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the or a? (1 Viewer)

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
I am working on my chapters of why an author would use the over a. Or vice versa. I don't need to get it perfect. But I wondered if you had any opinions? Or you can post an opening paragraph and I'll try to guess.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
Pretty sure that classic story telling is to use a for first mention and the for subsequent mention (if there's only one in the story.)

A princess lived in a castle. The princess was unhappy.

Pretty sure that when the story is told from the persepctive of a character, this rule flips to being a for the character first noticing it and then for subsequent mentions (if there's only one is the scene.

I was walking towards the lake when I saw a deer.

But there's so many other things going on.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Change them around constantly up to draft 80. Plus references to 'def' and 'indef' in everyday conversation...like a writer + superior laughter. Leave the room when the past continuous present futurists arrive in beards (death to TEFL).
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Good question!

Sam saw the man as he got out of a car. (The man is important to the story and there has already been a reference to him previously.)

Sam saw a man as he got out of the car. (The car is already part of the story and there needs to have been a reference to the car previously.)
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
"The" suggests some previous knowledge or familiarity, so it's an efficient worldbuild implying that the subject is known or expected, or has "been present before" in some way.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
To me, the implies something specific, whereas a is more general.

He saw the car from across the lot. -> the character is familiar with the vehicle.
He saw a car from across the lot. -> the character sees a random vehicle.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
"The" suggests some previous knowledge or familiarity, so it's an efficient worldbuild implying that the subject is known or expected, or has "been present before" in some way.

Do you mean from the reader's perspective or a character's? ("known or expected" to who?)
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
Good question!

Sam saw the man as he got out of a car. (The man is important to the story and there has already been a reference to him previously.)

Sam saw a man as he got out of the car. (The car is already part of the story and there needs to have been a reference to the car previously.)

You do not start your stories with the?

I mean, a start could be "A tropical rain fell in drenching sheets..." or "The tropical rain fell in drenching sheets..." As far as I can tell, they are both fine, so if you would use "a", that's fine, I'm just asking. Crichton used the, and I think that's okay too.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
You do not start your stories with the?

I mean, a start could be "A tropical rain fell in drenching sheets..." or "The tropical rain fell in drenching sheets..." As far as I can tell, they are both fine, so if you would use "a", that's fine, I'm just asking. Crichton used the, and I think that's okay too.

Good point! In this case they are interchangeable with little difference in meaning. hmmm... you got me here.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
You do not start your stories with the?

I mean, a start could be "A tropical rain fell in drenching sheets..." or "The tropical rain fell in drenching sheets..." As far as I can tell, they are both fine, so if you would use "a", that's fine, I'm just asking. Crichton used the, and I think that's okay too.

To add to Taylor's comment, in this example, the article could be omitted entirely.

I had the opposite first reaction to BD. I'd reference from the reader's perspective unless the character's perspective has already been made clear. Plus, I think you're correct in your notion that "a" can be correct on first reference, and "the" thereafter once the object has been introduced as a specific and durable story element.
 
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bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
To add to Taylor's comment, in this example, the article cold be omitted entirely.

I had the opposite first reaction to BD. I'd reference from the reader's perspective unless the character's perspective has already been made clear. Plus, I think you're correct in your notion that "a" can be correct on first reference, and "the" thereafter once the object has been introduced as a specific and durable story element.

I think, for me, using "the" in the first instance like this actually helps establish the character POV. It's as if the writer says: of course you haven't seen this before as a reader; you've only just started. Therefore it has to be the character.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
I think, for me, using "the" in the first instance like this actually helps establish the character POV. It's as if the writer says: of course you haven't seen this before as a reader; you've only just started. Therefore it has to be the character.

Do you also use "he" or "she" in your first lines?

She eyed me coldly.
A woman eyed me coldly.
The woman eyed me coldly.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Do you also use "he" or "she" in your first lines?

She eyed me coldly.
A woman eyed me coldly.
The woman eyed me coldly.

Generally, no. I kind of start a bit more zoomed out than that, a bit more wide-angle. I guess if I was to choose among these three, I'd go for the last one. It establishes POV without being super-vague.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Generally, I would use 'a' for the first mention and then 'the' for the second but there are other situations I'd use 'the'. If I'm describing something with 'assumed' attributes, I'd use 'the'. For instance, if I was in a room, I wouldn't say 'a floor' or 'a ceiling' or 'a door' because they're all assumed to be there. I would however use 'a' for a table, chair, bed, stool etc, because you can't always assume they're there. If I went into a shop, I wouldn't use 'a' for the counter or 'a' for the till, I'd use 'the' because, once again, they're assumed to be there.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Generally, I would use 'a' for the first mention and then 'the' for the second but there are other situations I'd use 'the'. If I'm describing something with 'assumed' attributes, I'd use 'the'. For instance, if I was in a room, I wouldn't say 'a floor' or 'a ceiling' or 'a door' because they're all assumed to be there. I would however use 'a' for a table, chair, bed, stool etc, because you can't always assume they're there. If I went into a shop, I wouldn't use 'a' for the counter or 'a' for the till, I'd use 'the' because, once again, they're assumed to be there.

A really good point! I would also describe this as if there is only one, as in 'the sky' or the 'the ground'.
 
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