The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

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lac582
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Re: The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

Post by lac582 » May 30th, 2010, 2:27 pm

I also think there is a distinction in using adverbs in description vs. using adverbs as part of dialogue tags. I think it's the latter that feels like lazier, or weaker, writing. There's a 'no dialogue tags other than said' rule, and the use of adverbs therein seems to add insult to injury for a lot of the rulemakers and make them lash out against adverbs generally.

I tend to take the attitude that adverbs aren't a problem until they become a problem. It's silly to avoid them or in critique have a knee-jerk red pen for them just because 'that's the rule'. It's a rule because it's a hallmark of amateurish writing because it tends to pull the reader out of the story by sounding awkward, or because there's just usually a stronger way of saying the same thing. If that's the case, change it. But if neither you nor a critique partner can articulate why it's not working other than 'the rule says no adverbs' - leave it alone!

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FK7
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Re: The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

Post by FK7 » May 30th, 2010, 3:24 pm

Very interested points you all made lac582, polymath and J.T. SHEA.

I think most agree that experienced writers see the rules more as guidelines, however, since most of us are debut authors (at least I am), I have to abide by the book. Just like as a medical student, we can't cut any corners even though we see our residents or attendings do it all the time. It's part of the learning process, and I understand that.

Still fun to poke at the rules though ;)

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Re: The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

Post by Erica75 » May 30th, 2010, 5:22 pm

Adverbs/adjectives can definitely (ha) be overdone. I haven't read through all the posts here, but it seems like this is the hot topic. They can be used by inexperienced writers (I'm including myself in this group) as part of the narrative. Since action should outweigh narrative in most books (can't say all or I'll get 199 exceptions listed here!), it best to include dialogue, body language, and action to get your point across, although no novel will be absent of them (nor should they). BTW: Yes, I use parentheses in my emails and posts, but I hate them in an ms :)

I have critiqued several partials by networking with published and unpublished authors. As an example, I went though the first 6 chapters of a YA fantasy and suggested the author may have used too much "flowery" language and adverbs/adjectives. The ms went from over 125,000 to 97,000 words by cutting them - without taking any of the story away. Now THAT's a lot of adverbs!!!
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Re: The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

Post by Daryl_Blonder » May 30th, 2010, 7:10 pm

I think a sign of weak writing is any use of the second person, except if the book is specifically written in it (very rare). It just looks very unsophisticated. For example, in my piece, (see the bold), I changed the passage,

"Harold Warp's Pioneer Village contains collections of all sorts of items and gadgets, from watches and lanterns, to automobiles and even small airplanes. They are displayed in the order they were invented. For example, in one building, individual Buicks are arranged in rows, from some of the earliest models developed, all the way up to 1990. You can walk down the rows and see the subtle differences in each one as the technology advanced, from the old antique cars all the way up to the models of the present day."

to,

"Harold Warp's Pioneer Village contains collections of all sorts of items and gadgets, from watches and lanterns, to automobiles and even small airplanes. They are displayed in the order they were invented. For example, in one building, individual Buicks are arranged in rows, from some of the earliest models developed, all the way up to 1990. The visitor can walk down the rows and see the subtle differences in each one as the technology advanced, from the old antique cars all the way up to the models of the present day."

It sounds SO much more professional.

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Re: The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

Post by dios4vida » May 31st, 2010, 12:45 pm

FK7 wrote:I also seem to like words like "gobsmacked" or "flabbergasted" for some reason. I definitely want to improve on my writing everywhere I could, but as I made some changes, it felt less natural... more "grammatically appropriate", perhaps "stronger", but it felt like I had sucked out the soul of the sentence to make it more physically attractive...
I think that if you took out all the words & phrases like this, your writing would lose a bit of its soul. These are part of your 'voice,' and what a unique voice to have where a word like gobsmacked fits in so naturally! (Small monster of jealously roars in my chest right about now.)

I tend to agree with most people here - if your writing is good, your story telling intriguing, and your characters memorable, it doesn't matter if you follow to rules of grammar to a "T." Things that are written with perfect grammar tend to sound more like textbooks than novels to me. I take a small bit of sinsiter pleasure in deliberately breaking a rule because it sounds better my way. :)
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Re: The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

Post by bcomet » May 31st, 2010, 12:57 pm

This is a great topic and thread. Thanks for it.

I also worry that crafting writing by the "rules" alone may pull too much of the voice out.

I tend to write intuitively. I listen to the characters and how they talk, act. Then, in editing, I wrestle with my inner editor over fixing them.
Will it help the writing or hurt the characterization?

For example, I have a YA and some of the characters use adverbs when they speak (not tags). Their speech and thoughts mature as they do.

Also,they have a different nationality background and that affects their use of language too. It doesn't read like generic American.

I love it when an actor says: "But my character wouldn't say it like that." A writer has to get inside their characters and hear them too. Not how would you say it, but how they would.

This is a place where having a professional, experienced editor or crit partner can lend an objective ear.

In my critique group, there was a debate about a piece of writing with "and's" in it. The majority, in spite of the many ands, felt them part of the melody and rhythm of the writing. Two just wanted shorter sentences. The writer elected to keep the melody of the many ands. But here is where a sophisticated and diverse critique group can be golden. Who is your audience?

Some people will throw long sentences* away with the book. Others will read them and be amazed.

(*A long sentence in not necessarily a run-on sentence. A run-on sentence is one with two or more complete ideas.)

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Re: The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

Post by maybegenius » May 31st, 2010, 5:19 pm

I have mixed feelings on this topic, mainly stemming from the fact (ooooh ack, I used "from the fact") that I'm a perfectionist. I *do* think that in fiction, there are few absolute rules, and any rule can be broken so long as its done deliberately, and done well. "Deliberately" and "well" being the key words. I think it's very easy for aspiring authors to look at bestselling novels and say, "This author broke rules X, Y and Z, and they're a bestseller! Obviously the 'rules' are a bunch of crap." Yeah, sometimes big name authors break the rules and sell a lot of books anyway. But that doesn't mean the rules are entirely useless.

There are reasons behind writing rules. Whether or not we agree with said reasons is another issue, but the reasons exist. From my point of view, I want to be a writer. I want it to be my career. As such, I want to understand everything about my career choice so I can make the most educated decisions and be the best I can be. I don't want to just go, "Pft, Stephen King doesn't follow the rules, so I'm not going to bother." To me, that feels disingenuous and lazy. As if I'd be finding an excuse for not doing the legwork (Googlework?) to understand why the rules are in place.

Once I'm well up on the reasoning behind the rules, then I can look at my personal style critically and decide what makes my writing stronger, and what I'm holding onto because I liked the way it sounded the first time I wrote it. Am I using the passive voice because it stylistically conveys the emotion of the passage, or am I using it because I've rewritten the passage six times already and I'm tired of looking at it? Sure, the goal of writing is to entertain, but just because many of the people buying my book aren't going to be bothered by repetitive dialogue tags, it doesn't mean that I'm going to be personally okay with knowing my writing could have been "better." But that's one of my own personal demons, really.

I think in regard to dialogue, it's an entirely different beast. If you're intentionally trying to convey that a character is young, or uneducated, or a non-native speaker, or something of that sort, then you're intentionally going to break English rules in order to show that. And that's totally okay - again, rules can be broken if done intentionally and well. You know why you're breaking grammar rules - you're trying to convey a character's speaking style.

With all that said, I agree that I don't fully understand why some people get so irate whenever an author steps a toe out of line. I can understand being exasperated when the writing itself is executed poorly, but when it's done well and with purpose, and it works, I don't understand why people would get their nose out of joint about it. Other than just being a stickler or using it as a way to feel above others.

You can do anything in fiction if you do it well. It's getting to the "doing it well" part that I think some of us get stuck on, lol. But that's okay. We can learn.
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Re: The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

Post by Margo » May 31st, 2010, 11:57 pm

maybegenius wrote:There are reasons behind writing rules. Whether or not we agree with said reasons is another issue, but the reasons exist. From my point of view, I want to be a writer. I want it to be my career. As such, I want to understand everything about my career choice so I can make the most educated decisions and be the best I can be. I don't want to just go, "Pft, Stephen King doesn't follow the rules, so I'm not going to bother." To me, that feels disingenuous and lazy. As if I'd be finding an excuse for not doing the legwork (Googlework?) to understand why the rules are in place.
GAWD, you saved me a lot of work. My thoughts exactly.
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Re: The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

Post by BrokenChain » June 1st, 2010, 1:10 am

FK7 wrote:
BrokenChain wrote:You need...

Clarity, authority, good story telling, and flow.
I'd agree on all. I think people are making a big deal out of authority. I've read books where the protagonist was somewhat passive (LOOKING FOR ALASKA) and unsure of him/herself, but it was a great book nevertheless.

BrokenChain wrote: You need to get rid of...

Adverbs
Never got the hate for adverbs. People say writing without adverb is stronger writing. Why? How do you quantify "weak" or "strong" writing based on adverbs?

In medicine, a patient is considered physically weak when certain biometrics reach certain thresholds. White cell count, temperature, weight, muscle tonicity, general affect, EEG, ECG, etc... it is not a matter of objectivity or subjectivity, or which criteria were picked by some arrogant suit somewhere as to what makes a patient weak. It's quantifiable. It's rational. It's science.

Someone telling me to get rid of all my adverbs, I don't take seriously. Who decided adverbs are evil? Why do they even exist if we shouldn't use them? It's totally ridiculous.

It probably happened like this: some guys felt pushy and knowledgeable, decided they should impart their OPINIONS on others as strongly as possible. Somehow, some of them managed, and their OPINION got inserted into manual of styles or other popular grammar books. Then they tried to push their OPINION as rules.

Grammar and style, in my opinion, are separate. I must have removed about 50% of my adverbs in my MS, those who are there now I feel should stay. I could remove them all and make it work, but I'd be like Michael Jackson without the nose issues. It just wouldn't have been the same.

My bad. I didn't mean ALL adverbs; that's absurd. I mean *most*.

No snob imparted his opinion on adverbs. The matter is that of intelligence in my humble opinion. Or at least careful attention. I'd venture that in most cases, the adverb in use is partly redundant because the noun or verb already implies the adverb's meaning. Or it is simply needless.

For example: "Kyle wandered along aimlessly."

The verb wandering implies aimlessness. Adding aimless is redundant.

Another: "Amy glared sharply."

A glare in itself is a sharp, intimidating look--adding sharply is just loose writing.

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Re: The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

Post by BrokenChain » June 1st, 2010, 1:41 am

FK7 wrote:@cheeky: I agree with you 100% about adverbs that are misused. You can't gasp a phrase, like you can't crow or snarl words. You can't whisper loudly. On the top of my head, there's a scene in my novel where a guy's girlfriend is playing the seducing game. "Hi, Gaby," she said teasingly.

Now, I could replace teasingly by a beat. However, doing so would require more words, and the adverb here does indicate something different. Saying "Hi" to tease/seduce someone, and saying "Hi" to your mother... well, I sure hope you don't use the same tone. I'm not here to judge though :)

Replacing the adverb with beats is what I do most of the time, but then, I am in TOTAL contradiction with one of Strunk's ultimate rule: use as few words as possible. Adverbs once in a while change the routine. It can be refreshing. But that's my inexperienced and amateur opinion. ;)

@J. T. SHEA: I'm sure I could have misunderstood what "authority" meant. I remembered a blog entry Nathan made recently, when he quoted our uberawesome sheriff Ink. Ink quoted Moby Dick's opening line "Call me Ishamel." Now, I've never read Moby-Dick (I know... shameful. It's on my list), but I suppose the novel is written in first person. I might have misinterpreted too, but it was clear to me how such a line would reflect authority. As a writer though, I'm still not sure what imparting authority means.

I used the medicine example because this is something I know well. Now, while it's true older doctors have the tendency to let go of their humanity, this is what they were thought in school. In the last ten years, there's been a revolution on how to train doctors. We're actually evaluated on our PR skills, and how we interact with patients. Failure to open with a proper interview and get the patient's feedback is enough to fail an evaluation.

Spirituality is a huge part of the profession, but it plays no part in the differential or diagnosis process. It all comes down to exact and precise science, and this includes the patient's story. However, like Dr. House says all the time, people lie. All the time. But tests don't lie, so you find the line in the middle.

In the end I suppose this is all a moot point, I just like debating or discussing all sorts of topics. My amazing new critique partner (which I was lucky to meet here no less) opened my eyes to my problem with punctuation in a dialogue. More specifically, the comma with interjections. I know the rule is the comma has to be there, but saying

"Jesus Simon, you didn't tell me it'd take half of the lab's space!" and "Jesus, Simon, you didn't tell me it'd take half of the lab's space!" are different in tone and flow. The second is the grammatically correct form, but in real speech, people don't say "Jesus (PAUSE) Simon (PAUSE) you didn't tell me..." they say "Jesus Simon (PAUSE) you didn't tell me..." In the end, I'm sure the copyeditor or the editor will change the punctuation no matter what I do, but it still annoys me.
"Hi Gaby," she said teasingly. Sounds weirdish to me. lol

There's no need to contradict strunk in this case. "Hi, Gaby," she teased. Is perfectly acceptible if you don't like said and prefer a more...descriptive dialogue tag. Personally I don't prefer to replace said, but sometimes I do; like we all agree, sometimes those rules have to be broken--but sparingly. In many cases, a quick sentence about the character's action can let on to the teasing or whatever.

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Re: The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

Post by Margo » June 1st, 2010, 9:40 am

BrokenChain wrote: There's no need to contradict strunk in this case. "Hi, Gaby," she teased. Is perfectly acceptible if you don't like said and prefer a more...descriptive dialogue tag. Personally I don't prefer to replace said, but sometimes I do; like we all agree, sometimes those rules have to be broken--but sparingly. In many cases, a quick sentence about the character's action can let on to the teasing or whatever.
I was reluctant to pointed out earlier that "she teased" is technically telling rather than showing and could be handled with supporting action or (even better) dialogue that expresses teasing.

That is one of the "strong writing" versus "weak writing" issues. Like everything else, a writer can absolutely have too much showing, but I have frankly never seen it so I have never seen the point of discussing the dangers of too much showing. Ditto for tension and conflict. I know there are writers who have a good grasp of when they actually can use adverbs and more adjectives and even a few bookisms without coming off flat or flowery or distracting (weak writing), but those are rarely writers in their earlier stages of development.

I'm afraid I don't understand the conclusion that the "rules" (guidelines would be a better word, I think) are arbitrary and based on some random writer's superiority complex when people freely admit they have never understood the point of particular rules. Understanding and disagreeing I get. Not understanding and disagreeing, on the other hand...
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Re: The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

Post by J. T. SHEA » June 1st, 2010, 11:06 am

Excellent points, Margo. I HAVE seen writers showing too much, particularly unimportant filler stuff. There is a time and place for telling and summary.

FK7's post refers to a scene 'where a guy's girlfriend is playing the seducing game.' So I assume there is supporting action and dialogue expressing teasing. I just suggested a shorter attribution for the single line of dialogue FK7 quoted.

I like 'said' myself, but I often replace it with some other single word. That does not preclude additional action or dialogue.

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Re: The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

Post by polymath » June 1st, 2010, 11:19 am

He said, She teased, She said teasingly, why not? No great reasons why not, unless used in burdensomely repetitive frequency.

Really, why not? Because they're writer/narrator reporting directly to readers, Direct Discourse, the dreaded tell. "He said" is mostly invisible. From not being necessarily dramatic, not even worth an eyeblink. Not really even read consciously. For when fast pace is needed, staccato like. Said tags are writer dialogue labeling, shorthand discourse marking for the benefit of readers.

"Teased" is a dramatic action. Dramatic action depicts causation, tension, and/or antagonism. Teasing patently has a causal purpose: coyness, flirting, harassment, whatever. An actor asks a director, "What's my motivation?" Telling she teased Gabe overlooks an opportunity to characterize her and/or Gabe's motivations from either or both their perspectives reported by a narrator. Indirect Discourse, indirect reporting to readers. Portraying her emotional state instead of telling she teased Gabe provides context for readers to decide for themselves what she's doing.

"Teasingly" slides farther into telling realms. Narrator interpreting her speaking action for readers. Telling readers what to think, what to feel, and not very clearly either, not without depicting her motivation.

"She teased" and "She said teasingly" aren't exactly timely depictions of action. They're given in close proximity to the dialogue, but are after-action reporting. They stall forward plot flow momentarily. Putting them in front of the dialogue illustrates: She teased, "Hi, Gabe." She said teasingly, "Hi, Gabe."

Recast;

"Hi, Gabe." She fluttered her eyelashes, and darted back to her chair shaking her moneymaker.

or

"Hi, Gabe." Her eyelashes fluttered. She darted back to her chair shaking her moneymaker.

Note, "moneymaker" might depict something Gabe and/or she personally think of her actions, an "estranging metaphor" that estranges narrator from personal viewpoint character perception and thought. Free Indirect Discourse.

The single best writing advice I've encountered is to slow down, don't rush through scenes just to accommodate some arbitrary word count, make every word count though.
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Re: The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

Post by FK7 » June 1st, 2010, 2:32 pm

Margo wrote: I'm afraid I don't understand the conclusion that the "rules" (guidelines would be a better word, I think) are arbitrary and based on some random writer's superiority complex
Not all rules (or guidelines). Some, however, are.

I read a story from a fellow writer every day about how some teacher in some college or university went Rambo-style on the students, forcing them to take out all adverbs, or all the "that", or other ridiculous expectations that seem to lobotomize a writer a lot more than improving the overall writing.

That's basically the basis of this whole thread. Teachers or scholars like those described above. I despise all people who heir in all black or all white, and who are unable to see the gray tones in anything. Be it writing, politics or religion, people like that are in my opinion unable to think for themselves. They're the same people who will believe anything CNN reports, without questioning the facts. There's another word for people like that, but it wouldn't be politically correct.

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Re: The rules of "stronger" writing... lol?

Post by polymath » June 1st, 2010, 3:02 pm

What might be an underlying, if not forgotten, purpose for a professor's proscription of adverbs, empty prepositions like that and of and which, discourse markers like you know, well, like, okay, uh-huh, not starting a sentence with a conjunction, or second-person implied imperative address?

Fostering a learning environment for developing stronger writing skills. A writing exercise for one of my fiction workshops proscribed article usage, special emphasis on the.

In other words, fostering learning to think effectively for one's self without the crutches of everyday conversational language usage interferring with one's dynamically creative writing.
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