1. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Stage Direction vs Ambiguity

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Kas, Sep 24, 2009.

    Someone recently pointed out this phrase in my work:

    “She fondled a breast.”

    He said, “Everyone in the joint has breasts.”

    True enough.

    So, apparently, it was too ambiguous. Bear in mind, we’re talking about a solo stripper here, and it's not a lap-dance. Do I really have to say “her breast?” And then, of course, it can sound like she only has one (yikes), so I’d want to say which one. “She fondled her right breast.” I dunno. . . it sounds too specific, too stiff. Feels like unnecessary detail.

    Then there’s this sentence, which is similar:

    “He draped an arm across the head support of his seat.”

    Do I really need to say which arm and that it was his arm, to cover for the possibility that he might have a truckload of prosthetic arms lying around, or that he might have yanked the other guy out of his seat for some reason? The MC is in the passenger seat, talking to a guy in the driver’s seat. Isn’t all this information either self-evident or unimportant?

    I try not to disregard comments entirely. It bothered someone, so maybe there's something to it. . .

    Your thoughts?
     
  2. Mister Micawber
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    Mister Micawber Member

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    My thought is that it depends on the context, but I agree with your reasoning.
     
  3. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    In French (and perhaps other languages) the possession of the body part is implicit, meaning you tend to say "the arm", for instance, where in English we would always say "my arm" (for instance in the phrase "my arm hurts"), which I find interesting . . .
    In English, it does depend on the context to a certain extent, and in the context of a strip club, I think in that sentence its at least as likely that the breast she's fondling does't belong to her. But your second example, I think "an arm" works fine; obviously he's not draping some disembodied limb over the seat. So yeah, I think in general, if there is only one possible subject it's probably fine to leave it 'unpossessed', so to speak, but if there is an ambiguity that is not intended, it might be best to clarify. After all, there really isn't a huge difference between "a breast" and "her breast". At least semantically speaking ;)
     
  4. witch wyzwurd
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    witch wyzwurd Contributing Member

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    The reader will assume the stripper has two breasts, not one, unless you've stated that she had a masectomy or you have mutant creatures that have one breast in your story.

    The reader will assume it's her own breast, unless you've implied that she's a lesbian; another female stripper is dancing close to her; she's eating chicken; or the receiver of the dance is a woman, or a man that has taken estrogen pills.
     
  5. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Lol, WW. Pretty much what I was thinking.:p
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    arron89 is correct about the implicit nature of ownership of body parts in romance languages. The same holds true for Spanish. There is nothing incorrect in Spanish if you say, "My arm hurts," but it would be an unusual phrasing. "The arm hurts me," would be the more expected syntax. If you were to ask the average Latino which of the two phrases is more correct, the answer you might get back is, "Who else's arm would be hurting that you could feel? Why would you need to say my?"

    Anyway... the original question is complicated a bit by the fact that the scene takes place in a strip bar. Yes, breasts might well be on display in ample abundance. I like the phrasing she fondled a breast in this setting more-so than she fondled her breast for subtle reasons. The inclusion of the possessive her makes it feel more personal, more intimate. The indefinite article a leaves a more impersonal, clinical feel.

    If she is on stage performing, perhaps this is not the time for a personal moment. It's her job, so right now her upper torso adornments are tools of the trade.

    /ramblink.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    don't sweat it... if it makes sense to you and most who read it, stick with the 'K.I.S.S.!' version and ignore the overly picky nit-pickers...

    to me, even "He draped an arm across the head support of his seat." is too specific!... why bore us with that instruction-manual-ish 'head support' instead of just 'back'?

    love and hugs, maia [virgo nit-picker extraordinaire]
     
  8. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Some published writers, I've noticed, go as far as to write: She fondled her own breast.

    I personally write that she fondled a breast and don't see a problem with it, unless the context makes such confusing.
     
  9. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Wrey, thanks for putting that thought into words. You make a great point. I think that's part of the reason I chose that particular phrasing, though I hadn't really thought about it the way you did. It was more of a feeling, I guess, and now I understand it better.

    maia, thanks. I'll try to keep it simple.:) I can see I made a poor choice of words in my original sentence. If I wrote, "he draped an arm over the back of his seat" is that enough to make the point I was going for, without saying anything further about it?

    I didn't want to just come right out and say the character is tall, and didn't want to go too far out of my way to show it, either.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, definitely...

    well, adding that head rest thing doesn't do that, so was an unnecessary and annoying addition... find a better way to let us know how tall he is... such as perhaps mentioning he had to move the seat all the way back, to get his legs in... or hitting his head on the top of the door frame as he got in, with a bit of annoyed dialog about being to bleeping tall for the normal world...
     

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