1. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    Vocabulary

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Reggie, Nov 18, 2010.

    I wonder if anyone have any ideas on how to replace repeating words, like "she walked.." Looked..." "glared.." "started..." I have notice these words have been over written in many of my stories, especially "walked," "yanked" and "dashed." Are there any other words that could replace these words, and words that can eliminate some prepositions, like "I looked out the window to see that someone is coming into my house..." That sentence sounds too old-fashioned, and I know that some publishers and editors would think the same way.

    If anyone have any ideas, feel free to post their suggestions here. I tried reading books and novels from other people, but it seems as if they replaced some of these words or do not need them at all.
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that when I'm reusing the same word too many times, the solution usually isn't to find synonyms for the word. I think that a better solution is to rewrite the text to stop repeating the concept, or at least to communicate it in a way that is different by more than just swapping a word.

    For example, this paragraph doesn't benefit from the fact that I avoid reusing the word "walked":

    "I walked down the main street, lugging my backpack. First, I strolled into the bookstore for a magazine. Then I paced down another block to the grocery to pick up a sack of apples. Then I loped into the hiking store for some socks. Then I stepped into the library to say hello to Jane..."

    Even though I'm using different words, I'm still repeating the same concept and essentially the same sentence structure, over and over. The paragraph needs a complete rewrite instead. Unfortunately, my brain has grown too fuzzy tonight to make it half-decent. :) The best I can do at this moment is:

    "The next morning was devoted to shopping. It was only an hour's worth of errands, but I stalled, gossiped with the clerks, browsed through apples and socks, gathering courage for a visit to the library. Even with all that preparation, I stood on the sidewalk and rehearsed my greeting for a good five minutes before I hefted my pack and walked up the steps. It was Jane's day to work the circulation desk."

    You can get synonyms from a thesaurus, but I think it's good to pause and consider whether what you need is a synonym or rewrite. If your characters are glaring a lot, you may need to communicate their anger with their words instead. If they're dashing, you may need to consider where it's important to communicate speed and how you can communicate it another way. And so on.

    ChickenFreak
     
  3. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Reggie Do you have a thesaurus?
    Use adjectives sparingly.
     
  4. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    If you write in a limited pov from a tight psychic distance to the character, you can cut out many of what I call the 'duh' verbs and just give the action directly:

    or

    or even, if you dare:

    Or why now


    Note that I also cut out the 'that' as it wasn't necessary. We understand 'that' is in fact what a character is seeing, so it can be cut. And if it's already established the character is in his/her house, we don't need that repeated.

    Most importantly, if we're firmly established to a character's point of view, we'll understand that when we're given images, the character is seeing them.

    Many of the 'I heard' 'he saw' 'she felt' sort of constructions can be cut if it's obvious what the implied verb is (people see images, duh, we don't need to be told, which is why I call them 'duh' verbs).

    It's only noteworthy if it's something the character didn't expect to see it, or was surprised by, or doubting, or something not usually seen:

    In instances like this, you can even throw in a 'could' to emphasis the important thing isn't so much that the character is even seeing something, but the fact it's something that could be seen at all.

    Though I could argue that 'duh' of course he 'could' see something if he just saw it, but it's a bit of stylistic emphasis, I suppose, shrug.


    If you're repeating action verbs over and over, like walking or running, it usually means you've dipped into habitual time summary, which is almost always not good. The key isn't to find new words to explain that the character is walking to 10 different places, but instead just give one scene demonstrating the idea. Like have a scene at the last place, with the character being tired from carrying all the other things, so we understand the situation without 'he walked to... then walk to... then walk to...' sort of thing.

    If you do need to summarize (or rather just want to, as it's never needed imo), then do the same thing as above. Once the character walked one place we can assume they walked to the other places unless told otherwise, and the other repeated instances can often simply be omitted.
     
  5. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    You've received some great advice there, Reggie: ugly repetition is perhaps best avoided by attending to the structure/wider elements.
    A wide vocabulary is a grand thing but the obvious word is quite often the right word and an unthinking use of supposed synonyms - grabbed from a thesaurus - sometimes backfires. This is especially true for nouns. There's a custom in the British tabloids of dementedly avoiding the repetition of significant nouns - they do it purposefully, for larks - but it does show well that such habits can impair sense, if done to death:

    An orangutan at a Berlin zoo is refusing to eat following the death of his long-term partner. The grieving ape, Brian, has not eaten a thing for ten days and is said to be dangerously weak. Insiders at the zoo say the heartbroken primate will have to be drip-fed under sedation if he persists for much longer. The lovelorn chimp has been a great attraction at the German zoo for over twenty years, fifteen of which were spent with his deceased partner, Elsie.
     
  6. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's a fine line. Too much repetition gets boring, but then sometimes searching 'desperately' for alternative words to sound enlightened/interesting can be amateurish.

    I agree about showing a 'scene', without too much 'stage direction'.

    I've read some strange writing recently, where the author seems to think they need to describe every breath or movement a character makes. It's not very interesting, and unnecessary.
     
  7. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    I often have this problem of repeating the same words too much. I think the best approach is just to rewrite the scene - cut unnecessary words out, explain the scene without the repetitive use of the same word. Perhaps try and write the scene without the use of the repeated word, including any synonyms, and see how that works out.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    that's all good advice/examples from chicken freak!

    my best advice is to follow it...
     
  9. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good advice given...

    Just be sure NEVER to write sentences like:
    Out of the window, someone was coming into my house.
    = "someone was coming into my house out of ('through') the window (!)

    The other sentence is okay:
    Out of the window, I see someone coming into the house. (Because you have the 'I see' i.e. the same person doing the action in each part of the sentence.)
     
  10. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I don't see anything wrong with that style of sentence or the principles involved.

    Just because it can be confusing if one tries, does that mean it really is, especially if we had context?

    It's not a construction I would personally use, but as a reader I'd understand 'out the window' was where the character was looking, and that the character hadn't walked to window and come face to face with an intruder who was coming in through the window because the grammar technically allowed it.

    In context, I'd move an indication of the window to the sentence prior to the image given, but if I read that in a book, I wouldn't stop to be confused (unless I hated the author and was trying hard to be pedantic).

    Without context, very little makes sense and it's easy to dissect and dismiss a sentence or get pedanitic about grammar instead of looking at greater principles and concepts.


    What about:
    As a reader, would you stop because you technically couldn't rule out the possibility the men were somehow sword fighting in a way that propelled them over a fence?

    It reminds me of the people who argue with every word that can possibly have any awkward connotative meaning. Your character shot a glance at the girl? What, does he have guns in his eyes? hurr hurr, get a grip.

    There's a sweet spot somewhere between sloppy prose that doesn't give the reader even a chance at comprehension and insecure, over clarifying prose constructed with a fear of grammarians may be trying hard to find moments where they can technically claim they're confused.
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry, but please don't defend bad grammar.

    I am not 'pedantic'. Nor am I against complexity in writing. Of course, something can be hard to understand when only a few sentences are given. However, if I read:

    Out of the window, someone was coming into the house...

    I may be able to guess that the writer probably meant that someone was looking out of the window and saw another person coming into the house, but I also think s/he has such a weak grasp of grammar that s/he doesn't in fact realise the sentence says the person was coming into the house 'out of the window'!

    I will also think the writer (and their editor, although this mistake is not often seen in a published work) is being pretty arrogant/ignorant if I see this atrocious grammar repeated, since this kind of sentence structure is a fave among inexperienced writers. I will be unlikely to continue reading the work, and it will put me off reading something by the same writer--although an editor does usually catch these errors.

    Why on Earth should I have to continually guess 'from context' to make up for a writer's poor writing skills?

    If you must use this structure, at least use it correctly, and then no one is left guessing (or flinching in disgust):

    When I looked/While I was looking/(On) looking out of the window, I saw someone coming into the house...
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Last night I saw an excerpt from "Jersey Shore" on the Tonight Show, in which Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino was trying to express why unprotected sex was a bad choice. He used his trademark word "situation" at least half a dozen times to express different concepts. It was supposed to be funny, but all I saw was someone with a woefully limited vocabulary. Hi inability to articulate was not limited to the clip, either. His entire interview with Leno about his new book left no doubt in my mind that The Situation has rarely cracked open a book, much less written one himself.
     
  13. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I wasn't so much defending bad grammar as pointing out it's more complex than telling someone to "NEVER write a sentence like that" just because the grammar is a bit shoddy. It would be more constructive to explain how the grammar in that ONE instance isn't very good, but principles at work may still be good (like the fact that in modern fiction we can very often cut out all the sensory verbs).

    There are several reasons I could give for why the sentence was weak, vagueness being one of them. One of the last reasons would be that a reader would somehow think the window a warp in the space-time continuum that causes you to go 'out' the window while sneaking 'in.' "Officer, officer, someone was trying to break into my home!" "Where are they now?" "Stuck in the window... every time they try to crawl out, they come in, and any time they try to come in, they go out!"

    Best home security ever.

    The English language isn't always very adequate, so a lot of what we do as listeners and readers is inferring. And yes, there are a lot of people that find it fun inferring the unintended inference just because they can. These people are usually English majors or teachers who ironically have lost their ability to communicate, in favor of whipping out their red pen and correcting speech in the air as people are trying to have a conversation. :p

    What's wrong in the English classroom isn't always wrong in the Fiction classroom.

    Maybe we should just eliminate any possible confusion and write every sentence like:

    Hrm, I like it! It's like stream of insecure, overly explanatory consciousness. You really get a feel for the voice of the character!

    But, you're right, it wasn't great grammar.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I'm going to make you even more annoyed here, because I have another issue with the sentence "Out the window, someone was coming into my house."

    The "Out the window, someone..." part is not my main problem with the sentence. It should be corrected - it's a grammatical error, and not one that earns its keep through any other advantages that I see. But even though it's an error, I can translate it pretty easily

    (What other advantages? Well, for example, I have a soft spot for the use of "could of" and "would of" by people who really speak and write that way. I find it a little bit charming, though of course I'd be horrified to find it in anything the least bit formal.)

    My problem is with the "into". Through the window of a house, you can easily see a person approaching a house, but seeing them actually entering the house - actually walking through a door - is hard to do from a window. Unless it's a house with wings, the door is likely to be in the same plane as the window, or on a plane ninety degrees away from it in the wrong direction, so that at best you'd have to stick your head out the window. Or you'd have to be in something like a protruding window seat.

    Or, of course, you could see the person entering the house if you're looking from a different building - maybe that's what the sentence is referring to.

    Assuming that the narrator is in the house, this, to me, is not a confusion that's so easily translated. Is the narrator seeing someone coming into the yard/garden? Is he seeing someone approaching the door with such a determined manner and speed that he's sure that the person will enter the house? Did he see the person approach, and then hear the door open, so that he didn't really _see_ them enter the house? Did we miss the narrator's changing his location to another building?

    Mainly, is the person already in the house or not, and is the narrator in that same house or not? To me, that's an important fact, and the sentence isn't at all clear on it. I have to wait for the next few lines to learn the true situation, and that's very distracting.

    I should add that if the narrator _is_ in another building, and we already know that, then the "into" is just fine, and if I missed a clearly written location change that's my own fault.

    ChickenFreak
     
  15. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    Thanks for the sound arguments, everyone. The sentence "I looked out the window to see that someone was coming in the house," was just an example of how some beginning writers like me would write, but like I said, "looked" could be replaced for another word. In my opinion, to make this sentence more precise, what if the narrator said "I looked out the window to see someone approaching my house..." But can this sentence be used a different way? I believe it can be used in many different ways. Thanks again for the advices on vocabulary.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'to' is not helpful in this sentence, can be confusing, since it could imply that the speaker/narrator knew someone was coming and wanted to see them doing so...

    thus, 'and saw' would be better, if you meant the two to be consecutive... 1. i looked out the window... 2. i saw someone coming...

    "I looked out the window and saw someone coming."
     
  17. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    I have another question, how is this sentence, "The empty look on Dad’s face apparently showed signs that he did not know anything about it," a fragment sentence?
     
  18. Newfable
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    Newfable Senior Member

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    You know, I honestly think that the only books that should be destroyed would be any produced by anyone having anything to do with Jersey Shore.

    In regards to what's asked (or at the very least, what started this thread before it derailed into the word order of a ridiculously worded passive sentence), I have this: A Thesaurus, when used well, will take you far.
     
  19. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's also the sort of sentence that a highly experienced and skilful writer might write. Simple is not necessarily bad. The alternative you proposed could work in a very specific context, but is far more likely to sound like a pretentious attempt at being "experimental".
     
  20. SRCroft
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    SRCroft Member

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    Dialogue

    The better idea would be to remove overbearing explicative to the person's actions during dialogue. Your word choice and use of interlacing narrative and action, should be enough to relay the situation most of the time. However, occasionally it is important to point things out -- just not often. In that case, using looked, glare, for e.g., is not that big of a deal. Many really good beginner writer's try to get fancy because they have amazing vocabulary, but it can slow down dialogue (Fanciful concepts are best related in narrative).

    [I assumed you meant the speaker tag, action flare. because you put glared and started.]

    Be careful your not putting:
    "I am fine," she smiled. (glared, scowled) << you don't smile words.
    "I am fine," she said, smiling at the man. << Is correct.

    Better choice is this:
    She smiled at the man. "I am fine." OR
    She smiled at the man and said, "I am fine."

    (removing the "said" whenever possible is suggested though.)

    Now in the case that your talking about the narrative itself then your right this is a problem. You don't glare every five seconds and if its doesn't move the story forward take it out. But you do look at things and walk places, don't over think it.

    I get it, we as writer's are trying to relay a detail of a 3-D world. We want the reader to know everything going on. However, if you narrate every glare, look, or movement--coming off as babying the reader-- than it will become an irritating read. The best bet is to transform as much concept as you can into reflective dialogue.

     
  21. SRCroft
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    SRCroft Member

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    Stylistic choices

    No, it's not a fragment, but it can be rewritten. It's not necessary.
    (Big author imposed problem is just the word "apparently") Did it show signs? Signs already denote a "maybe", apparently is redundant and overbearing. The onlooker or responding character should reflect the unsure nature of his father's face in his words or actions next.

    Sometimes its better to work those type of sentences over and over along with narrative and dialogue to approach it this way:

    His Dad's face was blank, "I--." <<Same thought really, but I used dialogue to show he had nothing he could say.
     
  22. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Very good point.

    Only recently I read some excerpt from a book, where the writer spent ages describing how this guy took off his jacket, and went to the fridge, and opened the fridge, and got out his food, and found a plate, and then cleaned a spoon, and then heated his food, and then searched for his mug...

    It drove me insane.
     
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...it's not a 'fragment' since it has both a subject [look] and a predicate [showed]... and a fragment is not any kind of 'sentence'... but a 'look' that 'showed signs' makes little to no sense...

    vm... that's what i call 'breathe in/breathe out' writing, or 'micro-managing'... it drives me up the wall, too...
     
  24. Whyte.rhose
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    Whyte.rhose New Member

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    You what is the best thing to do in that situation?
    Cut out those dialogue tags.
    "What are you doing?" she asked.
    "What are you doing?" She rolled her eyes.
    No need to put "asked, said, whispered" anymore. ;)
     
  25. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's a good description for it.

    I kept wondering what would be next. Perhaps after he finished up in the kitchen, it would be time to visit the bathroom? The mind boggles.
     

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