Tuesday, March 21, 2017

woop and wharf

A comment from Susan on yesterday's blog post prompted this one today.
"One of my favorite pieces of writing advice is from Elmore Leonard: Take out everything that sounds like writing. Here's an example "his gaze wandered to the television."

This gave me pause. Dialogue, character development, and descriptions are my strong suit, but I cannot for the life of me get a proper handle on action sentences like this, particularly when they're surrounding dialogue.

How would you propose a fix for this sentence, if it's not a throwaway line and the character had to look at the television for plot purposes?

Words are your tools. You have to know what they mean, and sometimes what you think they mean isn't right.  Gaze for example.

Gaze means to look intently, steadily. Thus a gaze by definition doesn't wander (ie move randomly.)

And "his gaze wandered to the television" is clunky. He looked at the television is better, or just the television blared.

What I drew from the query is that the writer did not know the difference between "gaze" and "look."

It's an easy mistake.

I have a couple words that I err on. You've all seen me write "woop and warf" which is not only not correct, it's really REALLY wrong.  Somehow I have woop and warf describing the weave of a rug in place of warp and weft. I have no idea how woop and warf got stuck in my mind, but it's taken some pretty pointed side-eye gazes (!!) from the readers here to flag that phrase as one I need to verify before hitting "publish" on a post.

"Reading the dictionary" is the punchline to more than one joke, but as a writer, reading the dictionary is actually a pretty good use of time.


Unknown said...

If you're a tweeter, follow Merriam-Webster! Very fun and informative.

CynthiaMc said...

If you've ever been on or seen the musical Carousel, there's a song about not being able to tell the warp from the woof.

AJ Blythe said...

The old 'you don't know what you don't know' conundrum:
You have to know what they mean, and sometimes what you think they mean isn't right.

I guess that's what CPs are for, to help find any wacky use of words!

DLM said...

Maybe woop should be another prompt word for contest #100. (She said, hating herself because it's a difficult one.)

This post and yesterday's are a good example for me of JUST how subjective an agent's work is, and how variable opinions can be. I would be one who could live with a gaze wandering if I had to (even if not in perfect harmony), but three homonym errors is three more than I could even begin to stomach. Your/you're is about all I can manage to forgive, and that only once, because I know I make that typo from time to time and I know nobody's mistaking their meanings with that one. I don't like it, but I know it.

So there may be agents who could take a wandering gaze, but who'd actually explode if they saw "woop and wharf" - and we can't know which agent will be triggered by which errors (or how many).

Once again, kids: all the more reason to do everything we can to avoid ANY errors, other than the intentional, in a query and first pages/synopsis/whatever they ask for. (And intentional errors had better be clearly so!)

Dear Donna's Dixie Dupree gave a great example of this. Consistently through the book, our heroine refers to herself and her brother as "me and AJ." Given that they were the subject of most sentences, we all know that grammatically this was not tip-top - but it comes to the voice. "Me and AJ" almost became another character; how is "me and AJ" doing today a sustaining question throughout. "Me and AJ" may have provided the most consistent verbal characterization for me as a reader, even moreso than the many other colloquialisms warming up the tone.

AJ, great point indeed. This is why it's incumbent upon a writer to also be a listener, to know the arts and tools of language as thoroughly as possible. See also - the paragraph above! ;)

furrykef said...

I don't know. If the character was indeed gazing at something in the proper sense of the word and then he slowly started scanning the room with a similar level of attention, I think that could reasonably be called a wandering gaze. It may still not be the best phraseology, but I wouldn't call it wrong.

"He looked at the television" sucks all the life out of it, and "The television blared" is so different in meaning that, without context, it's hard to say whether it's a suitable replacement. So, even if we agree that "His gaze wandered to the television" is the wrong phrase, I'm not convinced we've found the right one.

As for the advice to "take out everything that sounds like writing", I think it depends on style. I'm sure this works for many, maybe even most writers, but I don't think it works for me. I remember reading some articles by Orson Scott Card on how to write, and one of them focused on distilling writing to "what happens and why". And I thought, well, that's an excellent way to wind up with the sort of bland prose that appears in OSC's novels.

I'm not saying OSC is not a talented author. Indeed, I have said before that I was floored by Ender's Game so hard that it shook my confidence in my own abilities as a writer. "How can I compete with that?" I asked myself. But OSC's talent was in constructing plots, not in his prose. For me, it's the other way around. I feel strongly that my strength as a writer is not in the story I'm telling, but how I tell it.

For an example of what I mean, look at Douglas Adams. Nobody reads his books for their plots. Their plots are serviceable and they have some highly imaginative elements, but I doubt I'd read his stories if they were distilled to "what happens and why". We read them because we want to read lines like, "The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't," or "He inched his way up the corridor as if he would rather be yarding his way down it," or "we patiently explained to him that he could fuck off."

So I don't think there is much one-size-fits-all advice for writers, certainly not any rule like "remove anything that sounds like writing". If the shoe fits, wear it--but if it doesn't, throw it out!

Colin Smith said...

The phrase that I grew up hearing was "warp and woof." And that was in England, spoken with English accents, so you know it was correct. :D Wikipedia recognizes "warp and woof" as a legitimate alternative to "warp and weft," and Merriam-Webster lists it along with a definition.

I should also note that Jellikow Waarpenwoof was one of the more notable exiles to Carkoon. He gained fame for being one of the few people to climb Mount Ktazz and stare into its depths, something that no mortal should do. Legend has it, the fumes from Mount Ktazz invoke visions so horrible, so grotesque, that they would even make the mighty Sarlacc weep. When Warpenwoof returned, his eyes were fixed in a permanent gaze, as if blind to the real world and only able to see the visions of Mount Ktazz. If ever someone's gaze could wander, it was poor Jellikow Waarpenwoof's.

But I digress... :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I rather thought, writers, by trade, all kept a dictionary and thesaurus within reach at all times. I can now get a handy dictionary, etymological dictionary, and thesaurus right on my phone, but until a year or so ago, those books went with me everywhere.

Not that this stops me from misusing words in creative and horrifying new ways, but these are rather wonderful tools. And I do still keep the latest OED at my desk to see which words have been so widely abused as to create new entries into that map of the English language.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin Bless you. Just bless your wittty soul. Always a bright spot in my sleep deprived morning. You are almost as good as coffee at setting me on my day.

Theresa said...

DLM's point is well taken. Of course, "me and AJ" is perfect coming from a child. I'd probably find "woop and wharf" charming.

I got stuck writing one sentence yesterday, mostly because I had the wrong word in it. I tried different words. Nothing. I went back to the original. Still not right. I finally had to ditch the sentence and go with something entirely new.

Donnaeve said...

Funny how the fingers override the brain sometimes. In a recent round of reading for editing, I found I'd used sole for soul. I know the difference.

I don't remember the incident of the woop and warf. (The Incident of The Woop and Warf. A title?)

Re: "Me and AJ." Whew it stands out, doesn't it? Soooooo completely wrong, but it's the way of Dixie's voice, as Diane points out. And she's not the first one to do that. I think our own John (MS) Frain made the same comment on my blog a while back when I was doing First Sentence Fridays, because one of the chapters began with, "Me and AJ..."

Donnaeve said...

Oh. And I am now obsessing about "GAZE."

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am constructing sentences using "gaze", hoping to get a jump on contest 100 since Janet has said that will be one of the words.

So Donna , obsess away.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: You can't make a shoe pastry without a lot of sole. OKAY, I'm sorry--Dad humor... I couldn't resist! If my kids were here, they'd be hitting me. :)

Colin Smith said...

Elise: You have to be careful what you say around here--you never know what'll end up in that list of five...!

Aerdan said...

It's important to remember that, in writing, rules are there to be broken. Certainly, new writers should be careful to obey the rules until they develop a feel for when to break them, but I think in this case the sentence can be justified. Is the fella's intense look established before it wanders, or did the writer mean to imply a quick look that then lingers?

As with everything else in writing, context is important. Without context, you can't adequately judge the quality of a given sentence. This applies to other disciplines, too, particularly computer programming.

Julie Weathers said...

My youngest son's pet peeve is someone saying they're doing good. When one of his boys say they're doing good, he says, "Superman does good, you're doing well."

He stole it from a comedy routine, but it gets the point across.

As Mark Twain said: The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

Furrykef There's no right way to write. A friend of mine was at a conference where the vainglorious authors on a panel agreed to a person that the only way to write a successful book was to write linearly and with a definite plan. A person must be organized or they will never succeed.

What works for one author, doesn't work for another. I will never be able to write like other authors I admire, but I might learn from them and improve my own voice.

Don't listen to any scapegrace who will steal your voice. Be yourself, only better.

Unknown said...

In e-books, I love that you can press a word and the definition pops up. Sometimes, when I read "real" books, I go for the press, then realize, "Oh, uh, yeah..."

I suspect most know this, but, just in case, if you write in Word, you can right-click any word and get a link to synonyms, antonyms, definitions, etc. This is a favorite feature for me. I can find the word I'm looking for without breaking my writing stride. ("Damnit, who took my dictionary?!" *5 minutes looking* Oops, buried under draft seven.)

Anonymous said...

That example video makes me all kinds of happy. It would've been so easy to write that kind of correction in a condescending or patronizing way. It's beyond some of the people I know to phrase it any other way. And the comment by the other character after she walked off gave the distinct impression that he would not have been so matter-of-fact with it if he'd been the one to speak up.

french sojourn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
french sojourn said...

Funny I associated gaze slightly with glance. I don't think I ever thought of a gaze as deliberate and focused. Star gazer always struck me as meandering about the heavenly panoramic. And whenever I've gazed into someone's eyes, I think I was guilty of not focusing, and having ulterior motives after a while.

Great place to keep learning, thanks J.

Cheers Hank.

Colin Smith said...

I've had some tea, so it's time for my serious point of the day: Don't be afraid/ashamed to look it up. Everyone writing on a computer linked to the internet has access to word spellings and definitions. If you're not sure whether you've spelled a word correctly, or if the word you have chosen is appropriate for the context, look it up. It'll take a minute of your time, but it'll increase your credibility when you submit your work for professional review. This applies not only when we're talking about novels and querying, but in your email correspondence, when writing papers for school, or any time you put your thoughts into words. I check for correct word usage in my novels. But I also do the same for work emails, and even here when I'm vommenting. I don't always get it right, but I try my goshdarndest to say what I mean to say.

And don't you just want to write a picture book about an alien called Warp and his pet dog, Woof? :)

Kitty said...

OP’s question brings up my pet peeve of mixing dialogue and description together like tossed salad, and sometimes in one long paragraph. It kills the mood and the story flow for me.

The worst example was the sixth book in series by a very famous writer. In this particular book, she wrote one line of dialogue and then launched into hooptedoodle. I’m sure she thought she was being creative, but I couldn’t have cared less because by the time I got to dialogue sentence #2, I had to go back and re-read the first. I was tempted to read only dialogue. (As Elmore Leonard said, “I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.”) But then I would wonder if I had missed something important. So, I read every word and ended up hating the book. I can’t even recall what the damned book was about.

When I write, I write as a reader. I try to group conversations together, with almost no interruptions, so the reader gets the flow. And because I trust and respect the reader's imagination, I try to keep the hooptedoodle to a bare minimum. Leonard’s rule #8 “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters,” and #9 “Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.”

The two books I reference the most are “The Elements of Style” and “Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.”

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

My father used to read the dictionary. My mother was a voracious reader. Both of them instilled a love of "words" in me. I grew up playing "word of the day" ... we'd page through the dictionary till we came to one with a particularly intriguing sound or one that had an interesting definition, and then we'd use it throughout the day. "We made a peach pie festooned with raspberries." And ya know that rule about avoiding overly-descriptive words when a simple one will do? My mother would say, "Balderdash! Pepper your sentences with the rich bounty of seasonings your Websters' holds in store. The more gloriously delightful the better."

And the word gaze...? I love that word. Maybe it's because I do a lot of it. The intriguing magic of horses, ya know? Which is why I couldn't resist suggesting it for the 100th FF. You're welcome.

Colin Smith said...

"Uh, what are you doing?"
"What are you doing?"
"I'm, well, you know..."
"I'm hooptedoodling."
"Hooptedoodling. Don't you hooptedoodle?"
"Not if I can help it."
"Sure you do! Everyone hooptedoodles from time to time."
"Well, could you hooptedoodle elsewhere? It's very distracting."
"I'm sorry. What are you doing?"
"Dismembertedoodling someone I just murdertedoodled."
"Oh. You're very strange, you know that?"

Mister Furkles said...

Sorry for the long post

Even if the character looks at the TV it is a ‘tell’. You want to draw the reader’s mind into the scene. You want to ‘show’ what the characters are doing and if possible what they are thinking.

Imagine you are sitting in the front row of a live play or screen play. The actors do things and the audience imagines what the characters, played by actors, are thinking. What do you see the actors do?

If he looks at the TV, there must be a cause. The TV host says something or a commercial makes some noise or maybe plays an old rock song. Whatever it is, that happens and then he looks at the TV and sees what?

James Burke does this a lot. A character is talking but pauses to look out the window and sees a deer. The deer does something that may be metaphorically related to the story. This kind of writing draws the reader into the scene and often alerts the reader to what the character is thinking without having to tell the reader what is on the character’s mind.

Take a story you like and underline every phrase in scenes that do not relate directly to the plot, dialogue, or main action. (Not for 300 pages, just for a few.)

For example, “When he opened his door, he was eating a cheese and lettuce and tomato sandwich, his jaw packed like a baseball.” - Creole Belle, by Burke.

Now that is easy to visualize and much better than “He opened the door.”

RKeelan said...

I was going to do some editing on my bus ride to work, but this post has got me so riled up I'm useless for writing anything other than writing a response.
Luckily, Furrykef has already said most of what I wanted to say (and done it better than I would have).
I'll only add that my interpretation of Elmore's advice is to not write the kind of cleverisms that only a writer would write. Under this interpretation, the juxtaposition of 'gaze' and 'wander' is intended to be clever. "That guy is so mellow / spaced-out / tired, even his gaze is wandering!"
Stripping that stuff out is certainly a style of writing (it’s even my style of writing), but it's hardly something to offer as advice to everyone.

Janet Reid said...

Don't listen to any scapegrace who will steal your voice. Be yourself, only better.

The second word for Contest #100 is scapegrace.

Susan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan said...

Thanks, Janet! And thanks to John and Diane for talking me through this yesterday. I still don't feel satisfied, but I'm glad I know my weakness in writing so I can pull my focus there during edits.

Here's an example of what I'm taking about, pulled from my first book. I hope this is alright, and you all will indulged me...

"We'll figure something out." Dad winked in the rearview mirror. "Just make sure you don't overfeed him this time."
"I don't think that's gonna be a problem."
I followed Audrey's gaze as she pointed between my feet, and I quickly grabbed the bag and held it up. The light from the setting sun poured through the plastic, casting a delicate glow on Fred's golden scales. Fred remained still, except for the gentle movement made by the subtle ripple of water as the car shifted and turned into our driveway.
I sighed and leaned back against the seat. "I told you he was suffocating."

1) I used the word "gaze!" Properly, too, I think, though I'm with others in that I usually think of it as a lingering glance.
2) Here's where I'm tripping myself up (and possibly just because I'm in draft mode and hating everything). When I'm writing, I tend to view the world both as a movie and from inside the character's perspective. This means every look, glance, nod, and subtle shift in body language. We can't express all of this through text--some of it should be left to the reader's imagination. But how much is too much? Is less really more?

That's to say, I don't think we should have endless description of the character's actions because that detracts too much from the story and/or dialogue, but is "I sighed" sometimes enough?

That's what I'm getting caught up on. The oversimplification of these actions. Which is why "his gazed wandered to the television" gave me pause--not because of the word gaze but because of the simplicity of the action itself.

That hamster wheel, she is a-spinning!

Kitty said...

For those who don't know, "hooptedoodle" is from the prologue in John Steinbeck's "Sweet Thursday," which Elmore Leonard referenced in his rule #2:
The Steinbeck character goes on to say, "Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle...Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That's nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don't have to read it. I don't want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story."

"Sweet Thursday" has two chapters labeled "Hooptedoodle (1)" and "Hooptedoodle (2), or the Pacific Grove Butterfly."

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Scapegrace? Seriously? I'm going to mudertedoodle someone. This will be a messy contest. Dang, I think I'm bleeding. No doubt that was the shark's intention.

Amy Johnson said...

Kathy, I'm with you about Miriam Webster. I so enjoy visiting her site. She's full of informative stuff. ;)

Kitty, Thank you for bringing up your pet peeve. A few paragraphs in my WIP are like that, and they've been bugging me. I've been debating changing them, and now I think I will.

I must go make the antagonist nicer in my WIP. A theme of the story is that an awful lot of unkindness in this world is perpetrated by people thinking they're justified and doing the right and kind thing. Onward!

(Something fun for those avoiding getting to work on their writing: After reading today's post and comments, I'm all "I don't know what I don't know--am I using the right words?" So, I looked up four words in the dictionary while composing this comment. One I decided not to use. Can you guess the other three?)

Craig F said...

I had always thought of gaze being the middle ground between a glance and a stare. Mostly it is a descriptive way of saying someone was looking at something with the intent of looking for something.

Worse, to me, are the double positives of things like 'he gazed intently at the clock'. Gaze puts some emotive and descriptive teeth into a sentence that can easily be lifeless.

As we gazed out on St. Dominic's Preview

Colin Smith said...

Elise: Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit hooptedoodle. ;)

Kitty said...

Amy Johnson, you're welcome! Someone once warned writers to avoid falling in love with your writing as though they were your children, because you might have to kill them off. Wish I could recall who said that, because it was the first piece of info that helped my writing. I re-read some of the stuff I had written and found a few gems in pages of garbage.

John Williamson said...

If I were to stop at a scenic overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, my gaze might very well wander from peak to peak. But if I were to see smoke among some trees, I might stare and try to determine whether I were seeing the beginnings of a forest fire. So a stare is usually seen as fixed, whereas a gaze is not. I think that furrykef is exactly right to note that a wandering gaze is exactly what a scan or scanning is. One scans the horizon by training one's gaze on the far left and moving to the far right. If one sees a hostile ship, one stops and stares.

As for the example of evacuate from The Wire, this word has undergone a shift in perspective in the same way that educate has. It used to be the case that students were graduated from colleges, but now it is the students who graduate. Similarly, it used to be that buildings were evacuated of people, but now it is people who are evacuated from buildings. The meaning is the same.

Amy Johnson said...

Kitty, I think you might be referring to "kill your darlings," which apparently has been changed in various ways and attributed to various people, but it seems to have originated with Arthur Quiller-Couch.

Amy Johnson said...

Oops, I think the original was actually "murder your darlings."

Colin Smith said...

Hmmm... this is an interesting discussion topic, and one I might take up on my blog. Does it matter that we use words according to their strict meaning, or is it okay, especially in the case of commercial fiction, to use words according to their popular meaning? For example, if your main character runs into a building shouting, "Evacuate!" it's natural to expect the people will look for the exits, not the bathrooms.

Yet, as writers, are we not supposed to hold language in high regard? You might expect a layman to use the wrong tool for the job--he just picks the one that looks like it'll get the job done. However, the craftsman knows better, and will select the appropriate tool that will do the job correctly.

Food for thought! :)

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janet Reid said...

Lest anyone be tempted to murder someone over prompt words, remember words can be divided.
Scapegrace could be scape and grace as in "escape Grace who had hooptedoodle on her mind." And lord knows what Steve Forti will dream up!

And besides, you've got some time to cogitate here.

mythical one-eyed peace officer said...

From a recent newspaper column by Jonah Goldberg:

"I would like to repeal and replace not just the warp and woof of Obamacare all at once...."


Kitty said...

Amy… Found it! Scroll down to '6'
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863–1944). On the Art of Writing. 1916.
“…if you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’

Steve Stubbs said...

“Take out everything that sounds like writing is a better way of saying write commercial, not literary.” I think Leonard Elmore was a commercial writer. Purple Mountain Majesties may work well in the song America the Berautiful, but they cn get tiresome in a whodunit.

french sojourn said...

The landscape gracefully allowed an opportunity for the writer to murder his darlings with a Barrett.

Janet Reid said...

but it seems to have originated with Arthur Quiller-Couch.

Am I the only one who read Killer-Couch at first?
Ok, back to the coffee pot.

Karen McCoy said...

Darn it, Steve, just when I was about to set a cozy mystery in South Dakota...

Karen McCoy said...

Killer Couch Looking for Tolerant Home

Looking for a piece of furniture to permanently eat your change? This consummate couch is low enough to the ground that even grandma won't be able to extract herself from its striped clutches. New upholstery not required.

Kate Higgins said...

I've always heard "warp and woof" because my grandmother was a weaver. But I would laugh and say "woop and warf" (Whoop and Wharf)

Why? I grew up in Idaho and "whooping up a horse" meant urging him with a slap or a yell to get it to hurry up and run fast.

I imagined a cowboy on a horse on a long wharf, whooping up the horse to run and jump into the ocean.
That's how my minds works...terrifying, I know.

As for the horse: "his graze wandered to the television..."
OK, time for more coffee, here on the left coast it's 8am

Leslie said...

Lots of interesting thoughts here. Thanks everyone!

I also saw it as "killer couch" at first, and started to think about the dirty, broken couches I see on sidewalks, waiting to be picked up by the sanitation dept - or people looking to furnish their apartments on the cheap.

Now I have to add "gaze" to my list of Misused Words and Phrases That Annoy Me. Others include: "beg the question," "disinterested," and the mangling of "casting aspersions" into "casting dispersions"

Patchi said...

I think gazes are substituting for eyes in many sentences because there are a lot of opinions out there stating that you shouldn't send your characters' eyeballs across the room. "My eyes wandered to the television" sounds worse to me.

Joseph S. said...

Oh evacuate.

Scapegrace – another word I never heard before.

Anecdote time while I listen to my new favorite band - Gerry and the Wandering Gaze.

I have a very minor character. He is known as “the man with the cart” with no further description. He’s only in the book for a page but I wanted to liven him up some. I wrote this as my farewell sentence about him.

“The man with the cart, with fresh money in his pocket and a whiskered grin, tipped his straw hat and urged his horse toward Balsillas.”

In bed that night I wondered if Colombians grew beards. Googled “Colombia beard” in the morning. They can grow beards.

Then I googled “whiskered grin.” Oops. Officially only animals have whiskers. People don’t.

So I changed it to
“The man with the cart, with fresh money in his pocket and a wrinkled grin, tipped his straw hat and urged his horse toward Balsillas.”

Then it dawned on me the old man in the Andes was more likely to own a donkey than a horse so

“The man with the cart, with fresh money in his pocket and a wrinkled grin, tipped his straw hat and urged his donkey toward Balsillas.”

I didn’t like wrinkled grin, but instead of dropping it altogether I thought of changing it to

“The man with the cart, with fresh money in his pocket and a leathery grin, tipped his straw hat and urged his donkey toward Balsillas.”

I like ‘leathery’ since it reflects an old man who had spent much of his life in the sun.

But the sentence falls flat with leathery.

So I’m tempted to return to

“The man with the cart, with fresh money in his pocket and a whiskered grin, tipped his straw hat and urged his donkey toward Balsillas.”

So help me, Gabby Hayes.

DLM said...

Patchi, hee!

As long as we're weighing in, I have always read gaze as being inherently *vague*, as opposed to intent. Thousand-yard gaze, absent gaze, dreamy gaze, gazing out a window. To indicate concentrating on something, I'm going to use - well - concentrating, peering, poring. Maybe a sharp look. Ooh, or regarding.

For a synesthesiac like me, gaze has too much "haze" in it to be intent or necessarily fixed.

furrykef, I would say, as regards "the television blared" that its change in meaning is in fact the point of altering the wording. "He looked at the TV" is didactic, and sparks no intimate recognition in me as a reader. It doesn't put me there. "The TV blared" conveys an experience I know, it brings me in without explaining mechanics. Bypassing stage direction shows rather than telling.

Joseph, MANY is the description I have seen of a man's whiskers. Not that you need me for a beta reader, but I prefer the first version over the re-thinks.

BJ Muntain said...

Homonyms as typos are certainly forgiveable, like Donna's sole/soul, or Colin's 'pail green' of yesterday. Sometimes when I'm writing or typing, the fingers move faster than the brain, and I'll write there for their, or your for you're, or mix up write and right, or something silly like that. I do know the difference, and I will correct it as quickly as possible if I can (hopefully before others see it). If it's in my writing, that's easy to do - no one sees it until I've reread it several times and it doesn't go to industry people until it's been critiqued. If it's in a text or message or comment, sometimes you just can't correct it. Or it's just more work than it's worth. Because it's just a typo.

I find it very interesting how everyone is attempting to fix the sentence "His gaze wandered to the TV." As some have argued, it's really not that bad of a sentence and, as others have noted, it's really hard to define what is wrong with it out of context. But because Janet said it was 'wrong', a lot of people are attempting to correct it.

When I critique, I'm able to pick out a number of errors - someone telling instead of showing, someone telling AND showing (you'd be surprised how often that happens) - but sometimes telling is just fine. Out of context, it may not look right, but in context, it may give the exact right tone and feel.

As for Elmore's advice, so many business people could use it. Jargon is the worst example of 'looks like writing'. Please, people. In your fiction or non-fiction or ANYWHERE, never use words like incentivize or leverage in your fiction, unless it is being spoken by a business person trying to sound like a business person. I absolutely cringed when I worked for a non-profit, and my manager's manager put the words 'make the ask' on a public webpage. Dude. 'Make the ask' makes a non-profit sound like asking for donations is business. Maybe it is, but that's not something you want to put in front of the public. I was so embarrassed, I refused to use that wording or that web page in any of the social media.

Susan: I use 'nod' and 'shrug' too often. The worst thing is, this is in my real life, too. Sometimes I'll catch myself nodding and nodding at things, and think I must look like a bobblehead. What you need to do is be aware that this could be a problem, then develop your own style to deal with the problem. Because, when it comes right down to it, everything is style.

Joseph: People have whiskers. They're just different whiskers than animals have. It's not the biological term, but it's just as correct as anything else. Use it. We know what you mean. And it's a wonderful image.

Joseph S. said...

Janet R. wrote:
“Scapegrace could be scape and grace as in "escape Grace who had hooptedoodle on her mind."”

I thought one contest rule was the words could not be used as proper nouns.


Grace Scapegrazer killed a man.
“Mom, I killed a man.”
“That’s nice, dear. Now eat your broccoli.”

furrykef said...

@DLM: I'd say it depends on what the passage is about. Certainly a "wandering gaze" (whatever it might mean) could imply something about a person's state of mind, which might be relevant if there's something unusual about it. If, on the other hand, the person's state of mind is an extraneous detail and what's happening on the TV is much more interesting, then of course we want to get to the TV as fast as possible. In that case we might even cut out "The television blared" and skip straight to whatever is on the TV.

Colin Smith said...

Joseph: There has never been a contest rule that says you can't use the words as proper nouns. However, Janet has said in the past that this is a bit of a creative cop-out and won't score you any points. That said, there have been finalists, and maybe even a winner, who used at least one mandatory word as a proper noun.

If there is a rule, it would be: if you're going to do it, do it well. :)

Claire Bobrow said...

Arthur Quiller Couch is sitting on my shelf thanks to The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. If I could write like Helene Hanff I would die a happy woman.

I've spent way too long this morning pondering the meaning of "gaze."

Now it's time to give "scapegrace" its due, before the morning dew evaporates and I realize there's no time to do anything productive.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

As I am not Steve Forti, can we maybe use a synonym for scapegrace? I realize this request is unworthy of a rascal or even a humble beggar, but ... well, at least I can lose contest 100 spectacularly. *sigh* kerblahdoodle!

Ardenwolfe said...

Interesting and informative.

Ardenwolfe said...

I think this happens because of an old 'rule' that suggests we avoid using terms like look, hear, feel, touch and taste because they tell more than show or words to that effect. But Janet's point is valid regardless. Love that The Wire link. ;)

Lennon Faris said...

Prompt words, drawn out one at a time. Janet is exploring new methods of tormenting writers...

On topic, I had some thoughts similar to furrykef's.

When I see "his gaze wandered to the television," I think of a guy walking into a room, seeing something he didn't expect (hence the intent stare), and looking the room over in his state of surprised observation. Then something small calling his attention towards the TV.

So maybe there's a place for the phrase, somewhere in the world? or at least in mine :D

Anonymous said...

OK. I had to stop everything to search my WIP for the word, gaze. Paranoid much?

Joseph S. said...

Off the bat, I giggled at ,b.elisabethcrisp's,/b> comment, then decided maybe I should do the same thing.

Casey Karp said...

When I get rolling, I'm more likely to omit words than homophone them. But that's me.

Kathy, much as I couldn't live without Word's spell-checker, I'm deeply suspicious of Microsoft's thesaurus function. It seems far too generous in establishing synonyms. IMNSHO, one should be able to infer a definition from synonyms.

Case in point: for "gaze", Word suggests stare, look, regard, contemplation, observation. "Look"? Really? And shouldn't that be "contemplate" and "observe"?

By contrast, my thesaurus of choice* offers stare, gape, gawk, goggle, and stand agog. Doesn't that give you a much clearer notion of when to use gaze?

* J.I. Rodale's "The Synonym Finder" (and thank you, Dad, for turning me on to it)

Colin Smith said...

OK, clearly everyone needs a distraction from GAZE and SCAPEGRACE. I was thinking about Arthur, the Killer Couch, and a Queen song came to mind... and one thing led to another... and... well...

Fresh from the pail green painted house, it's...

(Sung to "Killer Queen" by Queen)

He keeps your dimes, cents, and quarters
In his padded cushion top
"Let me eat cake," you say
Keeping every crumb you drop
A built-in mahogany
Controller box for your TV
At anytime--a leather seat your bum can't decline
Taco Bell and cigarettes
Zone out with no regrets
Extraordinarily nice

He's a killer seat
Chaize-long to rest your feet
An Ottoman, or couch, settee
Guaranteed to ease your mind--Anytime
Recommended at a price:
He only wants to waste your life--
Wanna try?

To avoid conversations
He has a place to rest your head
In twenty seconds
It's lights-out, like the living dead
Dreams you off to China
Or ancient Asia Minor
Or pitching for the Major Leagues, whatever--he won't mind
Don't ask if this embarrasses
Because he couldn't care less
He's open to any vice!

He's a killer seat
Chaize-long to rest your feet
An Ottoman, or couch, settee
Guaranteed to rest your mind--Anytime

Drop of a hat he's a Lazzaro,
La-Z-Boy, or Portfolio
And you're permanently out of action
Flatulently passing gas
You can't get up to move your bowels, bowels!
He's out to get you

He's a killer seat
Chaize-long to rest your feet
An Ottoman, or couch, settee
Guaranteed to ease your mind--Anytime
Recommended at a price:
He only wants to waste your life--
Wanna try?


Joseph S. said...

Grumble. I search my WIP for gaze. Found two.

“He dropped his gaze to the fork in his hand, as though he’d find a good answer there.”

is now

“He gazed at the fork in his hand, as though he’d find a good answer there. “

I like the rhythm in the original but hey – grammar is grammar.


Ilse sat on the bed, opening a line of vision between Werner and Dazza. “E.J. wasn’t alone.” Her gaze moved to Dazza. “Tell Werner about his companions.”

I gazed at that one a long time before deciding to change it to

Ilse sat on the bed, opening a line of vision between Werner and Dazza. “E.J. wasn’t alone.” She turned to face Dazza. “Tell Werner about his companions.”

Joseph S. said...


Add gun, ogle, rubber neck, and fish eye to the list for gaze.

Claire Bobrow said...

Okay, Colin - nice one! Now I challenge you to try that with Bohemian Rhapsody :-)

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

In addition to contemplating "gaze" and "scapegrace," I'm ignoring everything else on today's agenda as I frantically try to finish my book club book before tonight's meeting. Help!

Joseph S. said...

"Killer Seat is fantastic. Did you pen that today, or do yo have it stored on your hard drive ready to share? It'd take me days to come up with something like that, and it wouldn't be near that good.

Sort of related to that

An excellent local band called Black Jacket Symphony is making a name for itself by reproducing "note for note" classic albums.

I saw their tribute to Queen's "A Night at the Opera" on March 3 (in the first half -second half was Queen's greatest hits.

Anyway, since then - 19 days I wake most mornings with Queen song ringing in my head over and over again for several hours. It was "Don't Stop Me Now" this morning.

Here I hope is Black Jacket Symphony's version of Killer Queen some audience member recorded:

Black Jacket Symphony

Colin Smith said...

Claire: I'm saving that one for when I get an agent... or published. "Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?"... ;)

Joseph S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph S. said...

Dang. I can't get the hyperlink to work right. So here's the YouTube link to Black Jacket Symphony doing "Killer Queen"


Casey Karp said...

Joseph: Yeah. I was trying to keep the lists roughly the same length.

But golly, I love me some Rodale.

Oh, and here's the link in clickable form: clicky, clicky. (I hope.)

Joseph S. said...

Man, Colin - Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

You got me going with this Black Jacket Symphony doing Queen thing now - My day will be a lost cause. Here they are with Bohemian Rhapsody. Can you tell I enjoyed the show?


Colin Smith said...

Joseph: Thanks! Yup, I pulled that together today. My brain cells needed some firing, and nothing zings them into life better than writing and thinking about words. :)

Here are your Black Jacket Symphony links:
Killer Queen
Bohemian Rhapsody

They're quite impressive, though for me, the ultimate Queen cover is Richie Castellano's (currently with Blue Oyster Cult) Bohemian Rhapsody, where he sings and plays all the parts. If you haven't heard it yet, it's really quite impressive: HERE!

Theresa said...

Claire: Helene Hanff!84 Charing Cross Road is one of my very favorites.

Julie Weathers said...


I think whisker works just fine. I like the first version best. Women know what a whisker burn is and it usually isn't from nuzzling a goat. You're overthinking this and getting paranoid. Of course, I do the same thing.

I just checked Rain Crow for "gaze". I have eight instances in 120,000 words.

The last is yesterday's session:

He leaned against a post, lit cigar in hand, gazing up at our balcony.

"Aglaope, of the lambent voice I believe," he replied casually, unperturbed that he had been caught spying on us, and drew on his cigar.

The use is right, I believe, but the passage needs some smoothing.

And from the drowning:

My skirts and unbound hair billowed about me in the bistre waters.

It was tough to find just the right word to convey that yellowish-brown swamp water.

Using the right words, like evacuate and gaze are important, but I think people can get paranoid and hung up on some things also. We've had some of that recently on some critiques. Common sense and assuming the readers can intuit what you're saying is a good thing. If you ride out somewhere and turn your horse loose to graze then address your horse later by name, it isn't necessary to tell the reader, "Midnight, my horse, was still grazing and gazing, longingly at the last blade of grass in the land."

Anyway, back to torturing people. I have bankers to kill or ginger cookies to bake. I forgot where I am.

Colin, I worry about you at times.

Julie Weathers said...

Also, to one and all, my apologies for scapegrace. I'm stuck in 1860 and it's affected my vocabulary.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: Anyway, back to torturing people. I have bankers to kill or ginger cookies to bake. I forgot where I am.

And you're worried about me?? ;)

Michael Seese said...

One technique I use to (hopefully) not sound like writing is to turn a sentence around. So instead of "his gaze wandered to the television," I might say something like "The television captured his attention and refused to relinquish the remote."

Casey Karp said...

Julie, I'll make a deal with you: if you bake the bankers, I'll kill the ginger cookies.

Since it seems to be the thing to do, I just checked my WIP for gazes. I've got two so far. One of 'em is okay, but I think I'd better do something about "I felt the gazes of the women at the nearest desks turn in our direction." Thank Ghu this is the first draft, or I'd feel really stupid about that one.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin I too was well bedeviled over your ability to insert Bohemian Rhapsody into my head while stirring Killer Queen into a dirge about furniture. That is rare talent.

Then Julie showed up and suddenly it's open season on bankers with ginger cookies. And, Julie, I do not think you put off killing bankers. Simply, poison them with those tasty morsels and two birds, one stone and all that.

Claire Bobrow said...

Theresa: I have no idea why it took me so long to stumble across Helene Hanff, but I'm so glad I did! She is a gem.

Donnaeve said...

Holy cow. So, where I've been? Well, just now skimming comments.

SCAPEGRACE??? Aw, come on!

Oh wait. QOTKU said we have time to cogitate - well, I sure hope it ain't happening this weekend cause I need more time for cogitating after what I just discovered, because YES, PARANOID, like others out here.

I'm sort of freaking out myself as I did a "find" on THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET only to...*drops on floor, can't respond* AND hyperventilate at the same time over many, many, make that MANY instances of...LOOK. Not GAZE. But LOOK.


Joseph S. said...


You're good (and fast, you scapegrace).

and that Richie Castellano video was entertaining. But then he had Wonder Woman to inspire him.

Unknown said...

Late in the day, but I want to add my two cents about whiskers.

When my son was about three, he announced brightly, "I know the difference between girls and boys!"

"Oh?" Me, tentatively, fervently wishing my husband was home.

"Yeah, when they grow up, boys gets whiskers on their faces and girls get whiskers on their legs!"

When hubby came home, I had a long de-whiskering bath.

Gingermollymarilyn said...

Oh! I just know I'm going to have weird dreams tonight with whiskered goats gazing at me!!

Julie Weathers said...


Nah, no poisoning. I already drowned one. I'll let God sort out the others.

AJ Blythe said...

Loving murdertedoodle. And I totally cracked up when I read Miss Janet's choice for FF#100 word #2. Never heard it before, but it's a great word.

I can't wait to read everyone's comments tomorrow... will everyone be very formal and try to avoid words that might scare, or will they throw a bunch of crazy words at Janet hoping one might stick?

Either way, FF#100 is going to be hard yakka to write!

John Davis Frain said...

OMG! Tuesday is the longest & craziest day of my week so I can never get to the blog, but 90 comments!

I can resist anything but temptation, so here goes. I'm diving in...

Anonymous said...

Whole lotta gazing going on in my ms. I think I've used it correctly each time, but wow. I guess I like my characters to make eye contact. Er, not literal contact. That would be weird. And unsanitary.

Now I'm all paranoid about it. I may never use that word again. In fact, I had the opportunity to play that word in Words With Friends a few minutes ago. I played "zag" instead. Going to have to Forti the hell out of it in the upcoming contest.

And scapegrace? Good lord. Do we get to use more than 100 words as compensation for this nonsense?

*wanders off, muttering imprecations*

John Davis Frain said...

I feel like I just finished reading the Internet!

I'm left wondering this: Could I write a book in a style similar to Elmore Leonard and say I'm an Elmore Leonard cover writer similar to someone covering a Queen song? That way, people who don't get to read new Elmore Leonard material (unless somebody discovers his lost vault in the basement) can turn to me to get their fill.

I'm sure it's late and I'm tired and there's something inherently wrong with this theory. My eyes are starting to gaze over. One more letter and they'll glaze over completely.

Sam Hawke said...

Colin by weird coincidence this morning I had Queen in my head... my husband was clonking around the house at quarter to six looking for something he needed to take to class and he eventually asked me if I'd seen it. I said 'it's near the corner of the sideboard. Lying on the floor...' and then I felt compelled to add 'next to his own severed head. The head which, at this time, has no name.'

I was not successful in going back to sleep with Princes of the Universe blaring through my head, though I understand it wasn't a handicap at his judo class.

Janet Reid said...

John Davis manuscript-as in you better be working on one Frain
Write well.
Leave out the parts that sound like writing.
Surprise me.
You don't have to say Elmore Leonard for me to think Elmore Leonard.
Now, why am I thinking of gazing at glazed donuts?

John Davis Frain said...

Oh, you can bet he is working on a manuscript.

No guarantees this will ever get past rejection, but it sure won't be for lack of effort.

I don't say that because I'm short on confidence; I say it because I'm long on understanding the industry. Well, at lest I understand it better than when I started this project.

This manuscript is in so much better shape now, it makes me wonder how bad it must have been after the ninth draft.

Back to work...