The Toolbox -- Free For All

Guillermo Stitch

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When did this became a rule? You need description, but it's not recommend to excessively purple unless it's part of your style and it's needed for the story.
More guideline than rule. You can expect extended descriptive passages to be picked up on in workshop settings, and much more so these days, in my experience. And yet I can think of excellent books where extended description has been used to great effect. In the right hands, it can be a forward moving experience for a reader, even in the temporary absence of narrative development. In fact, the line between action and description, between narrative and scene, isn't necessarily all that clear, all of the time. And definitions of "purple" are highly subjective. I've seen the word thrown at prose that I hated and I've seen it thrown at prose that I loved.
 
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-K2-

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Okie dokie @The Judge ; what say I work this out here?

Eek. I'm going to have to critique a critique! ;)

A word of warning to everyone of the perils of participial clauses, ie ones which start "[Verb]ing". More detail here in this post of mine The Toolbox -- The Important Bits

Dangling participles are the devil's own work, and anyone who uses them will be taken to the Staff Room Dungeons and subjected to horrific treatment -- HareBrain's singing, among other ordeals. You have been warned. :p
The locked, linked post:
Participial clauses
The present participle is the form of a verb ending in '-ing'. The past participle is the form of a verb ending in '-ed' or '-t' (or eg '-en' for irregular verbs like break/broken).

As any writer knows, it quickly becomes boring to keep using the past simple when a character is engaged in a list of things eg 'He walked to the door. He opened it. He looked outside. He stepped onto the patio.' Therefore we often try to vary the list, to help it read more smoothly, by opening with the verb and creating a participial clause eg 'Walking to the door...' or 'Bred on the farm...'

But such clauses have to be used with caution. The three problems that beset them are, in descending order of importance:

1. Dangling participle
Where the subject of the participle and the subject of the sentence don't agree eg 'Driving home, the light traffic told me it wasn't rush hour after all.' The subject of the main part of the sentence is the traffic, but I'm the subject of the participle since I'm the one doing the driving, not the traffic. This should read 'Driving home, I realised from the light traffic it wasn't...'

2. Non-continuing participle
Where the present participle describes something which is over and done with before the next part of the sentence is begun, so the use of the continuous '-ing' is inappropriate -- this is apparently a big problem for writers of SFF fiction eg 'Running up the stairs, I went into the bedroom.' This should be 'Having run up the stairs, I went into...' No problem is encountered provided the actions are simultaneous eg 'Running up the stairs, I whistled the National Anthem.'

3. Irrelevant participle
Where the participle describes something which has no (apparent) connection with the rest of the sentence eg 'Being a first-class athlete, I was born in Leicester.' This simply looks amateurish.

Use of participial clauses can add vigour to writing, and help it read more smoothly, but like any stylisitic device it can become boring if overused.

The post in question:

Sarah felt a bit self-conscious as everyone watched. Usually most of them would be busy elsewhere and there wouldn’t be such an audience. Stepping forward [dangling?], peering [non-continuing?] into the pit, its entire base glistened as if full of diamonds [irrelevant?]. There was a horde of red markers clustered together, though nothing specific among them. Looking back at Aziz frowning [dangling? Although, the problem here I see clearly. Sarah is frowning, not Aziz.]; “We weren’t planning to dig anymore in this area. It’s too hard going on the equipment and every change of drill head costs a lot of money.”

Thanks for your help!

K2
 

sknox

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Well, @K2, what jumped out at me was not the participliness of the passage but the incomplete sentences.

Stepping forward, peering into the pit, its entire base glistened as if full of diamonds.

That sentence makes no sense to me. It's both simpler and clearer to say "Sarah [or "she"] stepped forward and peered into the pit, which glistened like diamonds along its base."

Then this

Looking back at Aziz frowning; ...

There's no subject for that clause. Who is looking back and who is frowning (I know you explained, but you don't get to do that in the actual prose)? Again, if you break it down into simple verbs, clarity emerges.

She looked back at Aziz, frowning, and said, ....
or
Looking back at Aziz, she frowned.
 

-K2-

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@sknox ; Thanks for the input. The paragraph however was not entirely my own. I had altered a paragraph simply to remove what "I" felt was an excessive amount of "she"-s, and did all I could to remove every one. That inspired the response (regarding participle clauses)... So, it presented me with an opportunity to learn more on the subject.

That said, as you point out, the changes I made were too much. Though intentional on my part, what you present is something else of value for me to keep in mind. In my own work to not get so overly wound up over a word, that I lose sight of what is intended.

Thanks for the help!

K2
 

The Judge

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Yep, perfect place to deal with it.

Sarah felt a bit self-conscious as everyone watched. Usually most of them would be busy elsewhere and there wouldn’t be such an audience. Stepping forward [dangling?], [yes] peering [non-continuing?] [probably, depending on whether she is peering as stepping, which is just about possible, but if not non-continuing, it's dangling with the other one] into the pit, its entire base glistened as if full of diamonds [irrelevant?]. [not sure what you mean here] There was a horde of red markers clustered together, though nothing specific among them. Looking back at Aziz frowning [dangling? Although, the problem here I see clearly. Sarah is frowning, not Aziz.]; [nope, not dangling, just badly put together! There isn't a second clause for the subject to be different, but she is implied as the subject as she's the one speaking] “We weren’t planning to dig anymore in this area. It’s too hard going on the equipment and every change of drill head costs a lot of money.”
Your idea of rephrasing to avoid all the "she"s was a good one, but it's not always easy, since to prevent the dangling participles you need "she" or her name again. So instead of
Stepping forward, peering into the pit, its entire base glistened as if full of diamonds​
you could have
Stepping forward, she peered into the pit, the entire base of which glistened as if full of diamonds​
or, if we accept that she can step and peer at the same time (perhaps doubtful)
Stepping forward and peering into the pit, she saw that its entire base glistened as if full of diamonds​

NB Another problem with that last one is the use of the veil word "saw". Ursa major brought that to my attention some years ago, but I don't think he ever got round to making a post for it here. Basically, if we're in someone's POV, instead of saying "Freda saw the elephant in the room" you go direct to the thing itself "The elephant stood in the room" -- since we're in Freda's POV we know it's her seeing it, so we don't need the extra distance of "saw" there. (Sometimes it is helpful,though, so don't kill all of them. But do think about whether they can be replaced.)

As you noted, the problem with
Looking back at Aziz frowning; “We weren’t...”​
is that this means it's Aziz who is frowning, not Sarah. The two re-writes from sknox are correct, but you could have the two participles together if they happen at the same time and you add another verb eg
Looking back at Aziz and frowning, she said “We weren’t...”​
Incidentally, that semi-colon of yours after "frowning" isn't one I'd recommend before opening dialogue in cases like this. Much better to my mind would be a colon.

That help?
 

Jo Zebedee

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blah - flags. So many flags.
I'll pick up on the one aspect of the Judge's post I understand and talk about filter words.

These are the likes of 'she heard', 'she saw', 'he felt'.

Now, in some point of views these are fine. If you want any kind of distance, they can be useful for adding it. Also, if you're writing horror, that classic, "a breeze touched her cheek; it felt like the air from a crypt" is totally acceptable for foreshadowing.

But! If you're writing any kind of close point of view, be it first or third, then it is the enemy of closeness.

Instead of

Jo heard the traffic swishing past

The traffic swished past

is much closer, and stronger.

There are devices which we use that lead us to filter words, like walking into a room and glancing around in order to describe the room. That's really distancing. Instead filter that room through the scene. Have your character nearly knock the vase over, rather than looking and seeing the vase they're about to chuck at someone in the next scene.

Words that often are filters:

saw, see, looked, glanced, took in,
felt, sensed, noticed
heard

Where you notice them:
Does the filter have a purpose? Then keep it.
Is it there just to be a filler from one action to the next? Rewrite and make that transition smoother.
Does it lead into a description of what was saw, heard, felt - remove the filter. It's not needed.
 

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Thanks for the input @The Judge and @Jo Zebedee ; It will take me a bit of time to digest all that and apply it correctly through practice. So I suspect I'll be rechecking these posts again a few more times.

Thanks again!

K2
 

Ursa major

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Free Indirect Speech

Have you ever noticed that sometimes the narrative in a story seems to shift to what very much looks like thoughts that: 1) are not identified as such; 2) remain in the same person (i.e. third) and tense as the rest of the narrative; 3) often seem to bring the reader closer to a character?

What you've probably seen is free indirect speech.

To quote Wikipedia:
Free indirect speech is a style of third-person narration which uses some of the characteristics of third-person along with the essence of first-person direct speech; it is also referred to as free indirect discourse, free indirect style, or, in French, discours indirect libre.
The Wikipedia article then offers the following to explain free indirect speech in action:
  • Quoted or direct speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. "And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?" he asked.​

  • Reported or normal indirect speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. He asked himself what pleasure he had found since he came into the world.​

  • Free indirect speech:
He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this world?​


Here's some of what the author and literary critic David Lodge has to say about the technicalities of free indirect speech in his book, Conscousness and the Novel:

"Is that the clock striking twelve?" Cinderella exclaimed. "Dear me, I shall be late." This is a combination of direct or quoted speech and a narrator's description.​
Cinderella enquired if the clock was striking twelve and expressed a fear that she would be late is reported or indirect speech, in which the same information is conveyed but the individuality of the character's voice is supressed by the narrator's.​
Was that the clock striking twelve? She would be late is free indirect speech. Cinderella's concern is now a silent, private thought expressed in her own words, to which we are given access without the overt mediation of a narrator. Grammatically it requires a narrator's tag, such as "she asked herself," "she told herself," but we take this as understood. hence it is termed "free." The effect is to locate the narrative in Cinderella's consciousness.​

So what do we do to write using free indirect speech? The meaning of thoughts remain the same, but while the anchoring person and tense for thoughts are, respectively 1st person and the present tense --

What am I to do? .. or .. Why is she looking at me like that?

-- these are recorded, in free indirect speech, using the same anchoring person and tense as the rest of the narrative. Thus those quoted thoughts become, in a past tense third person narrative (with, respectively, a female character's free indirect speech and and a male character's free indirect speech):

What was she to do? .. or .. Why was she looking at him like that?
 
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The Judge

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That last one, Ursa "What was Jane to do?" -- if it was "I" in the original, I assumed it would be "What was she to do?" in the same way it's "She would be late." not "Cinderella would be late." Similarly "What will we do?" becomes "What would they do?"

For me, the "Jane" suggests the anchoring person (good phrase that!) is thinking of someone else. Or am I misunderstanding something?
 

Ursa major

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It's funny you should say that, TJ: I'd just logged on to change it back to "she" (because it both looked wrong and destroyed the effect :()...

...and so I'm going to use my magic mod powers to do just that (so that no-one is led down the wrong path). :)
 
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