1. Jak of Hearts
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    Jak of Hearts Member

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    "Unpacking" sentences with certain words

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Jak of Hearts, Feb 17, 2014.

    So as I was going through the forums last night I came upon one (but I can't for the life of me remember which) that had a link to this: http://litreactor.com/essays/chuck-palahniuk/nuts-and-bolts-“thought”-verbs

    I read it and tested it out on the first chapter of my novel. I was amazed at how many of these came up and how much better it sounded after I started to "unpack" these sentences as he calls it.

    I saved them to a document so that I will always remember them, and then added a few to it after a little more research. My list currently looks like this:

    Thinks, thought, Knows, knew, Understands, understood, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires.

    See, looked

    Love, hate

    Is, Has, that, like, get, got

    very, really, suddenly, started



    I was hoping that some of you might know of a few others for me to be on the lookout for as I finish up my revision.


    [Edit: Don't you hate it when you misspell the title of a thread and can't figure out how to change it? Just for my own sanity and piece of mind, I just want everyone to know that I did in fact recognize that.]
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2014
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  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    There's tunzes and tunzes of filter words: mulled, contemplated, noticed, perceived, stewed (as in 'she stewed on the idea').

    To add a couple that answer more to the ones in your last line: seem/seemingly/seemed, began
     
  3. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would add these as well:
    Feel
    Hear
    Sense
     
  4. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Though I never completely ditch words - if I can avoid using a lot of them to this list I'd add
    - was - stagnate
    and
    - seemed - sounds like your indecisive

    also any flimsy adjective/noun combination that only demands more words like - weird dress. Which usually requires another sentence to explain why the dress is weird.
     
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Some how-t0 writer (can't remember which one for sure) calls these things 'weasel words.' I like that.

    Mine are up on my cork board above my computer screen: somewhat, a bit, rather, very, just, hopefully, beautiful, quite, really, kind of, sort of, possibly

    I think I'll add a few from the lists above. Like: suddenly, seemed, started

    As @peachalulu indicated, you don't need to eliminate all usage of these words. But keeping this list in sight will make you aware you're using them, and you'll be less likely to use them often, or in places where they're not needed at all.
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2014
  6. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    This unpacking sentences idea is something only people incapable of spelling the word "sentence" could wind up believing. It's an utter misinformed hokum-filled hoax. Think for yourselves instead. Just because one famous author who may or not be good may or not follow or believe in this strategy doesn't mean others should. Each text and each writer is different. Sorry for being harsh, but I mean it. Get a grip. If you're a mindless go-with-the-flow kind of person, you obviously shouldn't be an author in the first place. Stop being so naïve all the time. If it works for you, fine, but I hope you realise you can't have your own personal Chuck Palahniuk sitting on your shoulder every time you write. You're not a less valid author than he is, having to resort to his advice to make it; you should strive to be as good as you can be, regardless of how that compares to Palahniuk. What works fore him might be detrimental for you. If you still want to follow his every whim, I suggest you ask him to literally write your book instead. More copycats is certainly not what the world needs.
     
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  7. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    Weasel words are words that don't carry any meaning or that can't be quantified or verified, or that are so obvious as not to need mentioning. This unpacking sentences idea, on the other hand, is some superstition-like belief that removing words, like the ones mentioned above, somehow improves people's writing. The real goal is rather to write texts that are as interesting as possible, regardless of which words is required for doing so. Every word has its meaning, and when it stops having one it falls out of usage automatically. Thus it's not an issue writers face, rather we should focus on where, when, how etc. we're using words, not if we're allowing them or not.
     
  8. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't think it's superstitious nor do I think any of these words need to be removed entirely but the fact is that writers can develop a sloppy habit of interfering on the world they are creating - the wizard can be seen behind the curtain syndrome. Unless, your bloody Nabokov this doesn't go over well with the reader especially if your not writing a philosophical piece of literature but a pulpy book on zombies or an erotica romance or an adventure story which requires the reader to be in the moment.
     
  9. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    Weak verbs, basically. "Was" is the worst one. I avoid it at all costs, but sometimes you just have to use it, or a variation like is, were, are, to be. I always take note of the verbs I'm using in each and every sentence. I can usually tell when something's off/weak by reading out loud. Sometimes I'm not sure where the trouble is, and that's when I just cut out the damn phrase completely.

    I thought Chuck made a lot of good points there.
     
  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Perhaps you're a good enough writer to be able to tell when a word is needed and when an idea should be unpacked instead. But not everyone has that intuition, nor has everyone developed and fine-tuned that intuition yet. The article writer gives good advice for beginners, who may not be aware they're relying on a crutch and thus preventing his readers from properly visualising and feeling a scene. Understand that all writing advice has its limits and you should mould every good piece of advice to your own writing, not the other way around, and you'll be fine. There's really no need to get this worked up about it.
     
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  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Also, choose primary verb tenses when you can.

    John ran for the door. (rather than) John was running for the door.

    I say, "When you can" because the compound verb tenses are important, and have distinct meanings relative to the primary (simple) tenses, and you do need them. But keep your main actions strong with primary verbs in simple declarative sentences.

    Use the punch of unqualified statements.
     
  12. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    What you're saying is true, Mckk, but I guess my point is that none of us needs that article. It makes us rely on others rather than thinking for ourselves. We all have things to improve, in every aspect of our lives, but this is not the answer. None should need it. And if you do need it, you have already failed, and only personal effort and consideration can bring you out of it. Removing words isn't the answer. It only limits your palette as an artist. An artist of words. And that artist is someone you have to know how to become. It's not something unpacking can do. In a text as long as a novel the chances are you'd need one of the words mentioned above, and substituting them just because a strange man told you to will hurt its quality. Do you understand? Oh, wait ... I can't use that word. ... Do you get?
     
  13. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    You have to look for the best meaning. If your character is describing what someone was doing during an incident, you'd use "was" verses the simple verb:

    "Can you describe what you were doing during the incident?"

    "I was watching tv in my bedroom."

    That makes more sense than, "I watched tv from my bedroom."
     
  14. Jak of Hearts
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    Jak of Hearts Member

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    I'd like to say first that I never cut out words completely. That doesn't even make sense and when I wrote this post I was under the assumption everyone understands that I'm not out to eliminate the word completely, just the instances of it that hinder writing. Every word can be used with a purpose and has a place, but I think we all have a tendency to write lazily from time to time. I know that often I get caught up in writing and when I read it back, I find myself writing "He saw this..." over and over as well as "He thought..". I know my writing sounds better when I go through and eliminate half of the uses of these because it makes the writing more action filled and direct. That is half the point of the revision process.

    Bjornar, I don't know what in my post pissed you off but I think you are wrong. I'm taking the advice of an experienced writer who knows writing better than I do, and I am learning from it to become a better writer myself. I don't think you understood the point of the article. I have not failed because I listen to the advice of others.

    seem/seemingly/seemed, began, and was are definitely going on my list. I appreciate the brainstorm everyone. Thank you.
     
  15. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    This is my point. If he knows writing better than you, then why are you a writer? Every author should, if not think, then at least feel they're the best writer in the world; he best writer within your "field", that is, whatever that is. Good advice is always nice, but removing words is not good advice.

    Regarding your point on revision processes: Checking to see if you should change something you've written is the entire point of revision! It doesn't matter what your story looks like until it's finished. Noone writes it perfectly the first time around; That's not a flaw. We're not monkeys on typewriters. The only thing that matters is the end result. And that end result will almost certainly be worse with the restriction of any words or any kind. Just as a painter is free to use any colour, a writer is free to use any word to create their world. And we all know how dull and unnecessary a single-colour painting is, I hope.
     
  16. Jak of Hearts
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    Jak of Hearts Member

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    Feel, Hear, and Sense. I missed those as I was going through the thread earlier, I'm taking those down too.
     
  17. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    A writer who thinks he's the best writer in the world would never improve, would he? No one is a skilled pro when he first start writing. I really don't understand your logic here. If anyone who thinks someone else is a better writer than he is would leave writing to others, there would probably be no writers in the world, no literary masterpieces. Even Hemingway and the other masters surely had their role models, I don't think they ever felt like they were The Best Writers In The World. Not for more than a couple of minutes, at least. Most big artists are hopelessly self critical about their work, that is how it gets as good as it is. And learning from someone who knows more than you is the way you develop that skill.
     
  18. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I fixed the spelling in the thread title.
     
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  19. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    Best and perfect are not synonymous, and you can be self-critical even when you're the best, and even when you're perfect, although in the latter case that criticism will by definition be incorrect. There are loads of writers in this world. We can afford to lose some of them, even if it means losing a few of the better ones as well. Hopefully more mediocre writers will realise they are better needed elsewhere and improve the world in areas outside literature.
     
  20. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    Life would be a lot less entertaining if only the best few wrote.
     
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  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I didn't see anyone trying to pass a law against certain words. But most writers can use improvement, most improvement involves editing, and often editing involves changing one word for another. If you don't want to take advice about writing, that's fine, but if you don't want anyone to give or take advice about writing, then it seems to me that this forum is going to annoy you an awful lot.
     
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  22. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    No, as I said I like advice, but only when it's good. Suggesting people stop thinking and start following these odd made up rules instead is not good advice. That's all I'm saying.
     
  23. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There are no hard-and-fast rules in writing. I take any writing advice in the way I believe it's offered: "If you feel your writing is weak or ineffective in some way, here's a suggestion that might help." That's more or less what Palahniuk is saying here. I mean, he's being more aggressive than that, but that's what he means, I think.

    The only piece of writing advice I think everyone should take is in my signature: "Don't bore the reader." But it's important to understand that not all readers are looking for the same thing; what's fascinating to one reader will be deadly dull to another. While @JayG (to pick a name at random :) ) is correct, I think, in saying the reader wants to be entertained, he must know that different approaches, different styles, different subjects, etc. entertain different readers.

    So never take any advice as saying "All writers must always write exactly like this, no exceptions ever." Allow yourself some creativity.
     
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  24. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    A very useful exercise. It requires you to 1) notice when you're using "thought" verbs and then 2) think through various ways to show rather than tell.

    The author clearly isn't suggesting that you adopt this as a permanent writing style, nor is he offering this as a rule to be blindly followed. In fact you can't follow it blindly. The only way you can eliminate a "thought" verb is to figure out an alternative.
     
  25. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I liked that article a lot too. Very helpful and a good exercise.
     

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