1. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    Question about style

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by DragonGrim, Nov 20, 2009.

    I have a question about my writing style. I heard someone say using objects other than the characters as the subject can be a bad thing. I’ve been editing all day, and I noticed that when an action scene kicks in, I start using a different style to add, I don’t know, confusion, the way things get in my mind when things are happening that are fast and dangerous.

    Here is an example, a paragraph from my book. Notice I use different things as the subject. I’m just wondering what people’s opinions are about doing so.

    “Bea put the doghead down and pulled the trigger. Smoke puffed. An eye oozed out of its socket, but the creature seemed unfazed as it barreled forward. The earth shook as the changed bear neared.”

    (btw, the “changed” is out of context, so don’t worry about it)
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i don't get what you mean by 'I use different things as the subject'... or what it is exactly that you're asking, since i see nothing seriously wrong with that paragraph...

    sorry, i may just be having a dense day...
     
  3. SHorgan
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    SHorgan Member

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    So do you mean that the subject of a sentence should be a character?

    "Bea put the doghead down and pulled the trigger." Where 'Bea' is the subject.

    as opposed to:

    "Smoke puffed." Where 'Smoke' is the subject.

    I don't see the problem with having an object as a subject... in fact it's quite necessary at times, because occurrences could have nothing to do with a character.
     
  4. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    Mamma: I meant using other things beside the character as the subject of the sentence, such as “an eye oozed…” instead of “The creature lost an eye…”

    SHorgan: You got me. I used “Smoke,” and “eye” and “earth” as subjects in that paragraph, and only the two characters twice. Well, I just had someone mention it to me, and I was just wondering if I had a problem.

    The insight was not from a published source. It was just someone’s opinion.

    I’m glad no one here saw a problem. I’d hate to think I had a bad habit.
     
  5. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see what would be wrong with having an object as the subject. Also I think the Eye oozed is a better way of saying the creature lost an eye. It gives a nice, well not so nice, image of whats happening :p
     
  6. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    If anything, it's often advisable to use an object as the subject. It would be extremely tedious to use sensory filters (saw/heard/felt/smelled. . .) in every other sentence. That, I think, is a common mistake beginners make.

    Still, anything can be bad if the execution is poor. Your writing seems okay. I'm not sure what this "someone" was getting at.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I suspect that what the advisor was really warning about was passive voice, with the actor either consigned to a prepositional phrase or omitted outright.

    The rifle was fired by the anonymous sniper, and a red blossom appeared on the senator's forehead.

    instead of:

    The anonymous sniper fired his rifle, and a red blossom appeared on the senator's forehead.

    The second sentence is stronger. It puts more focus on the assassin than his weapon, and an active verb is more compelling than a passive one.
     
  8. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    Cogito: Na, I almost never use passive voice. Sometimes a passive sentence in regard to action, such as: “the dog was spotted.” But that’s about it.
     
  9. Destin
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    Destin Senior Member

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    I expect the advice was mine.

    What I was trying to warn you about was using objects as the subject of a sentence as a precaution. I agree that it is good and is well-warranted in alot of cases.

    Obviously I wasn't clear enough in indicating why it can be a problem.

    Sometimes when you write using an object as the subject it can make it seem like the object has come to life. It can also lead to some outrageously awkward and misleading sentences.

    For example:

    A knife stabbed me.
    (sounds like the knife is acting of it's own accord)

    A glass was dropped, and it shattered.
    (This one is more of a passive sentence, but it is the same idea.)

    But, sometimes it can be the most effective way to use it too:

    The chair creaked.

    The neon sign flashed.

    Passive sentences should usually be avoided as Cogito has mentioned. I believe i talked on that a bit in that review but maybe wasn't clear on it either. The two are related because the object/subject thing is a good indicator that you have come upon a passive sentence.

    Just keep an eye on the sentences that appear to use objects as the subject and ask yourself, "Is this a passive sentence?", "Would this be a stronger sentence with a person as the subject?", and "Does this sentence sound awkward or as if objects have come alive?"

    If the answer is no to all 3 things, then it is a great use of the object-based sentence.
     
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  10. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    Yeah, it was your review. I didn’t want to identify you because it’s the idea I wanted to explore and not if you were wrong or right.

    I post short stories once in a while to see if I have a bad habit that needs attention. But I think what you meant to identify is a weak sentence (I doubt it was passive voice) rather than I problem with objects as subjects.

    “A glass fell and shattered,” would not necessarily personify “glass” in such a way as to over-animate it in the readers mind.

    I think I've made up my mind now on this after reading the input from the others who have posted here.
     
  11. bruce
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    bruce Active Member

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    This is a good point. Such sensory filters are unnecessary once the scene begins from the character's point of view.
     
  12. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Hmmm...

    Did someone see the dog, or did the dog resemble a Dalmatian?

    [​IMG]

    Sometimes, both is true.

    (Note spot on dog's back, and multiple bullets from the Red Baron who spotted him.)

    In these cases, I might say, "Suddenly, the spotted dog was spotted."
    Or, perhaps, "The Red Baron spotted the spotted dog."

    Charlie
     
  13. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    "An eye oozed out of its socket, but the creature seemed unfazed as it barreled forward."

    I guess I'm the only person here who has an issue with this sentence. While it is grammatically correct, and there is no obvious issue, I find myself thinking as I read the first part, of a random eye just hanging out there in space. Like it's not connected to anything since we don't know it's the creature's eye until the second part of the sentence. If I were going to write this sentence I'd put, "Its eye oozed out of its socket, but the creature seemed unfazed as it barreled forward." Putting the eye and socket onto the creature's face, rather than just floating around out in the air all by itself. That was the only thing I could see that bugged me, the rest of the excerpt was good.
     
  14. Destin
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    Destin Senior Member

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    I have to agree. I was actually going to mention that this morning but you beat me to it.
    When I read that I think to myself, "Who's eye is oozing?"
     
  15. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I agree with your assessment and had the same problem, but I also think there's an ambiguous reference, although the probable meaning is pretty obvious. It's hypothetically possible that the creature seemed unfazed as "it," the eye, barreled forward from the socket.

    Nor am I sure that "oozed" is the right word.

    There are actually several things that confuse me. I really think the whole paragraph may need work.

    “Bea put the doghead two words? down and pulled the trigger. Smoke puffed. From the gun? Or is there some other source of smoke? I think I'd rephrase... perhaps even focus on the scent of the smoke. I'm not a gun expert but wouldn't there be backlash from the gun? An eye oozed out of its socket, but the creature seemed unfazed as it barreled forward. The earth shook as the changed bear I assume the creature is a bear? neared.”

    Just to try my hand at it...

    Setting down the dog head, Bea aimed, pulled the trigger, and then staggered in the backlash. Acrid smoke rose from the gun, burning Bea's nose and eyes. Through the haze, Bea saw the bear's red eye protruding from its socket like a tentacle, puss oozing down its face. The bear charged, unfazed.

    Just a quick attempt at a re-write... which can probably itself be greatly improved on. There are, of course, infinite ways to write the scene.

    Charlie
     
  16. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Will all due respect, I think your rewriting puts unnecessary focus on Bea getting gunpowder on his face. I doubt that's where his attention would be in his current situation. "Smoke puffed" obviously from the gun. If readers can't make this connection they should not read. Or read more. The puff is also very likely the only thing Bea registers about firing his gun. Then his attention is elsewhere. When adrenaline pumps, vision becomes narrow, thoughts and sentences short and to the point. That's completely ruined by adding nuanced reflections and sensations into the narrative. Let them come afterwards. After killing the bear or whatever on earth it is, then he might wipe his face and register a sharp taste of gunpowder and sweat on his lips... It's like falling on your bike. Usually you won't "appreciate" the nuances and sensations from tissue damage and pain until after you've got on your feet.
     
  17. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Oh, I admit, my reworking was flawed. I didn't spend a great deal of time on it. I think I was just trying to move outside the minutia of word-picking and look at the bigger picture... though perhaps I shouldn't even attempt to re-write another author's work. It is, after all, his story, not mine.

    I was actually attempting to suggest utilizing more senses (smell as well as sight) to put the reader "in" the scene. I wasn't trying to show that the smoke came from the gun... and I certainly wasn't suggesting that the reader isn't intelligent, as you seem to suggest I'm suggesting. (Though--I admit, I'm not an expert on guns--does smoke actually "puff" from a gun?) "Puff" to me almost sounds like a large cloud slowly floating... while your suggestion that it's "the only thing Bea registered" seems to suggest only a split second reaction. In that case, I think perhaps we're both wrong--neither scent nor a rising cloud would be the first thing registered, but the loud explosion of the shot followed by a high-pitched ringing in her ears. But I'm just trying to use my imagination and picture every sense Bea might register, for a good description that might make the scene come to life for the reader... not to explain the facts of the scene to the reader, who, as I think we both agree, is intelligent.

    It wasn't obvious to me that the smoke came from the weapon, and I'm a constant reader, and I'd like to think I'm fairly intelligent. Reasons it wasn't obvious: 1. I don't have more context (how do I know the preceding paragraphs weren't a description of the raging fire behind Bea, or her stamping out a campfire?) and 2. as I imagine it, I don't think the smoke from a weapon would "puff" like a cloud, I rather think it would rise in a threaded trail. Regardless, my point in describing the scent wasn't to show that it came from the weapon, but to bring the entire scene to life... to "show don't tell." "Smoke puffed" is telling us what happened, it's not putting us there.

    Just for fun, let's try again.

    (No offense to DragonGrim... I know it's your story, and I think you should write your own story and are creative and intelligent enough to come up with something light years ahead of what I'm suggesting. This is just for the exercise.)

    Setting down the dog head, Bea aimed and pulled the trigger. She staggered in the backlash, the explosion sounding in her ears. Through the acrid smoke, Bea saw the bear's red eye protruding from its socket like a tentacle, puss oozing down its face. The bear charged, unfazed.

    I know the above paragraph can be improved a thousandfold. That's why we have second drafts and third drafts and fourth drafts and we polish and polish until we say, "Damn, that's good!" And then we send it off to our agent, who (I imagine, not having an agent yet) promptly disillusions us and sends us back for more revision. :)

    Charlie
     
  18. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    This is an old weapon. The smoke did puff from the barrel, unlike a modern pistol. But I think you were moving away from the idea of using objects as subjects, and you were trying to fill out the scene. This came from a full chapter, which detailed the scene, and would have made some things more clear I would suspect.
     
  19. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Okay, great... I thought there may be something I was missing by not having the full context, and apologies if I've strayed too far from the object/subject issue. I would like to see the scene brought more to life, however... I can imagine this as being a very dramatic and captivating scene.

    While, as Cogito and others have pointed out, I'd beware of passive tense, other than that, there's nothing preventing each sentence from having a different subject. "Smoke puffed" isn't passive tense, and certainly, it's grammatically correct and permissible. I'm just not sure that it brings the scene to life. I want to feel like I'm there... assuming this is from Bea's point of view (or, if in omniscient POV, then at least assuming that the larger scene is focused on Bea) then I want to feel the gun in her hand, I want to smell the smoke, I want to hear the explosion, I want to feel my heart pounding as the smoke clears and Bea sees the eye, jutting out as the bear runs at her.

    (Looking over it again, I noticed "changed bear." I assume that also has some meaning in the larger context... besides that the bear has been changed by the injury to the eye.)

    Charlie
     

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