1. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Making sentences less mechanical

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by King Arthur, Mar 13, 2016.

    Hello!

    My sentences are quite mechanical, but I'm having trouble rephrasing any of them without some kind of "X did Y". Take this paragraph, for example:

    She straightened her skirt and sat down on one of the logs. Ulfius noticed her and broke away from his guard duty. He kneeled down next to her and lit the campfire.

    I absolutely can't find a way to rephrase those last that, to avoid "he noticed, he kneeled and lit". I tried "Ulfius noticed her and broke away from his guard duty, kneeling down next to her to light the campfire" but it doesn't flow well and is far too long in my opinion. Also, there's a repetition of to.

    Anyone have any suggestions?
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are you completely committed to omniscient POV? Even within omniscient, you could probably spice things up a little by adding some narrative voice.

    And I think you're going to have trouble with "flow" if you're dedicated to keeping sentences short.
     
  3. King Arthur
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    Is what I write omniscient? It's limited to one person and only their thoughts.
     
  4. BayView
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    Oh, maybe it's limited third, then - I was just basing it on this passage.

    But if you're in limited third, I'd suggest getting further inside your character's head. So if Ulfus is your POV character, let us know a bit about what he's thinking/feeling. (It's entirely possible you've done this elsewhere--this is obviously a very short passage). But in terms of avoiding mechanical writing, I think it may be useful to avoid action-action-action, with nothing else. Mix in some reaction "She looked up at him as he approached; she seemed cautious, but not unwelcoming" or some motivation "She looked cold. She shouldn't be cold, not after all she'd gone through, so he left his post and knelt down by the branches she'd collected. He'd light a fire; he could do that much, at least." And maybe break things down a little more. "Lit a fire" is a multi-action event. You could use more of those actions, interspersed with reactions from her, thoughts from him, etc.

    It really depends why you're having this happen. What's the point of this scene? Presumably not just to move him over there and have him light a fire - those are just the details. I'd focus more on the real reason for the scene and just fit the details in as beats.
     
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  5. A lake.
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    I'm goin to try something see if you like it.
    She straightened her skirt and sat down on one of the logs. Ulfius noticed her and broke away from his guard duty. He kneeled down next to her and lit the campfire.
    She straightened her skirt and sat down on one of the logs. Seeing her Ulfius broke away from his guard duty and knelt down near her to light the campfire.
     
  6. King Arthur
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    She straightened her skirt and sat down on one of the logs. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ulfius notice her and break away from his guard duty. She watched him kneel down next to her and light the campfire. The warmth was welcome.


    “There we go,” he said, getting up. “Are you okay?”


    “Fine,” she said.


    “Then it’s back to guarding for me, I think.”

    She stared at the floor as his footsteps got further and further away.



    Yeah, I'm not so good with POV's and I can definitely see why you'd have thought that. I'm not quite sure how to have her notice Ulfius notice her either, without breaking into omniscient. Something I should definitely work on.
     
  7. King Arthur
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    Thanks, that gave me an idea.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    She straightened her skirt and sat down on one of the logs. Ulfius noticed her and broke away from his guard duty. He kneeled down next to her and lit the campfire.

    Think of other ways to picture the scene. What else is going on? Does she straighten her skirt because she's prim and proper? What else is going on in the scene? Is the log well worn because it's often sat on at the fire pit. Or is it dirty and dusty which will or won't matter to this woman?

    Will the soldier be in trouble for leaving his post? Is he so enamored with her he doesn't care. Did she sit there knowing he would be nearby. Does she sit there coincidentally?

    Give me some more detail to work with, make a list in short phrases.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2016
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  9. BayView
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    If you're clearly in her POV, you can do away with the filter words like "She watched".

    But I would say this is still focused on what and how, while the most interesting writing generally focuses on why. Is Ulfius a romantic interest? Is he suave and debonair, or is he awkward and nervous? Is there some reason she can't light her own fire, and if so, how does she feel about that? etc.
     
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  10. GingerCoffee
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    "Noticed" and "Seeing her" are pretty much equal when it comes to filtering the sentence. We know he sees her, we know he notices her without being told. His actions tell us that without the filter.

    Ulfius broke away from his guard duty.
    Notice ;) you don't need either filter.
     
  11. King Arthur
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    You had no way of knowing, but this made me laugh. He's well into his fifties and she's eleven.
     
  12. King Arthur
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    Literally hadn't thought of that at all. Thanks!
     
  13. King Arthur
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    He won't be in trouble, he just wanted to make sure she's ok. Since her father is the king, he's often not around and his bodyguards Brastias and Ulfius look after her and her brother a lot. He just saw her sitting on her own and got worried.
     
  14. BayView
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    So let us feel the worry. Or, given that we're in her POV, let us feel her reaction to the worry. Is she impatient that she's being treated like a child? Does she take it for granted that she'll be served like this? etc.

    The actions are not the important thing, here. It's the reasons for the actions that are interesting.
     
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  15. King Arthur
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    Well I was hoping her one word answer "fine" would show that.
     
  16. BayView
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    Well, maybe in the larger context. But in this brief excerpt? Nope. Didn't show me anything. She could have said "fine" bravely, pretending it was true; or petulantly, as if he should be able to see perfectly well it wasn't true; or sweetly, because she doesn't worry about her own comfort; or lots of other ways, too.
     
  17. A lake.
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    If this is the case he would not break from guard duty he is guarding her. And he would talk to her to see if she wanted the fire or needed anything else?
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    I started to tweak things, then add things, then it got really long:

    Ulfius trudged round the camp in increasingly damp boots, keeping a mental tally of the Family. The King was encouraging a huddled group of fighters toward the south end of camp, with his son hanging back to watch how it was done. The Princess...yes, there she was, walking to the fire site. She straightened her skirt and settled on one of the logs. Ulfius smiled faintly to see that she sat with her her back straight and her chin out, like a miniature of the Queen.

    Ulfius broke away from his circuit and knelt down next to her. He lit the kindling laid for the evening fire, murmuring, "M'Lady."

    She nodded to him, then lifted her chin again and turned her gaze straight ahead. A change from the little girl who used to laugh at his knife tricks, and a somewhat worrying one.
     
  19. BayView
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    Yeah. I care about @ChickenFreak's characters because I can see inside their heads. THAT, I assume, is the point of this scene - to make readers understand the relationships and care about the characters?
     
  20. croak3r
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    I think you need to lengthen out some of your sentences more. It feels really mechanical when they are stopping almost as soon as you have started, especially when there really isnt much information in each sentence.
     
  21. Aaron Smith
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    Paint your language any color you like. Mechanical writing works if your main concern is to tell a story with a morale. Poetic prose is useful if you are simply in love with the language. I think some of the best books out there are a blend of the two.
     
  22. King Arthur
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    But whose POV is it?
     
  23. BayView
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    Yeah, @ChickenFreak used a different POV, but it was just an example - you can do the same thing from the girl's POV, right? I mean, not the exact same, but the same principle of adding details, adding reasons to care about what's happening.

    There's nothing intrinsically interesting about a man lighting a fire for a child. It's only interesting if there's something else going on.
     
  24. King Arthur
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    Which wasn't what I asked.
     
  25. BayView
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    You can't tell whose POV it is by reading it? (I assumed the question was rhetorical, as the answer is so obvious)
     

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