning:

    "Get me a teaspon of mayonnaise, please?"
    "Jar's empty."
    "Just scrape some out--there's a rubber spatula in the drawer."
    "No, I mean it's totally empty."
    "Don't be silly...oh."
    "See? It's like a leprechaun climbed in and squeegeed the sides."
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2013
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  24. GingerCoffee
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    There are dozens of words in the category. JayG's* post and link to the blog on 'filter words' said it more articulately than I could. And JJ's reference to intensifiers is a useful categorization. I know the words when I see them and I would also put "suddenly" on the list.


    * Though I don't think "crutch" is the right description. Words we use from habit in speech and thought is more apt than crutch.
     
  25. GingerCoffee
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    An excellent example.
     

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