Thursday, July 5, 2007

The seemingly apparent quirk of writers

Ok, later today I will be writing another entry in my logic series (at the request of the Written Wyrdd). In the meantime, I want to quickly look at writers’ quirks, or at least their writing quirks.

My writing quirk is pretty amusing to me, as it really highlights a part of my personality that I both love and, well, less love. I’m sure my quirk is not amusing to my editor friends or my agent. I, apparently, love the works “thus” and “therefore.” One of beta readers for my first novel pointed it out to me, as in, he highlighted how many times I used the words in a given chapter. It was bad. Think a dozen or more.

This all brings me to yesterday when I was talking to an editor friend of mine (she edits non-fiction books for a publisher in these parts) and her reaction was:

“So you really like to summarize your thoughts and bring them to a logical conclusion.”

I’d never really thought of it that way, but, uh, yeah, exactly. My need to makes sense of things, summarize them, and fit them into their boxes had reared its well groomed head again. I really had to laugh.

I chatted more with said editor about some of my fellow writers, and told her about one of the quirks of my husband’s writing. In his writing, he uses the word “seem” often and by often, I mean once or twice a page. As a note, he knows this and finds it funny, too. Every time I saw it in his writing, I would underline it, as to bring attention to it. To me, “seem” is a weak word.

The place “seemed” to be filled with disreputable sorts.

She “seemed” to be angry.

ARG! It all seems so weak! ;-) I say go for it; tell us how it is or show us how it is.

The place was filled with people more concerned with brandishing their weapons than their personal hygiene.

The place was teeming with the kind of people who would love to take a cop, any cop, down a notch or two.

She was spitting mad.

She turned red, turned away, and turned to him. I don’t think she appreciated my response.

I could keep on with this, but I’ll spare all of you. So my editor friend, who was totally on my side on the matter, really nailed it for why ambiguous wording can be very problematic to your writing. For her, when an author leaves the reality open of the novel with a “seem,” he/she is implying there might be a plot twist based on this moment. For example:

The wind “seems” to be carrying the sent of smoke.

In this case, my friend, would be waiting to find out what the actual scent was. Because in a plot nothing happens without reason (that’s left for stories), readers read a lot into the way we structure our sentences, the exact wording, the rules the world, etc. How many times have you argued that a character could still be alive due to one word in the death scene? I can think of at least one case for me (Sirius Black, BTW, is alive; I know it!).

There you go. Quirks!


pacatrue said...

Thus, I follow both you and your husband's quirks, it seems. I like to both qualify everything I say (the "seems" bit) as well as use connectives to make the flow of ideas quite explicit. And so it's seems hard to write anything that doesn't start with "and", "but", "so", "however" and possibly even perhaps "therefore". Potentially.

writtenwyrdd said...

Seemingly, you have a problem with equivocation, vagueness, and perhaps (or so it seems to me) a less-than-fondness for imprecise language.

I hadn't thought of the use of imprecise language (e.g. seems) to be a red flag for readers, a "foreshadow alert" sign; but you are right, that is true. I shall have to remember that for future self editing.

Bernita said...

Sometimes, it seems that such qualifiers are an indication of hesitation, of uncertainty, of a failure to commit and solidify the action.

Nicole Kelly said...

Apparently, you all find this as amusing as I do.

When I asked my husband why he used the word "seems" so often, he responded by saying that there is no certainty in any situation and things merely appear to be one way or another. I think that is a really interesting philosophy, but it ends up muddying the writing and obscuring intent.

writtenwyrdd said...

You might tell your husband that verbal communication differs from written and that the use of equivocal terms like 'seems' (which are generally used for social reasons like not looking arrogant) come across differently in writing, which lacks the body language and tone of voice.

I am one of those types like your husband who can so easily see both sides of an issue that it is difficult to make a stand. I've had to learn to divorce myself from that tendency when I write. And believe it or not, writing up police reports was the best thing for that, because it taught me to say what happened from "the Law's" point of view and not the individual I was writing about. Telling the unfailing truth but with a law enforcement filter on...possibly hypocritical, because it's slanted, but educational for the writer in me.

Nicole Kelly said...


How funny that you would say it was police reports that changed your mind; it was covering the police reports for one of the newspapers I worked for that made me really cinch up my writing. There is no room for error when covering the cops and crime beat. Libel becomes a real danger, as you move into what is alleged and what is proven.

I've been a part of two writing groups now, and each time someone points out that my writing has a very journalistic feel. To say it another way, I get to the point. I have a hard time with long meandering passages, while my husband will revel in those times. Not to say that I don't have long passages, they just take me longer to think out.