1. koyelevergreen
    Offline

    koyelevergreen Member

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2014
    Messages:
    36
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    India, Kolkata

    To enrich fiction writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by koyelevergreen, Jun 24, 2014.

    We must try to avoid the weasel words as much as possible. They include words like many, like, some, few,etc. They suck out the sap of the writing like they affect the eggs. The to be verbs like am ,is, are , was, were would be should be replaced by stronger verbs representing action. Minimum usage of adverbs and drab adjectives is preferred. www.descriptivewords.org
     
  2. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    Personally, I don't believe there are any words that should be avoided. Over-use of a word, yes; but no blanket condemnations.
     
  3. daemon
    Offline

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2014
    Messages:
    1,361
    Likes Received:
    982
    Quite a few experienced writers would disagree with you there.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,969
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    I don't know where this advice got started, but I really wish I knew how to stop it.
     
  5. koyelevergreen
    Offline

    koyelevergreen Member

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2014
    Messages:
    36
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    India, Kolkata
    Any reason for disagreement?
     
  6. daemon
    Offline

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2014
    Messages:
    1,361
    Likes Received:
    982
    I should have quoted the sentence I was responding to when I made the joke:
     
  7. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,797
    Likes Received:
    7,316
    Location:
    Scotland
    I understand the principle here, which is to avoid vague writing and to use active voice, but making it a blanket RULE to not use certain words or passive voice is a mistake. These words do exist—including adjectives and adverbs. They have existed for a long time, and have their uses in both writing and speaking.

    Writers should be aware of ALL words they use. Whenever you choose any word, make sure it has the precise meaning and effect you want it to have. That's really the only rule a writer should pay attention to, in my opinion.

    I personally have a list of 'weasel' words that are pertinent to me. They are pertinent because I fell into the habit of using them too often. Same goes for certain ways of describing things, or certain figures of speech.

    Once I've identified these weasels I use too often, I write them down on a list that hangs above my computer. I refer to this list frequently. (Scrabbled is not on everybody's weasel list, but it's certainly on mine—thanks, @auntiebetty! :)) Every time I go to use one of these words now, I'm fully aware I'm doing it. Sometimes I use that word anyway, if it's the best choice. Sometimes not.
     
    Andrae Smith and Ben414 like this.
  8. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    These are what I call "textbook rules." That is, these types of rules are found in how-to-write-fiction books, and they're frequently mentioned in high school English classes as a way to get students to "improve" their essays. The one thing all writers should keep in mind is that there are no absolute rules in creative writing. Anything goes. Sometimes words like "am" or "is" are needed because the alternatives are worse, not better. Also, if you follow all these rules all the time, it'll lead to formulaic writing, which is the antithesis of creativity.
     
    jannert and minstrel like this.
  9. Renee J
    Offline

    Renee J Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2013
    Messages:
    463
    Likes Received:
    214
    Location:
    Reston, VA
    The word "was" can be the better choice. For example, if a character is recalling something:

    " I was driving my car when the storm blew in."

    is different than:

    "I drove my car when the storm blew in."

    The first makes it clear the character was already driving, the second sounds like the character got in his car after seeing the storm.
     
    jannert and Andrae Smith like this.
  10. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,969
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    OK, this was rather rude and offhand of me; my apologies. But these verbs are essential. The only explanation that I can come up with for the objection to them is that someone:

    1) observed that passive voice is frowned on
    2) observed that passive voice often uses those verbs.
    3) declared that those verbs are wrong for any use.

    1) and 2) are true; 3) is not a valid conclusion. If you grab any book by any well-regarded author, I'm confident that you'll find plenty of use of these verbs.
     
  11. BFGuru
    Offline

    BFGuru Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2011
    Messages:
    510
    Likes Received:
    25
    Location:
    Somewhere in insomiaville
    I liken this advice to the old adage we were taught in music theory... "You must know the rules before you can choose to break them."

    It may very well make for a beautifully crafted piece to break from traditional rules, but unless you know why you are using that faux pas it will not make sense.
     
  12. Fullmetal Xeno
    Offline

    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2011
    Messages:
    1,364
    Likes Received:
    141
    Location:
    Kingdom of Austniad
    But those words are the building blocks to a more polished language within your writing, so i have to disagree. Repetition for any reason is very daunting in which a writer should take notice, but not in any way that penalizes him/her for doing the simplest things to stretch the story further. That is the writer's job after all- to be precise, concise, simple, entertaining, and most important of all- imaginative. You cannot lay down a certain preference to someone out of obligation. It intrudes the basis that is writing. I recommend sentence structure, spelling, and the amount of times an author uses the same word within the work, just in case the reader doesn't begin to nitpick or question the fact that the writer/author repeated his/her self in a way that distracts them from the story. English teachers don't exactly tell students to be inept to these basic words, but more so cautious. You want to be complex but eclaircise at the same time. We need to implement that mentality to younger writers, just to boost their likeliness to improve their awareness to their grammar, structure and proactivity to what they're pursuing. Many, like, some, and few is not an omen or an ignavia or any way- if used correctly. Asserting when and how often is really the persisting predicament in descriptiveness for young writers. Sometimes intermediate writers need to be reminded on how they should keep up with how they paint a certain object or person in their works. To be more humble, I've done it myself. Sometimes i feel like i'm not properly illustrating the right picture with how i'm describing it. Writing is technically a game in itself- only if you're aware enough to see it.
     
  13. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    These should be scrutinised in editing each and every time they are encountered, because if overused they can dilute the writing and make it more vague, but that is simply a matter of improving precision of your expression, not about word-avoidance.

    This is a rather bizarre advice, for such fundamental words! Again, if the writing is vague and needs tightening up, or improving, that's one thing. It's got nothing to do with words that are essential building blocks of language. If you pick up 'Kafka on the Shore' by Murakami, or any other text written in first person POV, you'll see how ridiculous this piece of advice is. Any book written in past tense, likewise with 3rd person POV.

    Writing needs to be looked at on the whole. The most common problem novice writers encounter, in my opinion, is lack of precision in their thoughts. They usually have a vague idea of what they want to achieve with the sentence but they lack knowledge of literary devices and narrative structure, coupled with perhaps inadequate vocabulary. To focus on the words would be to focus on the most superficial aspect.
     
    Andrae Smith likes this.
  14. cazann34
    Offline

    cazann34 Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 18, 2012
    Messages:
    519
    Likes Received:
    41
    Location:
    Scotland, UK
    Who makes up these rules? Non-writers that's who. 'they suck out the sap that is writing.' IMO they are the life-blood of writing.
    It is hard enough for writers to get their meaning across to the reader without limited their word usage without having to omit certain type of words.
    I think it ludicrous that we (as writers) are told these rules have to be adhered to, yet some who have been published, have run on sentences, miss out punctuation and have questionable grammar apparently are publish-worthy. It's baffling to me that we are told to learn the rules of writing but are praised when we break them.
     
  15. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    Could not have said it better. I especially like the way the bold sections are conveyed, as they highlight, clearly, specific issues that young writers face. Once the idea is down and rhythm is found, writers tend to refine their ideas. If writers could learn to refine them sooner, we would likely write more clearly and precisely from the jump.

    I find writing is less about the words you choose to use or avoid (though that is important), but more about the ideas you put forth and how you chose to do so. The less clear you are in your mind, the more you write around it, then try to make a paragraph look pretty and sound right, when you could/should likely combine some sentences, restructure others, and cut the fat to make each sentence do more work.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2014
    jazzabel and jannert like this.
  16. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,797
    Likes Received:
    7,316
    Location:
    Scotland
    That's an excellent example.
     
  17. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,797
    Likes Received:
    7,316
    Location:
    Scotland
    I would say if you're concerned about using too much passive voice, it's wrong to focus on deleting words like 'was,' etc. Teachers often tell you to do this because it's an easy way to flag up passive usage, but it sends entirely the wrong signal.

    Sometimes passive voice is exactly what you need, and sometimes 'was' is exactly the right choice of words, as in @Renee J 's example above.

    The best way to ferret out the passive voice and decide what works and what doesn't is to locate these 'weasel' words—but instead of removing them willy-nilly, try writing that particular sentence or passage in another way. And once you get done doing that, read both passages and decide which one works best for creating the meaning and pace you intended. Discard the less effective choice.

    I made the beginner's mistake of using FAR too much passive voice in the first draft of my novel. My very first beta reader, who is an experienced writer himself, kindly went through one of my chapters and re-wrote it for me, excising most of the passive voice. I could not believe the difference that small change made.

    However, he also pointed out places where he'd left my passive voice in place, and explained why. That, too, was an eye-opener.

    Both 'voices' have their uses, and there is no shortcut method to choosing the right one. But, after a time, you'll develop a feel for it.
     
  18. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    Another thing that I think writers should watch out for in fiction is past perfect (i.e. using the construction that calls for a form of have, as in had been, had gone, had done). That is not to say "never use it" or anything like that, as there is a time and place for it. However, I've noticed it in a handful of pieces I've looked at recently, and it caused a summary feel. By virtue of it's nature, past perfect construction creates summary situations that can disengage readers from the action of the plot if overused. If writing in the past tense, past perfect is what I'd call the past of the past and is, by nature, not in the moment...usually. Keep an eye out for it, as you generally want your work to feel as present as possible, even in past tense.
     
  19. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,724
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    Um, I'm not sure what you mean by "They suck out the sap of the writing like they affect the eggs." This seems to me a rather clumsy mix of images and I'm not entirely sure what you're talking about. :confused:

    @jannert is right, and her post points towards what writers really have to strive for: mastery. All words, all voices, all persons and tenses and psychic distances and styles and everything else are available to the writer. The toolbox is very full, and the writer should, ultimately, master the use of all the tools. Maybe some of them won't be used often, but they should always be available.

    It always seems to me that when someone advocates not using certain words ("weasel words") or any other tools (semicolons, for instance!), they're doing so because incompetent writers don't use them well. Competent writers can use them well, and do. Masters of prose use them brilliantly.

    I'd hate to tell a Mozart or a Beethoven to never use diminished chords, say, or suspensions, or the Phrygian mode, simply because Joe Smith down the street only started music lessons last week and has no idea what these things are. Well, the fact that Joe Smith can't use them effectively doesn't mean Beethoven should be denied access to them. And we, as writers, are all striving to be more like Beethovens than like Joe Smiths, right?

    Telling novice writers to avoid certain words, voices, etc. is telling them to confine their writing ambitions to the bare minimum. We're saying to them, "Only Joyce is Joyce; only Nabokov is Nabokov. They're acknowledged geniuses; they can do anything they want to. But if you try to do what they do, you'll only embarrass yourself. So just write like a pulp magazine hack. It won't be brilliant, but it'll at least be passable."

    This is a terrible thing to tell a writer.

    People don't achieve great things by striving to achieve mediocre things. NASA didn't land astronauts on the moon by aiming for the top of the tree across the street.

    Landing on the moon is very difficult, but it's worthwhile. Mastering the art of prose is also worthwhile - and also difficult - and writers should be encouraged to do it. They should be encouraged to master every tool in the toolbox, and even to invent new ones if it helps them create something new and wonderful.

    Please don't preach restrictions to writers. I fear for the future of literature if we do.
     
    jannert likes this.
  20. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,797
    Likes Received:
    7,316
    Location:
    Scotland
    I like this ...a LOT. Well, said.

    Good writing is not easy to achieve. You won't achieve it if you rely on shortcuts and injunctions like 'cut weasel words' without understanding the process behind what you're doing.
     
    minstrel likes this.
  21. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,969
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    Yep, yep, and her example doesn't use passive voice. That's another big danger of the "was" witchhunt--it's really pretty rare that it signals passive voice.
     
    jannert likes this.

Share This Page