Extra words


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  1. #1

    Extra words

    I keep coming across things like
    "it is so much better than what I would have had."
    And in my head I hear my Mother's voice, "Don't you mean 'it is so very much more better than that which what I would have had.' ?"

    'It is better than I would have had' Yet again less is more.
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  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle View Post
    I keep coming across things like
    "it is so much better than what I would have had."
    And in my head I hear my Mother's voice, "Don't you mean 'it is so very much more better than that which what I would have had.' ?"

    'It is better than I would have had' Yet again less is more.
    Yes, my attempts to write poetry have given sharp lessons in word economy.
    It still find it astonishing how many words I can cut without loss of meaning - prose or poetry. Indeed, it often strengthens the piece.


  3. #3
    It's a matter of voice, though, isn't it? And subtle differences in meaning? I'm not fussy about the "what" one way or the other, but the "so much" adds definite emphasis. If the voice is one that uses emphasis, and if this is a good place for the emphasis to be used, then I don't think it should be omitted.

    Style is always subjective.

    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle View Post
    I keep coming across things like
    "it is so much better than what I would have had."
    And in my head I hear my Mother's voice, "Don't you mean 'it is so very much more better than that which what I would have had.' ?"

    'It is better than I would have had' Yet again less is more.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Bayview View Post
    It's a matter of voice, though, isn't it? And subtle differences in meaning? I'm not fussy about the "what" one way or the other, but the "so much" adds definite emphasis. If the voice is one that uses emphasis, and if this is a good place for the emphasis to be used, then I don't think it should be omitted.

    Style is always subjective.
    I mostly agree, if you're talking about experienced writers. I think beginners should be looking to cut cut cut. "Extra words," usually to the tune of 10-30 thousand per novel, is enough to make getting feedback impossible, because people won't read it.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle View Post
    I keep coming across things like
    "it is so much better than what I would have had."
    And in my head I hear my Mother's voice, "Don't you mean 'it is so very much more better than that which what I would have had.' ?"

    'It is better than I would have had' Yet again less is more.
    Maybe it's just that one example, but my reaction is that this seems like writer's pedantry. The kind that ends up tying people in knots.

    "it is so much better than what I would have had" is endlessly correct in fictional writing, because it absolutely is something a lot of people would say. I daresay it is as common as ''It is better than I would have had' but, in any case, it is certainly more common when expressing a certain sense of 'betterness'. Hyperbole is a staple of ordinary human speech and writing must reflect ordinary human speech.

    But if the issue is superfluous words, that 'less is more' then "'It is better than I would have had" isn't even likely to be the best option. Why not go the whole hog and just say "It is better than the alternative"? Oh look, you saved two words! But of course, we haven't really saved anything, and "It is better than the alternative" is hardly emotionally satisfying and may well sound out of place. Why not just say "it is better" and allow the context to make clear what the person 'would have had'? If extra words alone are an issue, I feel 'would have had' probably can go as well...

    Point being, the endless crusade to constantly erode words and the assumption that fewer words means simpler speech is demonstrably not valid. Fewer words doesn't mean simpler or clearer speech. This is especially true if the words in question are themselves not simple or clear.

    If I say "I support antidisestablishmentarianism", that is but three words, but hardly anybody knows what it means. Nobody uses that word, even though it IS a real word. But if I say "I want the government to continue to recognize and give money to the church", that's twelve words, but the meaning is functional to most people, it is clear.

    As somebody who is prone to overwrite and currently editing my novel, my goal with this stuff is to keep it really simple. Instead of focusing on words and grammatical pedigree, I am trying to focus on effect alone. Certain characters talk 'wordily'. Certain scenes are more purple. The main question isn't whether a word doesn't belong, but whether it does, whether removing it will make the scene less effective. I feel the best way to ascertain that is by old fashioned trial and error (the magic of the word processor), see what happens. If the extra words can justify their existence, they will stay.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

    "Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow."

    “Remember this: Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him. ”

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  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Maybe it's just that one example, but my reaction is that this seems like writer's pedantry. The kind that ends up tying people in knots.

    "it is so much better than what I would have had" is endlessly correct in fictional writing, because it absolutely is something a lot of people would say. I daresay it is as common as ''It is better than I would have had' but, in any case, it is certainly more common when expressing a certain sense of 'betterness'. Hyperbole is a staple of ordinary human speech and writing must reflect ordinary human speech.
    If you want to reflect ordinary human speech better fill your dialogue with all sorts of useless phrases, as well as doing things like not finishing sentences and having people talking over the top of each other. In normal speech people understand things because of all sorts of indicators from tone to body posture, try sticking a recording device where it can overhear a conversation. People just don't take turns and speak clearly, without visual clues it can be misleading. Without writing there are no tonal clues you have the words and a couple of vague indicators like. ? Nothing to tell you if the question is rhetorical, sarcastic or what, and people interrupt and talk over the top all the time when they have understood what's coming. Real life dialogue and written dialogue are two completely different animals. You may reflect human speech, but reflections are back to front and only show one dimension, they look like an accurate representation at first glance, but they are not, even if the mirror is not distorted. I remember representations of actual conversations from my psychology lectures, they used a columns, a time frame, and various colours, lines and arrows all over the place.
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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Bayview View Post
    It's a matter of voice, though, isn't it? And subtle differences in meaning? I'm not fussy about the "what" one way or the other, but the "so much" adds definite emphasis. If the voice is one that uses emphasis, and if this is a good place for the emphasis to be used, then I don't think it should be omitted.

    Style is always subjective.
    It only adds the emphasis if you hear it. In writing how you hear it is not in the spoken words.

    "It is better than I had" he said sarcastically.

    "It is better than I had." he said with satisfaction.

    "It is better than I had." He said emphatically.

    Why bother with vague qualifiers like 'So much'? It is pretty meaningless, how much? If it were,

    "It is one hundred percent better than I had" he cried enthusiastically.

    I could understand it, but 'So much'? No, it is just a meaningless sop, word salad.
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  8. #8
    If we are talking about extra word-baggage in dialogue, then care must be taken. Dialogue is not intended to be a verbatim transcription of real conversations, it's just supposed to sound that way to the reader's ear. It's okay to use some excess verbiage to help depict a character's manner of speaking, but those extra words need to be used sparingly to avoid distracting -- or worse, boring -- the reader. It's like using dialect, accent, or profanity, you only need a touch to make your point. If your character tends to ramble, talk in circles, or use space-filling words and phrases (like totally!) then that needs to be shown from time to time. As an author it's our job to choose our character's words and style carefully to achieve our goal of relating what the reader needs to know as clearly and concisely as possible.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

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  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle View Post
    If you want to reflect ordinary human speech better fill your dialogue with all sorts of useless phrases, as well as doing things like not finishing sentences and having people talking over the top of each other. In normal speech people understand things because of all sorts of indicators from tone to body posture, try sticking a recording device where it can overhear a conversation. People just don't take turns and speak clearly, without visual clues it can be misleading. Without writing there are no tonal clues you have the words and a couple of vague indicators like. ? Nothing to tell you if the question is rhetorical, sarcastic or what, and people interrupt and talk over the top all the time when they have understood what's coming. Real life dialogue and written dialogue are two completely different animals. You may reflect human speech, but reflections are back to front and only show one dimension, they look like an accurate representation at first glance, but they are not, even if the mirror is not distorted. I remember representations of actual conversations from my psychology lectures, they used a columns, a time frame, and various colours, lines and arrows all over the place.
    No, that’s not what I am saying. When I say “writing should reflect ordinary speech” I don’t mean a verbatim transcript. That would be awful. What I mean is something analogous to how a portrait reflects the sitter and can do so accurately without necessarily having to include every wrinkle on their face or the mustard stain on their collar.

    But your gripe was seemingly with the inclusion of a couple of words and the assertion they were useless because they didn’t strictly “mean something”. I disagree with that because they can mean something if they fit the voice, which is not a hypothetical because people do use those words, and when they use them they generally mean something. If they do not, that’s just bad writing. Bad writing can happen regardless of word count.

    By your logic, that words not in possession of a distinct meaning, should be dispensed with that would include — surely — every instance of hyperbole, most idioms, any kind of quirk (“totally!”, “that’s cool”, “like”, etc) without seemingly much interest on whether those terms might fit the character who is speaking. That’s senseless, to me. If you ARE going to allow that some characters might use “extra words” then this whole thread is pointless speculation, because we don’t have a character or text to analyze.

    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle View Post
    It only adds the emphasis if you hear it. In writing how you hear it is not in the spoken words.

    "It is better than I had" he said sarcastically.

    "It is better than I had." he said with satisfaction.

    "It is better than I had." He said emphatically.

    Why bother with vague qualifiers like 'So much'? It is pretty meaningless, how much? If it were,

    "It is one hundred percent better than I had" he cried enthusiastically.

    I could understand it, but 'So much'? No, it is just a meaningless sop, word salad.
    So you’re not okay with a couple of extra words in dialogue but happy to pump your writing thick with steroid adverbs and/or Tom Swifties ? Doesn’t make sense, and I think a lot of writers (Stephen King most certainly) would disagree with your assertion that the addition of an adverb in the dialogue tag is the only way to create the sense of voice. Plenty of writers manage to create a compelling sound to their speech within the spoken words. Like, a lot of them.

    If I can create the desired emotion within the speech itself (which sometimes is possible, other times isn’t, it depends on the character and emotion) then I’ll take that every time over lazily joined adverbs.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

    "Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow."

    “Remember this: Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him. ”

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  10. #10
    I'm gonna have to side with BV on this one.
    When you are talking about dialogue, it's not about being grammatically correct, but illustrating a realistic character.
    When you are talking about narration, it is about the voice you are trying to project.

    Unless you are writing an encyclopedia, being grammatically correct is not the true goal.

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