1. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Should I rewrite this sentence?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by JJ_Maxx, Jan 10, 2013.

    Here's the sentence I'm struggling with:

    Here were the flotsam and jetsam of a population running for their lives.​

    It's first-person, past tense. Maybe I should just use 'debris'.

    ~ J. J.
     
  2. Muff
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    Muff Member

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    Well it really matters what you are trying to say. Are these the survivors of some catastrophe?

    If so, I'd personally just use remnants, though that wouldn't exactly convey the same meaning.

    *I like the imagery of the original, but the language might come off as too obscure for most. Not that that is a problem necessarily, but certainly something to consider.
     
  3. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    One of my characters is observing a city street, filled with burned out cars, broken TV's, clothes, paper, etc... Just a mess that would be left over by everyone evacuating a neighborhood.
     
  4. Scarfe
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    Scarfe Member

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    It's a slightly mixed metaphor with the flotsam/ jetsam and running, which is why I think it reads slightly strangely. Maybe simplify it slightly along the lines of 'the flotsam and jetsam of the exodus'.
     
  5. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like your original sentence. It has panache.
     
  6. Quille
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    Quille Senior Member

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    I really like the flotsam and jetsam, it's far more poetic than debris. I might pare down the rest of the sentence to 'a desperate population' or people.
    This is a difficult question though, because we have don't know how it fits in with the rest of the piece.
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Flotsam and jetsam are nautical terms, and they are appropriate in a nautical situation. Given your devastated urban setting, I would think those terms shouldn't be used. I'd find a metaphor more fitting with your environment and the mood of your story.
     
  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    haha I like it - keep it I say!
     
  9. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Well, I agree, but it's a metaphor and according to Wikipedia:

    It seemed fitting that people were in such fear and hurry, that they dumped everything they didn't need to keep themselves alive. ;)
     
  10. Mithrandir
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    Mithrandir Contributing Member

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    Maybe they fled a tsunami, or rising sea levels. If no water or ships are involved, dump the terms. Your wikiapedia quotes refer to ships.
     
  11. Muff
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    Muff Member

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    Ah. I had read the sentence originally as if the flotsam and jetsam were referring to people. Like the outcasts of population.

    Understanding the context, I like the sentence a lot more. It was confusing (to me at least) by itself, but I'm sure it makes sense when it's with the rest of the scene.

    As far as the metaphor goes, I think it works, but to me flotsam and jetsam imply movement. That's why I originally thought you meant leftover people, not leftover things.

    *I don't agree that water has to be involved to invoke the metaphor, but you do have to consider what images the metaphor evokes in the reader. Most people are going to picture things in movement when you mention flotsam and jetsam.
     
  12. Mithrandir
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    Mithrandir Contributing Member

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    I picture a variety of objects bobbing in a mass on a body of water. In this context, I see objects people left behind floating between ruined buildings.
     
  13. Muff
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    Muff Member

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    Do you always interpret metaphorical language so literally?

    For example, after reading this thread I tried to think of when I could use flotsam and jetsam as a metaphor. I came up with a scenario involving a tribal civilization that suddenly collapsed:

    They were all that was left. The flotsam of a once proud civilization, drifting through the jungle with no aim or purpose.

    Here no water is involved, but I think that the metaphor would be fitting.
     
  14. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't always interpret metaphorical language so literally, but I think it works best if the metaphor is sustained over a long section of work. If the writer isn't prepared to do that, then he's opening himself up to the possibility of mixing metaphors, and that usually results in unintentional comedy.

    I also appreciate it when a writer uses metaphors appropriate to his setting, because they increase the reader's involvement with that setting. If the writer wants to make me feel like I'm in an urban wasteland, then urban-wasteland images strengthen that feeling. If he uses "flotsam and jetsam" I'll think I'm at sea. If he uses a metaphor involving potato peelings flushed down a garbage disposal, I'll think I'm in a kitchen.

    The metaphors we use can either strengthen or weaken the reader's sense of setting. If we use a confused set of metaphors, we confuse the reader, and the picture we present is inconsistent and irritating. If we focus, and use consistent metaphors that are appropriate to the setting we're building in the reader's mind, then the reader's experience is intensified and is much more satisfying.

    That's my theory and I'm stickin' to it! :)
     
  15. Mithrandir
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    Mithrandir Contributing Member

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    Muff,
    You used the verb drifting. He used the verb were. Drifting connects the scene to the water while describing their movement in the jungle, which is rather like a sea. In the original sentence, no such bridge is used. Flotsam and jetsam are the subject of the sentence, It talks about flotsam and jetsam not as people, but objects left behind by people. If you said, "Here were the ruins of a population running for their lives," would you assume ruins were the people?
     
  16. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Well, I was thinking of using my other favorite word too: 'detritus'

    By the way, should it be 'were' or 'was'. The debris is current, the people that left it there are gone.

    ~ J.J.
     
  17. Muff
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    Muff Member

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    I think we are mostly in agreement, I just don't see the need for actual water to be present. If it is, then the metaphor is hardly a metaphor at all.
     
  18. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    This might be nitpicky, but you know me. Why would there be broken TVs on the street when everyone is evacuating? Why would they carry and then drop a TV (also remembering that most TVs are now flatscreens and too wide and heavy to lift easily, without glass that wouldn't crack). I'm worried you're copying cliche post-apocalyptic scenes.
     
  19. Mithrandir
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    Mithrandir Contributing Member

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    Was and were are both past tense, "were" is for plural (They were a merry band), while "was" is for singular (He was an oaf).


    In case you're wondering, "is" is the present tense form.
     
  20. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    There's a variety of reasons why broken TV's would be in the street. Looters dropping them, falling out of cars, taken from the house but left on the curb cause it didn't fit. Think of any reason!
     
  21. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    No time to loot in an evacuation. No time to carry anything but a bag. Sounds more like the aftermath of a riot.

    I hate it in some movies where some long deserted, ruined area still has flames burning all over the place, usually something metal. I'm always puzzled by what is burning and how it could have stayed alight for so long.
     
  22. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is definitely nitpicky. When have you ever heard of an evacuation in which absolutely EVERYONE leaves? There are always a few who stay behind and loot the empty houses and apartments and vandalize what they can't steal. They may be shortsighted, and in some cases they may be doomed, but they still do it.
     
  23. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    Seeing a single sentence makes it hard for me to imagine the entire feel of the piece, and although it does give a bit of imagery into what you want us to see, it's still hard to see how this sentence fits into the work without other sentences being around it. So I can't make any sort of suggestion without seeing at least a sentence before and after the one you're questioning.
     
  24. Pundemic
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    I think the metaphor is fine, and I very much like how you've phrased it for the most part. However, "flotsam and jetsam" contrasts oddly with "running for their lives". The former makes you think of people wandering slowly, almost aimlessly, since they have nowhere to go. The latter implies that the disaster is ongoing, and right now the people are more interested with escaping than figuring out what to do next. Maybe it could help to pick one feeling or the other, and change the wording accordingly.
     
  25. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i see nothing wrong with anything but the 'here there' part...
     

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