Stop following stupid rules...

Discussion in 'General Writing' started by BayView, Feb 8, 2019.

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  1. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I was thinking that myself.

    Freud would have a field day.
     
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  2. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Mostly it has been retired. However, and particularly in dialogue, how and if such distinctions are used say a lot about who is delivering them, and to whom (see what I did there?) Being strictly formal about grammar can come across as pedantic, or can indicate someone who knows and enjoys the finer points of language. Or it can be a deliberate rebuke against someone who is painfully ignorant about usage.

    I get far more annoyed at newscasters fracturing the English language. These are supposedly communications professionals, and yet they flub subjective vs objective personal pronouns on a regular basis between committing more heinous acts of verbicide, so I don't even bother to sigh when they misuse who or whom.
     
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  3. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I was just on Twitter and some writer was saying "I use 'had' too often - the passive voice has got to go!" And when I corrected her that it isn't passive, she came back with, "Either way, it can go and 'was' can go with it."

    And I'm just like, well... good luck trying to write anything then. Seriously, I have no respect for people who just put blanket bans on things - the mark of a bad writer if ever there was one. You can tell who the amateurs are by how many absolutes they set.

    (Yes I was unnecessarily annoyed by this... Stupid rules are stupid.)
     
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  4. GrahamLewis

    GrahamLewis Let me chew on your criticism a bit. Contributor

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    Mckk -- I agree with you, writing is not about absolutes and rules. But it does have general principles that make it more readable. Speaking of that, when I served a stint as a small-town newspaper reporter (about the only job for which the word "stint" feels right), I had no experience in that sort of writing, and my nervousness showed. The best advice I got at that time was from the editor/publisher (no literary maven in any sense) who told me, bluntly but in good humor, "your writing is good overall, but I have one suggestion. I forbid you from using the word 'that.' " I went back and reviewed my writing, and saw I was using "that" as a sort of crutch, a fall-back phrasing.

    My writing improved, though probably as much due to increased awareness overall. And in his defense, it was a good-natured suggestion, not a rule per se. But it made me a better writer.

    What do you think of that?
     
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  5. Just a cookiemunster

    Just a cookiemunster Active Member

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    :superlaugh::superlaugh::superlaugh::superlaugh::superlaugh::superlaugh:
     
  6. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I think individualized advice, taken with a grain of salt, is often useful. You were overusing "that", so you benefited from reducing your dependence on it. But obviously you didn't take the advice literally, and obviously it wouldn't be effective advice if applied to someone who wasn't overusing "that". Much different from blanket rules taken as absolutes.
     
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  7. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's bad enough when writers tell each other not to ever use passive voice, but then it turns out they don't even know what passive voice is. They think 'was' is the marker for passive voice and are resolved to eliminate it! Try removing 'was' from your final sentence, for example ...Yes, I was unnecessarily annoyed by this... and see what you get.

    I give up. Some people are so habitually resistant to learning that they never will.
     
  8. GrahamLewis

    GrahamLewis Let me chew on your criticism a bit. Contributor

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    But it makes for interesting conversation.
     
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  9. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Well, try explaining that passive voice is subject/object inversion. Still static verbs are less forceful, and using them without choosing them leads to dull writing. Sentences built around the variants on the verb to be as the main verb are static by definition, as they only describe state. They center around the applied adjectives and adverbs. Unfortunately, they are easily confused with the auxiliary verbs of the broader range of verb tenses.

    Technical writing often endorses use of passive voice for the simple reason that passive voice also removes or desensitized the subject. "The sample was maintained at a temperature of 38C for three hours" removes the researcher(s) from the sentence entirely and focuses instead on the procedure followed. In fiction, passive voice is particularly valuable when you wish to conceal the identity of who is performing the action. No personal pronoun need be used. "The victim was killed by a thin, sharp blade inserted between the third and fourth cervical vertebrae."
     
  10. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I'd say "to be" is a pretty useful verb...
     
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  11. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That is particularly useful. It's also helpful when the person performing the action doesn't really matter. "A copy of The New York Times had been left open on the park bench."
     
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  12. Nariac

    Nariac Contributor Contributor

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    Only a Sith deals in absolutes!
     
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  13. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    So... Sith are amateurs? Amateurs are Sith? Hmmm...
     
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  14. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I came back to post this. Totally agree. I think it is a really important part of staying in character. If the POV character doesn't care who the subject is, he wouldn't be thinking about him, right?
     
  15. GrahamLewis

    GrahamLewis Let me chew on your criticism a bit. Contributor

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    My inclination would be to say, "Someone had left an open copy of the Times on the bench." Or, "An open copy of the Times lay on the bench." Still doesn't matter who did it, but the action verb reads better to me.
     
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  16. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, yours are good examples, probably better than mine, as stand-alones.

    Here's a good article on the use of passive voice, with better examples: https://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/revising/passive-voice/
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2019
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  17. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Depends on the context, though. Depends on what the author is trying to stress. I mean, if you're painting a scene of absolute abandonment in which you want to include the element of the Times being LEFT open (as opposed to just sitting there, open), and if you didn't want to clutter the scene up with a bunch of "someone"s, then I think @jannert's sentence would be useful.

    There was nothing strange about the scene, initially. It was all just another peaceful day at the park, with a lovely breeze blowing in from the south and not many people around to clutter the place up. Well. Not any people around, and wasn't that a bit peculiar, for such a lovely day and such a centrally located park?
    Alistair took a closer look at the scene. Toys lay, abandoned, in the sandbox, and a football rested alone on the grass. A copy of The New York Times had been left open on the park bench, as if only set down for a moment. But there were no people. Not anywhere.
    There'd be nothing wrong with using the "someone had left" version in that paragraph, but I don't think there's anything wrong with it as written, either. A slightly different emphasis, a slightly different mood.
     
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  18. animagus_kitty

    animagus_kitty Active Member

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    Ah, the wonders of minor changes in vocabulary. What a time to be alive.
     
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  19. JackL

    JackL Member

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    Oh lord yes!

    Exit ('it' = he/she, ex: leaves: exit)
    Video ('eo' = I, vid: see: video)
     
  20. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The bastards hung me in the spring of '25.... Contributor

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    You dopes actually switched avatars? That's pretty funny @Tenderiser and @BayView. Why dont we start driving on the left side of the road, too? Oh, wait, tenderiser does that already. Never mind.
     
  21. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    the NYT fluttered, surely?
     
  22. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I don't know what you're talking about.
     
  23. Rzero

    Rzero Contributor Contributor

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    "Awareness" is the perfect word for this conversation. Even good "rules" require moderation and awareness of what you're doing when you follow or break them. Someone on this forum has a quote in their signature section. I wish I could find them or the original quote, so I could give proper credit, but it says something to the effect of "Story trumps any rule." It's so very, very true, but you have to have a damn good story and preternatural style to successfully write in total ignorance of or blatant defiance of all the "rules". It's better to be able to make mindful choices.

    Watching for personal crutches is another big part of that awareness. I have to limit the number of times I start a sentence with "Still,..." "Either way,..." or "Although,..." I have a tendency to present both sides of an argument. It's just how I think, and I use those to continue on after or to reconcile seemingly contradictory statements. There's nothing wrong with it here and there, and it usually makes sense in context. Either way though, it becomes a sort of verbal tic in my narration if I don't watch for it.
    Some friends and I used to play a drinking game that involved a lot of making up new rules as you go. It was like the Calvin Ball of drinking games. A popular rule with infinite variations was "Take a drink if you say ___." Often it would be something like proper nouns, contractions, curse words or questions. Those are difficult to eliminate but easy to catch when someone slips. It's challenging enough to remember to say "Tell me whose turn it is," instead of "Who's turn is it?" but the worst rule anyone ever made was "Take a drink if you use any form of 'to be'." It was proved nearly impossible. Try it sometime. You can reword most things, and it's it serves as a good way to force stronger vocabulary to the surface, but it slowed conversation to a crawl and still ended up getting everyone shitfaced way too fast. It was banned... It ended up being... We banned the rule from subsequent games. I just wasn't fun. The game ceased to be... It ruined the game. Whew. :dead:
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2019
  24. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Your questions sounds like a challenge, except I'm not seeing what the challenge is? I'm glad to hear your editor's advice benefited you. But I think some other posters who replied before my reply here already said it very well - what applies to your writing may not apply to someone else's writing, rendering the same piece of advice useful to one and useless to another.

    The danger comes when novices to the trade start questioning their own writing because they used certain "forbidden" devices or words without ever questioning its context and whether the use was appropriate.

    My objection is to blanket bans on things. I also think sometimes people just don't communicate well - like, excessively using the past continuous can have the effect of slowing one's writing down, becoming repetitive, lacking in force, and may be especially inappropriate in certain scenes or moments. But instead of pinpointing why, we just say, "Oh stop using 'was'." (and often erroneously attributing that as passive voice)

    This reminds me of a question that seriously irks me, though it isn't about stupid writing advice. It's the infamous question: Why should I care? You show somebody your first line or first three lines to your book and they ask, "Why should I care? I don't care about your character."

    Well blimming heck, it's been anywhere between 1-3 lines! It's not magic - you actually do need time to get anyone to invest emotionally and 3 lines isn't enough to make anyone love your character, which this whole "care" thing implies the reader should. It's the most unhelpful question ever. It took me forever to realise all people really mean is: I'm not interested. Being interested is quite a different ballgame from caring. I just have to be intrigued - I just have to have the vaguest question in my mind to push me to the next sentence. I don't have to care about the character, not yet, not really. "Care" implies a level of emotional investment that a single opening line simply does not allow.

    And the flippant nature of the question Why should I care? just makes me wanna punch the wall. You've decided to read this story, so be patient and give things time rather than shut the book before you've even tried to listen/read. It's like if I asked you to cook me dinner, and you go into the effort of doing so, then I come and sit at the dinner table and before I've even tasted the food, I say, "Well, why should I eat this?"

    Makes me wanna jump off a cliff.

    I have no idea why I sound so angry. My apologies. I guess this thread is supposed to be about stupid advice so there you go :D
     
  25. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    'Honey, so creative, and looks like dog food...'

    'Eat your fukking dog food, you schmuck. You asked for dog food, I give you dog food. And what do you know about dog food anyway, asshole?'

    'I'm just saying the presentation is unique in the curl, y'know?'

    'Eat it or don't eat it. I cooked, you swallow.'

    'But what is it exactly, what are you trying to say, chef?'

    'If you can't see that you got brain damage.'
     
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