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When does two viewpoints same scene work?

Bondi Beach

I'm reading an engaging story—three or four chapters now and no sex yet but I'm still interested. That's my working definition of "engaging."

The story is told in first-person by MC1. However, the author chose to retell a few scenes in first-person by MC2. There seems to be some possibility this alternating narrator thing will continue in future chapters.

The retelling does not add anything significant to what we've already been shown by the interactions between MCs 1 and 2. In other words, the things MC2 now tells us are things we already saw in MC2's conversations with MC1 and the way each responded to things the other said.

The retelling scenes do not appear to advance the plot. They're a distraction. They don't even add interesting color.

So my short answer to the question posed is "Never," but I'm soliciting examples where you think it does work, and why. How did the author succeed in carrying it off?

bb

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

It's a technique commonly employed by newbie authors, trying to convey how two different people observe the same event (i.e. how they respond to different things), but as you noted, there's really little difference between the two scenes. It may be possible to do it efficiently, assuming you focus entirely on their perceptions and not the ordinary details (i.e. a woman noticing how everyone is dressed, while the guy focuses on everyone's actions), but I've never seen it done well.

In the end, the essential question is does repeating the scene avoid the annoyance factor. The answer is almost universally no, which is why more experienced authors avoid such repeats.

That's not to say they're entirely avoidable. I've got a scene in my newest, just I have periodically, where someone describes occurances in the past. In those cases, you're largely forced to repeat details the readers is already familiar with, but you try to keep it as short and to the point as possible, while interspersing it with reaction shots of the characters involved so the readers will watch for the next revelation to see how everyone responds. Other than that, I avoid them as much as possible.

P.S. A better solution might be using a Sherlock Holmes approach. Instead of repeating the exact same scene, you have someone else observe what the first person missed, focusing on the overlooked details. Thus Holmes would walk around the room. As Watson asks what he hopes to find, Sherlock keeps turning up entirely new clues, and explaining what they mean as he does.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


It may be possible to do it efficiently, assuming you focus entirely on their perceptions and not the ordinary details ... but I've never seen it done well.


I have seen it done VERY well, when the new information fired up my imagination about how MC1 may have acted differently if they had known what MC2 was thinking.

It should work well if the author is not just providing new and interesting details, but those new details are interesting because they were not known to the other character.

Replies:   Not_a_ID
Ernest Bywater

@Bondi Beach

I'm soliciting examples where you think it does work, and why. How did the author succeed in carrying it off?


A couple of times I've used first person point of view and switched characters during a scene. However, how I usually handle it is to have the scene as the final scene in a chapter, then open the new chapter with the other character and go over the final part of the last scene from their PoV to help entrench the situation in the reader's mind, or the next chapter will start a little before that and have that scene as an overlap to show where they join. In either case the duplicated section is very short and just enough to show they're a join point.

awnlee jawking

@Bondi Beach

I'm slowly ploughing my way through a SOL story with a very high rating in which MC1 narrates their view of the scene then MC2 narrates their view of the same scene. I don't know whether it's deliberate or not but the two accounts differ slightly. I'm not a fan of the 'unreliable narrator' technique, although I've enjoyed the occasional story where it's been done well.

Not being able to recall any positive examples, I share your scepticism.

AJ

Not_a_ID

@Ross at Play

I have seen it done VERY well, when the new information fired up my imagination about how MC1 may have acted differently if they had known what MC2 was thinking.

It should work well if the author is not just providing new and interesting details, but those new details are interesting because they were not known to the other character.


Pretty much this. However, clearing that same proverbial bar usually means most authors who make the attempt fail to do so, and it just becomes annoying filler to churn through.

docholladay

@Bondi Beach

In my opinion that is best done in a later book or story with same MC where new major characters want a little more background information on the MC. Most of the time it would seem to be bragging if done by the MC. But when done by other characters who have known the MC for a long time. They can do it in such a way that it actually can embarrass the MC making it fun to read. But it should be at least one story back in time otherwise it could interfere with current plot line. It has to be something from the past of the character being talked about, but otherwise not included in the current plot or story. Its a method that can give a little personal information on a character. (not limited to main character)

Its like real life, any good worker wants to know about their boss. The boss might not talk about it but other workers just might tell a few funny stories about something the boss did or something that happened to the boss. Its something from the past but informative for the new worker.

Switch Blayde

@Bondi Beach

I find it boring and typically stop reading. And it's even worse when told in 1st-person.

I remember two movies I saw that did it. I hated both. One I think was called "Vantage Point" which kept showing the same scene from different POVs. I don't remember the other one, but it was about a boy and girl and told every scene from both perspectives, alternating from one to the other. Boring.

Now the movie "Courage Under Fire" gave a different account of a scene from different viewpoints, but that was intertwined in the investigation. That was interesting.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer  Argon
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Now the movie "Courage Under Fire" gave a different account of a scene from different viewpoints, but that was intertwined in the investigation. That was interesting.

I've seen that technique used successfully, but it's often told in flashbacks, so instead of the same scene being repeated, each flashback provides more detail about the initial scene, which was never fully explained beforehand. That way, the author doesn't simply rehash old details, but reveals information relevant to the investigation. It's also a favorite for psychological stories, where the MC may not remember details accurately (though remaining unsure about their guilt or innocence).

However, flashbacks are another technique which is difficult to master.

Argon

@Switch Blayde

Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon retold the same event, a murder, from the viewpoints of four people. It is considered one of the great movies of all time.

Ernest Bywater

Many years ago I participated in a training exercise about what you see when you witness something. Small groups of us were spread around an area with a camera set up in front of us looking at the same place. Then the action started, three people raced out of a building and got into a car which drove away. Whole thing over in less than 2 minutes. We all had to write down what we saw. Then we had lunch and sat in a classroom while everyone read out what they wrote down at the time. In most cases the majority of what was written by the five people in each group matched very well with the rest of their group, however, when we compared the reports from the different group you'd think it was four different events that were being reported on. When the camera views were played it showed what each group reported was close to what they saw from their position.

The purpose of the exercise was to show that not everyone saw the same thing from the same spot, and a change of position will change what you see and perceive. It also showed that people can truthfully report significant differences in an event that appear to be inconsistent but are actually true. The last part was due to the car having an odd two tone paint job where the roof, bonnet, and boot were white, while the left side of the car had blue panels and the right side of the car had red panels and no one group was able to see both sides at any point in the exercise.

On aspect of that was we all learned no two people ever see things the same way despite being right there. Thus the stories where you have two point of view that are almost the same aren't realistic at all. The way the movies portray a scene from two cameras showing things very different during the dialogue are more real because people notice more than just the face of the person in front of them.

Argon

@Bondi Beach

I can recall Colt45 using the technique in his Mayhem series, in particular the second story. He let most of his characters alternate as 1st person narrators, and he pulled it off well.
Oyster50 in Dorable also makes use of it.
There is some use in it if different viewpoints bring out the main characters' motivations, or when tying two separate plot lines into one.
I used it in my newbie effort In The Navy when my MCs were separated but forced to meet socially, but there was little actual overlap between the events. WHether it worked, I will leave to the readers.

Replies:   docholladay
docholladay
Updated:

@Argon


WHether it worked, I will leave to the readers.


I find readers are like writers, each of us see different things in a story.

Although maybe I shouldn't say this, but I have come to believe from watching the forums. That any writer's worst critics are other writers including themselves.

edited to add one word.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@docholladay

That any writer's worst critics are other writers including themselves.


I really critique my writing and stories, but my editors make me look like a beginner in criticising the writing.

Replies:   docholladay
docholladay

@Ernest Bywater

True enough Ernest. But then you and the majority of the writers here seem to spend days finding any and all possible errors with a story. Most of the time its to try and improve your skills for future stories.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@docholladay

Most of the time its to try and improve your skills for future stories.


True, but also take what I've learned and go back over the stories I've written to see if I can polish them up a bit more. The end result is they become an easier read. The other aspect is the many threads discussing how to write and craft a story also leave me thinking about ways and means to do better in the next story, and also help me to not try to use ways that don't appear to work.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

The other aspect is the many threads discussing how to write and craft a story also leave me thinking about ways and means to do better in the next story, and also help me to not try to use ways that don't appear to work.

I think education is only half learning how to do things, the other half being what NOT to try in the first place. That's why the school of hard knocks has such a high attendance, but such a low graduation rate.

Replies:   docholladay
docholladay

@Crumbly Writer

That's why the school of hard knocks has such a high attendance, but such a low graduation rate.


That education cycle never ends. I have never heard of anyone really graduating from that one.

Dicrostonyx

@Bondi Beach

I think you might be conflating two things, though it's understandable why you would. Switching viewpoints during a scene, even with some overlapping content, isn't quite the same as retelling the scene from a different point of view. There probably are cases where the latter would work, but they're rare.

I think that one of the causes of this kind of technique is that a lot of new writers haven't yet learned what NOT to include. Making it worse, a good author needs to keep track of details not on the page. This is especially common in fantasy & SF where the author will spend pages and pages setting up their world before the action begins rather than just throwing the reader in and explaining points as they go.

Even published authors fall into this trap sometimes. One novel I tried to read years ago started with a dry explanation of the "history" of space travel and colonisation; after ten pages I checked and saw there were another sixty of that so I just put the book down and never looked at it again. And that was from a best-selling author, though granted it was an early novel.

Other than doing alternate points of view in later books/ stories, the best I've seen this done is when two different authors handle the different points of view. The plot/ story was a collaborative effort, but the POV would switch back and forth. In addition to it not generally being identical scenes, having separate authors made each character's voice feel distinct.

On a similar vein, I'm currently planning a story that touches on this idea, but it's more just a switching POV as the story evolves. The basic idea is that the story would start from the POV of a girl who is sexually abused in the home and what she does to survive psychologically. Later, the story would shift to the POV of a character who is bullied in highschool and sees the first char. as just another cheerleader bitch, unaware of how she got that way. Finally, the story would end from the POV of the second girl's future lover. Each character and story would have some overlap but wouldn't be a complete retelling.

Replies:   Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach
Updated:

@Dicrostonyx


I think you might be conflating two things, though it's understandable why you would. Switching viewpoints during a scene, even with some overlapping content, isn't quite the same as retelling the scene from a different point of view. There probably are cases where the latter would work, but they're rare.


I may not have been as clear as I should have been. I was not referring to a change in point of view. For example:

"He walked into the room and headed straight for the bar and poured himself a scotch. And another.

"She watched him from her seat in the corner beside the dresser. She saw that he'd evidently missed the shoes peeking from beneath the curtain and the revolver barrel slowly extending from between the folds of the curtain, because if he had noticed he surely would have done something about it.

"As it turned out it didn't matter. The figure behind the curtain tripped and fell flat tangled up in the fabric, and one quick swing with the bottle of scotch was enough to keep him quiet until the police arrived.

"Shame about the scotch, however."

There you go. Three points of view (two 3rd limited, one 3rd universal). [EDIT: Oops. It's really one 3rd universal and one 3rd limited.] Moves the plot forward. No significant repetition. No sweat.

No, I referred to the practice, often in first-person but not always, when one character narrates the scene, and then a second character narrates the scene (or a chapter with one or more scenes---doesn't matter) but the second character does not tell us anything new.

EDIT: In other words, it's a change in point of view, yes, but not one that advances the plot or tells us anything important that we hadn't already learned.

So I asked if anyone had seen it done successfully and why it worked.

I confess I don't get the idea of chapters alternating between authors (why?), but am always up for seeing it done well.


In addition to it not generally being identical scenes, having separate authors made each character's voice feel distinct.


George R. R. Martin does this in Game of Thrones, where each chapter is from the point of view of a different character, and sometimes cover the same scene, but not often.

bb

Oyster

Strangely enough a good (or okay) example popped into my mind before the bad ones streamed in.

http://storiesonline.net/s/14794/blue-topaz-eyes
(2 chapters, 84kb, so not too long for a quick read)

Todd_d172 accomplishes it by keeping it short, not reusing complete sentences/paragraphs and by adding something meaningful to the story.
Could it have been handled differently? Definitely, but it would have completely changed the style and flow of the story.

The bad examples...well, the less said about them the better. One that really irked me is where an author spent nearly 14 out of 28 chapters to get a second group (that the reader already knew about from the first book) to the location of the first book's climax without adding much of significance.

In most cases it would be much better, shorter and more interesting to have the characters talk to each other afterwards and reminisce about the shared experience.
That way one can show that they are getting closer or evolving their relationship and still show both POVs.

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin

@Oyster

without adding much of significance.

Some authors used to get paid by the word, so long and flowery descriptions got the same pay or more than short passages with lots of plot. Come to think of it, its the same way here, authors get nothing for each word.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@richardshagrin

Some authors used to get paid by the word, so long and flowery descriptions got the same pay or more than short passages with lots of plot.


Then later, publishers got concerned that printing costs were the most expensive part of publishing a book, so they pushed for shorter more concise works.

Come to think of it, its the same way here, authors get nothing for each word.


No, it's a quite different dynamic here.

Some are blindly stuck in the standards of the traditional dead tree publishers, while others see that the space here is largely free, that there is little cost but effort, and see little to no value in being deliberately economical with words.

Bondi Beach
Updated:

@Dominions Son


Some are blindly stuck in the standards of the traditional dead tree publishers, while others see that the space here is largely free, that there is little cost but effort, and see little to no value in being deliberately economical with words.


My wife is deep into the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, and now the TV series as well. Gabaldon has done eight volumes so far, c. 800 pages each, with a ninth and tenth promised. To hear my wife tell it, every detail (and there are a gazillion and a half of them) matters.

To me it's beginning to sound like Gabaldon keeps thinking up messes for the two, Claire and Jamie, to get into, and she's mining 18th century Scottish and American histories to do it.

One will need more than one's garden-variety sex story, no matter how many guys and gals get boffed or how far back into prehistoric times they go, to capture a dead tree publisher's interest, however.

OTOH historical costume romances continue to be big. If the sex is very very good---and according to my spouse in Outlander it is, in the books as well as the TV series---so much the better.

bb

Perv Otaku

All the attempts at this I've seen would have been better off done in 3rd person omniscient.

In one of my stories I had a flashback bit told to the MC by the two people who were there. They spoke to her separately but for convenience of the reader I alternated between the two first-person retellings to put things in chronological order. Some parts only one or the other was present for. Anything they were both there for, for the purposes of segue, I had one describe it in detail and the other gloss over it.

If anybody does this Rashomon-style, the entire point is each person having a dramatically different perspective or memory on what happened. Most stories I've seen using this technique just describe the exact damn thing twice.

Harold Wilson

@Bondi Beach

I would say, "rarely." And add, "Almost never on SOL."

Retelling the same events from a different POV only adds value when, and only to the extent that, new information is being provided.

Since the sequence of events will be the same *in the author's mind,* it's unlikely that there will be much new information unless it is character-related -- that is, impressions, reactions, prejudices, emotions.

I see it tried far too often on SOL. I almost always abandon the story at that point. Because there is almost never enough new information being provided to make it worth the nuisance of re-reading what is frequently the same set of paragraphs with a few slight changes.

Frequently, it's a "gimmick". That is, some one thing gets missed, or omitted, or misinterpreted by a character. The author thinks s/he's cleverly explaining why the police sergeant hates the private eye, or whatever. In reality, it could be explained in a short paragraph and the repetition left out.

One writer that does it, quite well, is L. M. Bujold. Her "Vorkosigan" series has a small few of these retellings. Sometimes, she just head-jumps and explains the interpretation from two sides. One chapter might end with two characters parting, told from one side. The next chapter will pick up from the other side with a paragraph or two explaining how the viewpoint character (mis-)perceives things, and then continue.

Other times, she has retold entire scenes. But she does so in different *books,* and usually from a radically different point of view, so it's not as irritating.

I would say that the most likely way for the concept to "work," is when different people are explaining their (different) memories of a common event. For example, when the police are interviewing witnesses. Even then, a "police procedural" would be better suited than a Hercule Poirot novel for this sort of thing.

Replies:   Ross at Play  sejintenej
Ross at Play

@Harold Wilson

Even then, a "police procedural" would be better suited than a Hercule Poirot novel for this sort of thing.

It's been tried and doesn't work for police procedurals either.
It was tried for a show called Boomtown, which aired on NBC 2002-3. Every episode showed the complete story from the perspective of different characters - one character after another, e.g. first the victim, then a detective, the criminal, a lawyer.
The critics gave it good reviews and it was nominated for various awards; but audience numbers were always low, it was quickly shunted off to a less important time slot, the innovative style was abandoned after the first season, and it was still cancelled early in its second season.

sejintenej

@Harold Wilson

I would say, "rarely." And add, "Almost never on SOL."

My Journey - book 3 by Xalir. Start of this story and (ISTR) twice in the previous book

Community 2 and Community 3, both by Oyster 50.

In these cases it works but I have seen a few other cases where it didn't work

Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

Some are blindly stuck in the standards of the traditional dead tree publishers, while others see that the space here is largely free, that there is little cost but effort, and see little to no value in being deliberately economical with words.

That depends on what you mean by "being deliberately economical with words". I do see great value in being deliberately economical with words that do not add meaning to sentence.

To avoid using terms that may carry connotations for others, I ask do you mean: the scope of the work, or the efficiency of the language?
Gabaldon has apparently already written 8 volumes of 800+ pages each. Does that make her writing verbose? Not necessarily! The scope of her stories is very broad, but I would be surprised if her writing style was not quite efficient. If that was inefficient it's unlikely any dead tree publisher would ever have become interested in her writing.

I have no problem with her writing in a style that is slow. Some people prefer Merchant-Ivory movies; others like action blockbusters. There is a place for both.

What I hate is very inefficient language: when a writer could be conveying the same information and descriptive details in significantly less words. I find some popular writers on this site almost unreadable because with a little effort and skill they could be telling exactly the same story much more succinctly. I mean things like the frequent use of 'that', 'there was', and 'and then' that could simply be pruned without changing the meaning of sentences one iota.

I have no problem with writers using many nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to tell their story. What I hate is when they use far more of the common connecting words than are essential to create coherent and smooth-flowing sentences: extra words that are not adding to the meaning of sentences. Other frequent problems are excessive use of quantifiers (e.g. 'very') and modal verbs (e.g. 'start to').

I find a pretty reliable indicator of an author who is not trying to write well, or does not know how is the repetitions of noun (phrases) within the same paragraph. They are rarely essential, and can usually be eliminated by arranging ideas in the right order - which often allows either pronouns to be substituted or chunks of text to be cut by employing parallel structures.

I do not think that the monetary cost of extra words has ever been an issue for dead tree publishers. I think they've always insisted that language must be efficient, and rightly so, because it's always more enjoyable for readers when exactly the same story can be told using fewer pages.

sejintenej

@Ross at Play

I have no problem with writers using many nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to tell their story. What I hate is when they use far more of the common connecting words than are essential to create coherent and smooth-flowing sentences: extra words that are not adding to the meaning of sentences.

If an author wants his/her story to be remembered perhaps the use of connecting words should be discouraged.
On a communication course we had to pass a message around a group, changing the words but not the meaning at each stage.
What we discovered was that if you use SHORT clear sentences the meaning is not distorted after a dozen retellings.
Connecting words make sentences longer and more liable to mistakes

Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

To avoid using terms that may carry connotations for others, I ask do you mean: the scope of the work, or the efficiency of the language?


What the fuck do you even mean by efficiency of the language?

What I hate is very inefficient language: when a writer could be conveying the same information and descriptive details in significantly less words.


This is exactly what I object to, this strange obsession with insisting on using the fewest words possible.

I mean things like the frequent use of 'that', 'there was', and 'and then' that could simply be pruned without changing the meaning of sentences one iota.


If the meaning is not change one iota by removing them, then it is not changed by leaving them in. Removing them does not and can not reduce confusion.

Oh my god, it took you an extra 10 milliseconds to read the sentence, my heart bleeds for you!

Dominions Son

@sejintenej

What we discovered was that if you use SHORT clear sentences the meaning is not distorted after a dozen retellings.


That's important for oral communication, but meaningless for written works.

Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

Oh my god, it took you an extra 10 milliseconds to read the sentence

... and that is what makes a lot of amateur writing so awful!
We clearly understand each other's opinions about what constitutes good writing, and they could hardly be more different.
All of those milliseconds add up and in my opinion make a vast difference to the enjoyment of readers.
I agree it is an obsession of mine, but it's not strange. It is what dead tree publishers insist on - because those that did not all went out of business.
I've never read any of your stories, but thanks for the warning. I would not want to read anything written by someone who holds the views you appear to be expressing.

Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

We clearly understand each other's opinions about what constitutes good writing, and they could hardly be more different.


Clearly, you do not understand my opinion. I am not advocating for the opposite extreme from you.

I agree it is an obsession of mine, but it's not strange.


The obsessed never think that their obsessions are strange.

Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

The obsessed never think that their obsessions are strange.

With this particular obsession, I believe it is not strange, and is in fact closer to the 'accepted wisdom' among those who make money from the publishing of works of fiction, which is about as good a guide about what constitutes good writing as it's possible to find..

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

'accepted wisdom'


Accepted wisdom is not always wise and is vulnerable to group think.

among those who make money from the publishing of works of fiction


And yet you think cost has no impact on this "wisdom"

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ernest Bywater

@Dominions Son


If the meaning is not change one iota by removing them, then it is not changed by leaving them in. Removing them does not and can not reduce confusion.


Basically this is true, but not always so.

It really comes down to how relevant it is to the story. As a classic example was a scene in Shiloh - the original took about 1,000 words to describe a room in fine detail. After discussion with The Scot he reduced the description to about 150 words because all the fine detail of the cloth patterns wasn't relevant to the story and the long flowery descriptions only detracted from the story.

In short, what you write has to be relevant and not detracting.

Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

Clearly, you do not understand my opinion. I am not advocating for the opposite extreme from you.

I understood that.
Did you understand I do not advocate the opposite extreme from you?

I do think it is very important to eliminate MOST words when doing so does not alter the meaning. I DO NOT advocate eliminating EVERY such word. That can be as dull as being satisfied with the first grammatically correct sentence you find that conveys the meaning you want.

In my opinion, reducing reading time does make a big difference to readers' enjoyment - but that is not the most important reason for seeking to reduce word counts in most situations.

The most important reason I see for doing that is it increases authors' ability to convey subtle nuances. If succinct language is used most of the time authors can then use expanded forms occasionally to add stress, and convey nuances that are not possible when their language is usually verbose.
If you do not agree that is so there is no point in us continuing on with any further exchanges on this point.

Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

@Ross at Play
among those who make money from the publishing of works of fiction

@Dominions Son
And yet you think cost has no impact on this "wisdom"

PRECISELY! The cost of extra paper is utterly trivial. The only relevant thing is potential sales.

Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

Connecting words make sentences longer and more liable to mistakes

They also require more mental gymnastics to figure out. Breaking one long complex sentence into several short simple sentences is almost always more efficient, simply because each sentence conveys a single idea. If the reader is obligated to carry one idea across several subtopics, it wears on them and they tend to get distracted and miss the point.

That's why I often set the mostly arbitrary limit of 20 word sentences. I'll allow longer sentences if it's needed, but I find I can usually prune them without hurting the story, and they end up working better.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I've never read any of your stories, but thanks for the warning. I would not want to read anything written by someone who holds the views you appear to be expressing.

Play nice, boys. You can respectfully disagree without insulting each other. That's how bridges get burned (or lunatics elected).

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

lunatics elected


Please don't insult lunatics by associating us with politicians. :)

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Breaking one long complex sentence into several short simple sentences is almost always more efficient, simply because each sentence conveys a single idea.


Yes, but sometimes you want to slow the pace down. Not everything needs to happen at breakneck speed.

If the reader is obligated to carry one idea across several subtopics, it wears on them and they tend to get distracted and miss the point.


Seriously? Are you writing for 1st graders or adults?

Personally, I find that kind of writing outside of fast paced action scenes to be very annoying, it feels as if the writer is insulting my intelligence.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Play nice, boys.

I was not being critical of writing I have not read.
I was clear about the things in writing I hate, and why.
It appears he is saying he thinks those things are okay.
If that is so, what else can I say other than, "Not interested"?

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

If the reader is obligated to carry one idea across several subtopics, it wears on them and they tend to get distracted and miss the point.
That's why I often set the mostly arbitrary limit of 20 word sentences.

It works for me!
You are one of the few writers I've found on the site whose language does NOT get my inner editor jumping up and down, and wanting to take a chainsaw to all the superfluous words I spot. ;)
I wholeheartedly agree writers should avoid obliging readers to 'carry one idea across several subtopics'. When that is done effectively I find lengthy sentences become less of a problem. I find they are generally okay provided readers can sequentially process ideas completely one after another.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
sejintenej

@Crumbly Writer

They also require more mental gymnastics to figure out. Breaking one long complex sentence into several short simple sentences is almost always more efficient, simply because each sentence conveys a single idea. If the reader is obligated to carry one idea across several subtopics, it wears on them and they tend to get distracted and miss the point.

Dominions Son may well disagree but you are writing for highly educated university graduates and for people who didn't deserve to get out of high school.

This is an extreme example and I was the victim. I had to translate into English a publicity brochure of two pages, about A4 size, at a guess Ariel 10 point closely printed. Page one had a one eighth page size illustration and the rest was printed material. That "rest" was made up of just TWO sentences including multiple adjectives, adjectival clauses etc. etc. A real nightmare; my translation of that page was five paragraphs (I forget how many sentences) and I omitted the majority of the multitudinous flowery rubbish and kept the meat covering a new oil industry engineering park.

Keep sentences short as you do.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@sejintenej

This is an extreme example and I was the victim.


I don't disagree that extremes going the other way are bad. Both extremes should be avoided.

but you are writing for highly educated university graduates and for people who didn't deserve to get out of high school.


I rather doubt that there is any significant number of people who didn't deserve to get out of high school that are interested in recreational reading.

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Personally, I find that kind of writing outside of fast paced action scenes to be very annoying, it feels as if the writer is insulting my intelligence.

Again, I'm not applying it willy-nilly, but just to my longest sentences (those over 20-30 words), and only then if the sentences can stand alone without losing something. I didn't come to this realization lightly, as I've always written complicated sentences. It's one of my signature styles, but I've learned the story is strengthened by reviewing the sentences and paring a few of them down.

However, like Ross, I question your utter refusal to even consider such a step. You don't need to focus on it as intently as us, but your utter rejection of the concept seems a bit ... absolute. I wonder what you mother did to you as a child to cause such a response now?

As far as slowing down the pace, I typically do that with reflective passages, where the characters reflect on the meaning of events, rather than on recording specific actions and events. Those sections do include much longer sentences, but they also become more difficult to decipher, thus my concern when I encounter them.

However, to balance our argument about this topic, I've whittled down my writing style significantly, discovering I couldn't edit my stories down in size, so I decided to write using fewer words. That's helped my writing style, but readers aren't as happy (my scores have generally been down since I adopted it). I'm addressing it by increasing my chapter sizes and exploring more 'slow, reflective passages', so all too much focus on 'efficiency' isn't ideal. Instead, it's a learning process. You eventually realize you've got to learn a new way to compose sentences, and you go overboard, only to pull back once you realize the effects the changes have. However, I'm still glad I've struggled with it as much as I have, because I'm slowly becoming the author I eventually want to be.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

I wonder what you mother did to you as a child to cause such a response now?

Play nice, boys. ;)

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

You are one of the few writers I've found on the site whose language does NOT get my inner editor jumping up and down, and wanting to take a chainsaw to all the superfluous words I spot. ;)

In that case, I suggest you check out the first chapters in my early stories, either "Catalyst" ("An Unknown Attraction") or "The Great Death" ("Love and Family During the Great Death"), and compare my earlier techniques with my newer style. You may be surprised at the differences.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

I suggest you check out the first chapters (of an early story), "The Great Death" ("Love and Family During the Great Death")

They are the very chapters I did read and my inner editor approved of so highly.
If you're saying you now think your sentences were too long, I had no problems reading them.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

, I question your utter refusal to even consider such a step. You don't need to focus on it as intently as us, but your utter rejection of the concept seems a bit ... absolute.


Here is where you make your mistake. It's not the step I reject, so much as I reject your intense focus on it. In anything where one extreme is problematic, the other extreme also tends to be problematic.

You call my rejection absolute, yet I see not one tiny speck of moderation in your descriptions of this step.

You, Ross, and sejintenej make it sound like you consider that one step the entirety of the difference between good writing and bad. That is what I reject.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Dominions Son


You, Ross, make it sound like you consider that one step the entirety of the difference between good writing and bad.


Not 'the entirety', but one of a several types of problems that can, by itself, make writing bad.

I have also stressed that it should not be taken to the extreme, and it is the judicious choices of when not to do so that provides authors with the greatest flexibility to convey subtle nuances.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

You call my rejection absolute, yet I see not one tiny speck of moderation in your descriptions of this step.

In mine, I use my 'arbitrary limit' as a guide, rather than as a rule. It simply notes something that's worth checking to ensure there isn't an issue, rather than something that has to be changed.

When did reviewing chapters and making revisions become an unpardonable sin? I'm not saying you can't write long, complex sentences, or that they necessarily need to be modified, just that it's worth considering.

@Ross

They are the very chapters I did read and my inner editor approved of so highly.
If you're saying you now think your sentences were too long, I had no problems reading them.

Thanks a lot. Essentially, you're echoing what my readers seem to be saying in their scores, that DS is right and that I'm obsessing over something they have no issues with.

I'd like to think all this effort is paying off in the long run.

On the plus side, while my scores have dropped, my book sales and positive reviews have climbed, so it's a bit of a mixed bag. Instead, I see it as more a reflection that I like tackling difficult topics and oddball techniques which don't always pan out.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

you're echoing what my readers seem to be saying

My gut feeling is the thing you were already getting right back then in long sentences was not obliging readers to 'carry one idea across several subtopics'.

Dominions Son
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

*Edited

When did reviewing chapters and making revisions become an unpardonable sin?


I've never said that it was.

What I have questioned is all about what revisions and why.


I'm not saying you can't write long, complex sentences


Except every time you say it, that's exactly what it sounds like you're saying.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

Not 'the entirety', but one of a several types of problems that can, by itself, make writing bad.


In my opinion, it almost never, by itself, makes writing bad. On my top ten list of things that make for bad writing (as a reader) it's number 28.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Dominions Son


I'm not saying you can't write long, complex sentences

Except every time you say it, that's exactly what it sounds like you're saying.


Every time I've said it, I've specifically said that I use the 20+ word sentences as a warning to review the sentences for issues, NOT that I replaced every single instance. Long complex sentences isn't a sin, but it's a sign the sentences might be confusing and thus it's good to review them. That's ALL I said! It's only a warning sign, not a flag to change the sentence.

By the way, my general rule is OVER 25 words, though while I'm at it, I'll often casually check anything over 20 words too, though they aren't as likely to indicate anything.

P.S. That's why I was commenting on your 'absolute' refusal to consider it, because I was saying 'watch for this', and you seemed to be arguing "NEVER, EVER modify any sentence whatsoever".

Replies:   Dominions Son
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

In my opinion, it almost never, by itself, makes writing bad. On my top ten list of things that make for bad writing (as a reader) it's number 28.

Okay, in that case, since it's specifically #28, I've gotta ask, what's #29 (just so I can compare it to my own imaginary scale so we can argue about your valuation).

Replies:   Dominions Son
richardshagrin

Some good writers got paid by the word. Dickens (his stories appeared in newspaper serials) Heinlein and most "classic" SF writers in pulp magazines, and even Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) who once wrote I don't have time to send you a short letter so here is a long one. (That is a paraphrase, and I need to look up spelling of Clemens.) There are costs to edit the heck out of any written communication and there are good writers who don't want to imitate Hemingway.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

That's why I was commenting on your 'absolute' refusal to consider it, because I was saying 'watch for this', and you seemed to be arguing "NEVER, EVER modify any sentence whatsoever".


No, I was arguing that using length in and of itself as a criteria for when or why to modify is silly.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Okay, in that case, since it's specifically #28, I've gotta ask, what's #29


Always ending chapters on a cliffhanger.

Michael Loucks

Always ending chapters on a cliffhanger.


You don't HAVE to do this? Who knew? :-)

Replies:   sejintenej
awnlee jawking

@Dominions Son

No, I was arguing that using length in and of itself as a criteria for when or why to modify is silly.


Sadly it seems to be the trendy thing to do for the next ten minutes. Some of the so-called 'writing experts' are snake-oil peddlers, inventing imaginary wrongs that novice writers 'must' correct or they won't get published.

A certain supposed expert has written a book entitled 'The Word Loss Diet'. They kept getting rejected by publishers and took some 20 years to realise it was because they were too wordy. They still haven't been published - the book is a self-published e-book. Physician heal thyself!

AJ

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@awnlee jawking

In my case, I used to write towards an equally imaginary goal of 6,000 words per chapter, and would then try to edit down. However, while many here on the forum comment on how they typically cut 30+% off each chapter they're first revision, I was lucky if I could trim 15%.

Fearing such lengthy novels (350,000 words) would hurt my success in the broader market, I eventually decided the only way to write shorter novels was to write more concisely (i.e. not allowing my writing to get out of hand initially).

Most readers want books that engage them and that they can finish quickly (so it doesn't interfere with their busy lives). This runs counter to the SOL mantra, where many readers are retired and have plenty of idle time to read, especially since they mostly read a single chapter at a time, and prefer investing significant time in each chapter.

However, as I said, I went from one extreme (too many words) to another (too short of chapters that were 'event driven' and skimped on the necessary 'reflective' chapters that tend to define the characters). I didn't avoid reflective passages, but focusing on 'events' kept me focused on those singular events, rather than just writing until I hit an imaginary limit.

The strategy worked, to an extent. My writing grew strong (in my opinion) as my review grew more glowing, though my scores dropped (not substantially, but my scores were my lowest). After reflecting on how to address the issue, I moved to 'a day in the life' chapters, which simply advanced the story a day at a time. That kept the writing concise, while also allowing the characters to slow down and compose themselves. However, at this point, I won't see how successful this latest style is for another couple books, as I've still got another book (Zombie Leza) to post in the interim. It'll be interesting to see whether readers respond positively, and whether I get more (or fewer) positive reviews.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

A certain supposed expert has written a book entitled 'The Word Loss Diet'. They kept getting rejected by publishers and took some 20 years to realise it was because they were too wordy. They still haven't been published - the book is a self-published e-book. Physician heal thyself!

Most of the 'how to write' books on the market fit into this category as they're largely written by unsuccessful (often 'never-published' authors). Alternatively, many moderately successful authors books seemed focused less on encouraging authors than to limit competition (by suggesting they do things almost guaranteed to limit their sales).

One of the best books in the field, by Steven Kind, was written largely because he was SO successful, he really didn't care how well other authors succeeded!

sejintenej

@Michael Loucks

Always ending chapters on a cliffhanger.

You don't HAVE to do this? Who knew? :-)


Of course you don't have to END a chapter on a cliffhanger - it could be a mild "what happens next?" somewhere in the chapter.
More seriously it is the hooks which keep a reader returning. They don't have to be at a chapter end - they could be in a prior chapter and simply mentioned from time to time.
I give you as two examples the alien ship and the prison planet in Arlene and Jeff. Each hook has been there for at least 100 chapters and still we wait to see what happens (as if we don't already!)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

it is the hooks which keep a reader returning. They don't have to be at a chapter end - they could be in a prior chapter and simply mentioned from time to time.

That's what the overarching main story conflict does. As each mini-conflict is resolved, you reinforce the major conflict, reminding readers what's at stake. That doesn't require dangling someone off a cliff or tying them to a railroad track. Sometimes, a simple reminder somewhere in the chapter about the grander conflict keeps it in readers' minds.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


Sometimes, a simple reminder somewhere in the chapter about the grander conflict keeps it in readers' minds.


Example:

Tom watched the car burn with the two assassins trapped inside, grinned, stood, and walked away while thinking, That's two of the killers down, only eighty-four left to find and eliminate.

That lets you know this chapter about 2 executions is finished and the main plot to eradicate the terrorist group is still going on.

awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

while many here on the forum comment on how they typically cut 30+% off each chapter they're first revision, I was lucky if I could trim 15%.


I usually find my chapters increase in length after editing. But then I'm a readability nazi and I'm constantly concerned whether the reader can discern who is speaking or who is doing what to whom.

I read a two person dialogue scene on SOL yesterday in which the author omitted dialogue tags after identifying the initial speaker. All seemed to be going well, following the one speaker per paragraph convention, until towards the bottom of the screen, Speaker A said something that only Speaker B could have known. I worked back, having been ejected from the story, trying in vain to find where I had gone wrong. I think it's bad writing if even the author loses track of whose turn it is to speak.

I also read part of a dead tree book. One action scene was indecipherable because there were lots of hes and hims flying around and it was difficult to work out which referred to whom. (I wonder whether it was a hack translation job - does Swedish have more cases than English?)

Most readers want books that engage them and that they can finish quickly


Those objectives are contrary. A short story with terse writing does not allow for sufficient character development for readers to identify with the participants.

AJ

Ross at Play
Updated:

@awnlee jawking


there were lots of hes and hims flying around ... I wonder whether it was a hack translation job - does Swedish have more cases than English?


I thought (see EDIT) the cases of Swedish pronouns are identical to English. I found this quote (but won't say where to avoid being spat upon ;).


hon ("she") ... has the following nominative, possessive, and object forms: hon – hennes – henne

* EDIT TO ADD
That quote continues ...

Swedish also uses third-person possessive reflexive pronouns that refer to the subject in a clause, a trait which is restricted to North Germanic languages:
Anna gav Maria sin bok.; "Anna gave Maria her [Anna's] book." (reflexive)
Anna gav Maria hennes bok.; "Anna gave Maria her [Maria's] book." (not reflexive)


So, a lot of his's flying around as well could easily produce a hack translation job.

Ernest Bywater

@awnlee jawking

All seemed to be going well, following the one speaker per paragraph convention, until towards the bottom of the screen, Speaker A said something that only Speaker B could have known. I worked back, having been ejected from the story, trying in vain to find where I had gone wrong. I think it's bad writing if even the author loses track of whose turn it is to speak.


Please, everyone, let's not start a discussion on the following subject again.

AJ,

If you can, please check the story where you say you lost track of the speakers. One thing I've noticed (and had a lot of heated discussion on) is some SoL authors use the Quotation Convention of no end apostrophe (quote mark) when they have multiple paragraph dialogue by one speaker. The lack of the punctuation mark is hard to spot most of the time. Nor does it help when they have do that with short paragraphs because there's a slight change of subject by the same speaker and they make it a new paragraph instead of keeping it as one.

...................

As I said, no need to discuss the rights or wrongs of this here, just asking AJ to check if that's what happened.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater

As promised ... post deleted at the first sign of anyone expressing any disagreement.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I mean, I thought we all agreed, eventually, when the convention is required and how to use it when required, BUT it is always wrong to write in a way that requires its use (except, perhaps, in speeches that are hundreds of words long, and still with extreme care).

To EB, I will delete this post and drop the subject forever if anyone suggests we did not all end up in complete agreement. ;)

Er hmm, I still use the dropped quote method frequently, and although I've had readers comment on others sections as being 'confusing', I've never gotten a complaint that readers got lost because of a dropped quote.

(Not to belabor the point, just reminding everyone that we did not agree that the use of dropped quotes is a bad idea. Ernest didn't like it because he wasn't exposed to it, and thus found it more distracting than useful. According to most American (and many European) authors, they have no problems with it.)

But attributions in general can be problematic. If you have multiple people speaking at once, it gets confusing even when you can see who's speaking. Then, many authors try to eliminate the constant duplication of names in close proximity, often exacerbating the problem (mia culpa).

Ernest's solution is to rely on 'action identifiers', where you break paragraphs with actions which indirectly identify the speaker, which helps and also aleves the constant "he said" repetitions.

Replies:   REP
REP

@awnlee jawking

I think it's bad writing if even the author loses track of whose turn it is to speak.


AJ, the problem doesn't sound as if it is related to whose turn it is to speak.

It seems more likely that the author knew what B would do and added it to the story prior to B doing it.

I've done it while reviewing and updating a story, because I forgot where I was in the story's timeline. Fortunately, I seem to have found my mistakes before posting my stories. At least, no one has pointed that out as one of my errors.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

Dredging up other dead horses, I wanted to return to the whole 'whittling down long passages' discussion, not because I think it's a necessary task in either direction (editing vs. not editing) but because I think it reflects on a completely different topic.

Many authors have a distinctive literary 'voice', a style of writing which is distinctively theirs, and readers can usually identify their works merely by reading a couple sentences of any of their books. Much of this is because of the lyrical nature of their writing (where the language plays out like music to the reader's ear).

This literary lyricism, something I've long admired, is achieved because poets invest years in continually rephrasing stanza, trying to express complex ideas in only eight syllables (sometimes more, sometimes less depending on the type of poetry).

I tend to look at my arbitrary limit of 25+ words as a similar process (though much more limited in scope). While I target them because more complex sentences tend to have more problems (simply because of their added complexity), I view examining sentences in order to simplify them as being a similar operation. While it may not be strictly necessary, it IS an important consideration for authors who want to learn how to express themselves. Not because the sentences will be any more or less 'clear', but because it trains them to evaluate what sounds more natural (lyrical, in many instances), and what doesn't.

Although I con convey something in either one 35 word sentence or two (or three) shorter sentences doesn't make either one 'better', but the process of considering different ways of phrasing something in more concise terms tends to better ones writing (at least in the long term).

Of course, like many thing, this can be taken to extremes. Also, while many fiction authors have a wonderful lyrical quality, poets in general are known for being one of the least successful literary forms (i.e. poetry books typically sell worse than virtually any other genre). Thus, simply having studied how to compose sentences does not, in itself, lead one to becoming a better fictional author.

There, having gotten that last little tidbit off of my chest, I'll quit this incessant discussion, as I doubt anyone else cares at this point. I just wanted to remind everyone that there's more at stake than simply brevity for the sake of uneducated readers. (Personally, I'd argue that anyone who reads is not 'uneducated', as most have learned more through their reading than they ever did in school anyway.)

Replies:   Ross at Play
REP

@Crumbly Writer

As a reader, I'm involved in the story and normally don't notice if a paragraph had or did not have an opening or closing quotation mark. Once a speaker is identified, I normally rely on what is being said to determine when the speaker's dialog has ended. I then rely on the author identifying who has taken up the dialog. The new content is often enough to identify the new speaker, but in a multi-speaker exchange it is best to add a "John said" identifier. But, this convention can become distracting in two-speaker dialog that has short passages.

Thus, as a writer I am not hung-up on which convention is correct for they both seem to work; the selected convention's application is better in some stories than other. Personally, I like and use the dropped quote convention. Mostly because it is what I am accustomed to seeing and I think it gives the reader a signal as to who is speaking if they missed the other signals the author gave them.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


I'll quit this incessant discussion


I will too. It seems no matter how clear I am about what I actually mean, if I say I think excess words should usually be cut from sentences, someone will interpret that as I think everyone should try to write like Hemingway.

I found and read the opening of Gabaldon's Outlander. I could only find an occasional that which could be deleted without affecting the detail she chooses to provide.

However florid her story telling may be, I see no inefficiencies in her language - none of the type which irritates me so much with many amateur writers.

I'm not a fan, but I think her writing style is as valid as Hemingway's, i.e. both are entirely appropriate for their intended audiences.

awnlee jawking

@Ernest Bywater

no end apostrophe (quote mark) when they have multiple paragraph dialogue by one speaker


I've been caught out by that many times so I always check.

AJ

awnlee jawking

@REP

the author knew what B would do and added it to the story prior to B doing it


I've seen a few of those but no, I'm pretty sure that wasn't the case on this occasion.

AJ

Ernest Bywater

I did ask not to start the old discussion again. I see no point in going over it all again. However, I do wish to clarify one point raised by the others.

I have been exposed to the use of the dropped quote in a quotation of a living person speaking in a long speech many times in the past. It's only here at SoL have I seen it applied to fictional character dialogue which is not a quotation of someone else. It's the argument some people have the a writing creating fictional dialogue is quoting someone else that's the core of the disagreement we've had on this in the past.

Now, in the past we've agreed to disagree, so can we leave it there as it's not relevant to this thread. I asked if that may have been what caused the confusion, AJ has answered it wasn't, so it's now done with. I wasn't trying to resurrect the old discussion, and see no value in doing so.

Replies:   REP
REP

@Ernest Bywater

It's only here at SoL have I seen it applied to fictional character dialogue


While I agree that the prior discussion should not be brought up again, I disagree with it being a convention only used here at SOL. All you have to do is pickup a paperback novel and you will see it used elsewhere.

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@REP


All you have to do is pickup a paperback novel and you will see it used elsewhere.


I've thousands of paperback novels and I'd not seen it used in them. As I said in my previous post It's only here at SoL have I seen it ...

edit to add - If you've seen it elsewhere it may be used by publishers or authors I don't read.

Replies:   REP
Crumbly Writer

@REP

While I agree that the prior discussion should not be brought up again, I disagree with it being a convention only used here at SOL. All you have to do is pickup a paperback novel and you will see it used elsewhere.

@Ernest

I've thousands of paperback novels and I'd not seen it used in them. As I said in my previous post It's only here at SoL have I seen it ...

If you've seen it elsewhere it may be used by publishers or authors I don't read.

As I pointed out earlier, the anti-dropped quote crowd all seem to reside in Australia, so I'm guessing the publishers there don't use it, for whatever reason. They also don't seem to teach it, so chances are, they only import books from publishers who also don't use it.

I asked before whether it's usage is regional, but it seems restricted to Australia (and possible nearby New Zealand, as well). That's fine, just as long as we all realize the difference in usage.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

As I pointed out earlier, the anti-dropped quote crowd all seem to reside in Australia, so I'm guessing the publishers there don't use it, for whatever reason.


I doubt that statement is relevant since about 50% of my novels are printed by US publishers and shipped in and about 45% are printed by UK publishers and shipped in with the remaining 5% being Aussie published.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

I doubt that statement is relevant since about 50% of my novels are printed by US publishers and shipped in and about 45% are printed by UK publishers and shipped in with the remaining 5% being Aussie published.

I understand that (and knew about it). That's why I added the qualifier. If it's not an accepted practice in Australia, it would make sense the Australian distributors would favor publishers more ideal to the Australian tastes. Although I'm not sure which Style Guides each American and UK publisher uses, I'm sure there are several which don't emphasize the dropped quote. The fact that YOU haven't seen them doesn't mean that no one anywhere else in the world doesn't use the standard, as everyone here on the forum can attest.

However, we're getting into the very argument we were all hoping to avoid. Let's just say that Australians don't like it, while it's preferred in America (with Europeans somewhere in the middle) and leave it at that.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


Let's just say that Australians don't like it, while it's preferred in America and leave it at that.


No. That suggests there are differences of opinion about when it must be used.

I do not recall anyone here suggesting it is not mandatory to adhere to the convention, and drop end quotation marks in situations where it requires that.
Also, I do not recall anyone suggesting it is not preferable to find ways to avoid triggering the need to use the convention.
EB says he always finds ways around it; you say you do use it when speeches become very long, but then with great care. I see no real difference of opinion between those two positions.

I am surprised EB says he thinks the convention was not used in many printed novels he has read. I doubt he could find examples of it not being used in those books. I did not know the convention existed for most of my life. I only began noticing quotation marks being dropped after I learned of its existence - but I'm sure they have always been not there whenever their absence was required.

Ernest Bywater

@Ross at Play

I am surprised EB says he thinks the convention was not used in many printed novels he has read.


I t may be genre related. However, I suspect it's more to do with the writing styles I read a lot of science fiction and action novels - most of the scifi is from G W Campbell era and the like - long dialogues by one speaker aren't common in them, thus it may just be either the authors didn't use them or never used them or short dialogues.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


... or never used them or short dialogues.


I think that REP and I misunderstood you.

I would say authors, like you, ARE 'adhering to the convention' when their writing contains no instances where the convention requires end quotation marks to be dropped.

I thought you were saying you have read many books that have end quotations marks where others would drop them because of the convention. I would find that impossible to believe without seeing a list of authors who actually do that. Instead, I would be inclined to assume that you, like I did for so many years, have simply managed to read books without noticing end quotation marks are sometimes dropped.

awnlee jawking

@Ernest Bywater

In the UK, I was brought up to use dropped quotes. I'm used to spotting them in long speeches. However, in multi-person dialogue scenes they're easy to miss so I prefer avoidance measures like you use.

I have to wonder about the use of long speeches in contemporary fiction. Some of them are infodumps, IMO a sign of weak writing. Others are Mary Sue-related - my protagonist is President of the United States and this is my rallying speech that would get the electorate behind me - but the results are usually cringeworthy.

Are there any good reasons for long speeches?

AJ

Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

Others are Mary Sue-related

Who is this Mary Use you keep mentioning?

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Ross at Play

Who is this Mary Sue you keep mentioning?


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue

Replies:   awnlee_jawking
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

For clarification on the use of punctuation in long dialogue -

Where the authors I read have had the few long dialogues broken up into multiple paragraphs they did it by re-identifying the speaker in the next paragraph - the same way I do.

Years ago when I did an advanced writing course at the tertiary level one item that was explained in clear detail was the many ways you can quote from a text book and from a speaker. The professor also emphasized the point when you quote someone (either speech or written work) you have to cite the person's name and the work if written or where they gave the speech and if you can't cite it properly you can't display it as a quote, but can present it as paraphrasing something they wrote or said. Another point made was the only time you can quote yourself is when you cite something you wrote in another published work and you quote and cite it in the normal way.

Considering the above, I've always written in that way, and every book I've seen has been written in lines with those rules - be it an academic work or fiction.

Now as to the dropped quotation mark in a multi-paragraph quotation - previously I've said it's OK to use it for a quotation as long as you cite it properly so people know it's a quotation since it's a standard quotation process. The problem discussed before, and has been reasserted here is calling section of fiction dialogue a quotation - some people insist it is despite not using the proper citation methods - I reassert, that's their right to do it that way if they wish to. I also reassert that it will confuse some readers, which is why I avoid it and advise avoiding it.

edit to fix i=I typo

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
awnlee_jawking

@Ernest Bywater

Who is this Mary Sue you keep mentioning?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue


I can't believe how bad the summary at the top of the wikipedia (spit!) article is. Fortunately the article improves somewhat as it progresses.

Mary Sue stories can be entertaining - some of them attract very high scores on SOL - but I prefer stories with multi-dimensional characters.

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@awnlee_jawking

Answering my, Who is this Mary Sue?
The spat-upon article improves somewhat as it progresses.

I had guessed closely enough what it meant, but it makes more sense knowing its origins.
Thanks to EB & AJ.

REP

@Ernest Bywater

I've thousands of paperback novels and I'd not seen it used in them.


I checked about 8, but not all, of my favorite authors EB. John Dalmas uses the dropped quote convention. There may be other authors that use the convention that I do not read - keep in mind that 8 out of thousands of professional authors is not a decent statistical sample.

The remaining 7 authors avoid the issue. When the have a series of pure dialog paragraphs, they use Ping-Pong dialog. When they do extend a character's dialog more than one paragraph, they generally place the dialog first and follow it with narrative, which requires the use of a closing quote. Thus they avoid placing themselves in a situation where they may have to use the dropped quote method of continuing dialog over several paragraphs.

Most professional authors may choose to not use the dropped quote convention, but it is used by at least one well-known author.

Ross at Play

@REP

remaining 7 authors avoid the issue.

As I posted above, I think you and I misinterpreted what EB stated. When he stated books "have not used" the convention, he meant authors always avoided the need to use it - not that they did not use it when it would have been needed.
Your limited sample of 7 out of 8 suggests what he meant is quite true - that very many authors of dead tree fiction always find ways to avoid the need to ever drop quote marks.
As Officer Barbrady in South Park would say, "All right people, move along, there's nothing to see here!"

awnlee jawking

@REP

Most professional authors may choose to not use the dropped quote convention, but it is used by at least one well-known author.


I suspect your sample consisted predominantly of recent authors. If you go back to the classics, I think you'll find speechifying and dropped quotes occurring far more frequently (along with prolix descriptions of guns above mantlepieces which never get fired.) :)

AJ

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Ross at Play


No. That suggests there are differences of opinion about when it must be used.


Where in "don't like it" is there any inference concerning "when it must be used"? There is NO time when it "MUST be used"! It's another stylistic tool. All I was suggesting is that it seems many of the authors (and editor) from Australia all seemed to be unfamiliar/uncomfortable with using it. End of story!

Not every publisher requires the use of the drop quote (or any other style guideline) from what I've been able to observe. They're simply guidelines, NOT rules. What's more, it's easy to work around. It's easy enough to do as Ernest does, if one speakers dialogue runs over a single paragraph, simply break to something else requiring a new (or alternative) dialogue attribute. Presto-Chango! There's suddenly no need to fret about it any more (even if you adhere to it in the first place.

If a particular population is uncomfortable using something, for whatever reason, there's no need for the rest of us to force it down their throats.

As far as your not noticing it's use, that's because many of these style guidelines are subtle. They're designed so they're virtually invisible, and readers intuitively figure out what they mean (thus few readers get confused when encountering them in establish novels). When they do get confused, is on a site like SOL, where every reader second guesses the author, assuming they have know idea what they're doing. While that may be true in select cases, it's fairly presumptive to assume everyone else is a moron, and only you contain the collection wisdom of all mankind. (That was referring to the generic you, Ross. It wasn't directed at you personally.)

I only brought the dropped quote up because I felt the opinions of others were being run over roughshod (by assuming that everyone avoids using the guideline ever chance they get). However, I now see it's one of those red-flag discussion which can never be raised on this forum, lest everyone lose their collective minds over it.

So please, I apologize for broaching the subject. Let's put this to bed since the various sides will NEVER ever agree on it.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

Are there any good reasons for long speeches?

I've discussed this before, but I'll often follow up a fast-paced action scene with a long, slower, more reflective chapter where everyone discusses what the latest encounter was about, what it means and how it impacts their efforts. This often occurs when an attack occurs from out of left field, and the various characters have no idea when provoked it. Likewise, in sci-fi, when they observe an unknown technique used in combat they've never witnessed before, and they're trying to understand what they're dealing with and how to counter it.

That's not an 'info dump', it's simply an open discussion (where each party is allow to expand at length). It's more of a brain-storming session, with various characters throwing out ideas with the various people countering when the proposed idea doesn't work (and incidently, the author can throw out lots of red herrings and precursors of what's to come without revealing their intent).

It's also a great opportunity to allow the different characters to vent their true feelings, allowing readers to get a better feel for both each character, as well as the overall group dynamic (who's in, who's out, who disagrees with who, etc.) As previously stated, it also allows the reader to recover and process what happened during a particularly confusing chapter.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Years ago when I did an advanced writing course at the tertiary level one item that was explained in clear detail was the many ways you can quote from a text book and from a speaker. The professor also emphasized the point when you quote someone (either speech or written work) you have to cite the person's name and the work if written or where they gave the speech and if you can't cite it properly you can't display it as a quote, but can present it as paraphrasing something they wrote or said. Another point made was the only time you can quote yourself is when you cite something you wrote in another published work and you quote and cite it in the normal way.

As has been noted earlier (in other threads), you're conflating non-fiction guidelines with fictional guidelines, where fiction tends to have more specific uses which don't necessarily jibe with those of non-fiction. As you've noted, using the term "quote" for both tends to sow confusion, though if you don't take the term literally, you can see how they essentially follow the same guideline.

The problem with many discussions here and elsewhere (in literary circles), is when we get overly literally. NOTHING about literature is written in stone! You can make anything work in fiction, if you can pull it off. I've read very successful novels that avoid any punctuation, that abandon capitalizing names, or do other things no one else would even attempt. So let's quit demanding that EVERYONE must follow the letter of the law in every argument.

(Just as an aside, Ernest, (though this is likely to open an entirely new can or worms), your "citing quotation" argument for dialogue, while misguided, explains indented text, which drops ALL quotes! It doesn't account for the dropped quote rule, which only avoids some closing quote marks.)

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

with fictional guidelines


Perhaps a poor choice in phrasing. :)

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Let's put this to bed since the various sides will NEVER ever agree on it.

I will gladly do so. The only thing I need is for you to stop suggesting I have any disagreement with you about it. I understand what you do and I think it is fine. I understand what EB does; I think that is fine too.

REP
Updated:

As everyone is saying: 7 out of 8 authors appears to be a substantial number of people who avoid using the dropped quote convention. However, there is one aspect of those numbers that no one has addressed. Namely, why are the authors, especially American authors, not using the convention? I doubt there has been a study to define why, but I can think of 3 possible reasons:

1. The author does not agree with the use of the dropped quote convention.

2. The author is complying with the writing style that is currently considered to be the proper writing style, and the dropped quote convention is not currently in favor for dialog in fiction. Although, Awnlee mentioned, the convention was more popular some years ago.

3. The author is complying with a style guide or publisher's convention that mandates that the dropped quote convention is not to be used.

The only reason I made my comment to EB is that he chose to express his personal opinion as a fact (i.e., SOL is the only place the convention is used). I chose to show that the convention is used by authors other than SOL authors.

corrected typo

Ross at Play

@REP

why are the authors not using the convention?

Because its use is likely to result in confusion by some readers. That is reason enough.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

why are the authors not using the convention?

Because its use is likely to result in confusion by some readers. That is reason enough.

Or, more simply, because many authors dislike extended monologues (one character speaking for multiple paragraphs). In most works of fiction, it's simply unnecessary. If you don't need to use it, there's little reason to go out of your way to invent excuses for it.

For me, I typically have a main characters trying to unravel the mysteries of the universe, and periodically have to explain to their follows what's happening and how it works. For complex situations, that often takes a while.

Ernest Bywater

@REP


The only reason I made my comment to EB is that he chose to express his personal opinion as a fact (i.e., SOL is the only place the convention is used). I chose to show that the convention is used by authors other than SOL authors.


REP _ the fact I stated was SoL is the only place I've seen it used. That doesn't mean it can't have been used by others elsewhere, just I haven't seen it done.

Replies:   REP
REP

@Ernest Bywater

Noted. I came across different when I read it.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@REP

Noted. I came across different when I read it.


No worries. Outside of what's needed in a fiction story I tend to be very exact and pedantic in the use of the English language unless I make a typo that changes what I meant to say.

Replies:   REP
REP

@Ernest Bywater

Yeah, and many of use read things into what is written and contribute thing to the writer that the writer never intended.

Ross at Play

To EB & REP

This topic is such a bugger to explain what you mean.
I think of writing so you do not need to not use something as adhering to the convention.
EB (I think ?) thinks of never not using something as not using the convention.
REP eventually found the term avoiding the convention, which is what we both meant.
... but that was too late. Everyone was throwing shit at the fan by then.

Crumbly Writer

I think we've got to quit certain common phrases, such as:
- "Writing Rules"
- "Never used" or "Never seen"
and especially
- "Grammar Nazi" or anything referencing Hitler!

Authors break conventions continually, and while most newbies aren't allowed to submit works which violate a publisher's style guide, experience and/or successful authors are given allowances to. Nothing is forbidden!

And just because you don't recall seeing anything doesn't mean it isn't widely used. Chances are, you either never noticed it, or you're dealing with a regional variance.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


I think we've got to quit certain common phrases ... exception "Grammar Nazi"


Okay if referring to others, but Brits and Aussies will not accept not be allowed to use expressions like that about themselves.

Americans rarely "get" self-deprecating humour, but there is no way you'll stop Brits and Aussies using it.

I cannot agree with banning the use of "never" either. We ALL KNOW never does not ever mean never literally. It's just a complete pain attempting to qualify every single statement when we mean almost always/never with a list of bloody exceptions. The real solution is all of us here to assume there are always exceptions, and to stop nit-picking holes when someone is trying to explain some principle that is generally good practice.

Why can't I make a statement like, 'Always use correct grammar', without some Nazi jumping down my throat insisting there are exceptions!

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

Why can't I make a statement like, 'Always use correct grammar', without some Nazi jumping down my throat insisting there are exceptions!

I'm sorry, but there are exceptions to that rule! :)

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

I'm sorry, but there are exceptions to that rule! :)

I note you did put a smiley after that - so you don't deserve this ...
That's my fucking point! We all know that, so it's not bloody necessary to say it every damn time.

sejintenej

@Ross at Play

I cannot agree with banning the use of "never" either. We ALL KNOW never does not ever mean never literally. It's just a complete pain attempting to qualify every single statement when we mean almost always/never with a list of bloody exceptions.

It is equally easy to use "rarely" or even "rarely if ever"

Ross at Play

@sejintenej

It is equally easy to use "rarely"

In theory, you are absolutely correct.
In practice, I have often been extremely careful about specifying precisely what I mean, and still had bunches of mindless pedants jumping down my throat insisting there are exceptions when I attempt to describe what I consider is a principle for good writing that should generally be followed.
I knew that particular rant would utterly futile, so I didn't bother being careful about expressing my meaning precisely.

Replies:   ustourist
ustourist

@Ross at Play

In practice, I have often been extremely careful about specifying precisely what I mean, and still had bunches of mindless pedants

Are they pedants or trolls? There seems to be a disappearing line between the two nowadays, with most having a troll mentality and not being able to constructively state why they disagree.
I no longer feed the forum troll.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@ustourist

I no longer feed the forum troll.

You're a stronger man than I am. ;)

Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

It is equally easy to use "rarely" or even "rarely if ever"

Or "not always", "occasionally" or "sometimes". There's really no reason to always resort to absolute terms. We're authors, damn it. Why are we unable to utilize a Thesaurus?

Replies:   sejintenej
sejintenej

@Crumbly Writer

It is equally easy to use "rarely" or even "rarely if ever"

Or "not always", "occasionally" or "sometimes". There's really no reason to always resort to absolute terms. We're authors, damn it. Why are we unable to utilize a Thesaurus?

Remember the case of Copernicus v The Vatican! The Vatican won but Copernicus was right.

awnlee jawking

@Bondi Beach

engaging ... no sex yet


Probably religious - no sex before marriage :)

AJ

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