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Archive for the ‘Logic and Illogic’ Category

Redundancies: Reflexive Pronouns Used to Clarify Internalized Communication

Posted by CW64 on January 4, 2012

One of the most common mistakes I encounter when proofreading manuscripts is the inclusion of self-reference as the object to internal dialogue. Although the indication of such a tag is true, signifying the thinker as the object within the text is redundant.

Take for example the following sentence:

How I wish I were going to Hawaii this coming summer, Jack thought to himself.

In this example, the narrative speaks in the third person as it describes what Jack is thinking with regard to a desire he has. Since his dialogue is internalized, he is the only one who knows of it, so the identity of the object receiver goes without saying.

Let me put it this way: Can a person ever ‘think’ to anyone other than oneself? No, not unless she or he is psychic, but that is beside the point, since most people do not possess this proclivity, and the reader would have to know about that personality trait beforehand. In any case, due to the obvious fact that a thinker’s audience is always oneself, the reflexive pronoun is overkill; the sentence Jack thought to himself is redundant because he can only think to himself in the first place, and so the “to himself” modifier is both grammatically incorrect and unnecessary.

This rule is so simple, yet it slips by so many people, among them writers. This both annoys and saddens me. Why do people think and write this way?

One added note: This involves any intransitive verb that suggests internalization: ‘thought,’ ‘contemplate,’ ‘wonder,’ ‘consider,’ ‘ponder’ . . . The notion of private dialogue (i.e. thoughts) collectively encompasses all of these and other like words.

The simple rule when expressing internal dialogue is this:

Subject + intransitive verb

That is it.

In other words: “Jack thought” is perfect; this says it all. No indication of receiver needs to be added because it is implied, much like the ‘you’ subject in questions.

This, however, is different than openly talking to oneself:

“Damn, why couldn’t you have left well enough alone?” Jill mumbled to herself on her way home from her ex-boyfriend’s house.

Since verbalized comments can be directed toward anybody, the inclusion of the personal pronoun here is both acceptable and necessary to indicate to the audience the idea that Jill is, in fact, speaking to herself and not to someone else. On the other hand, one can argue that if the audience knows beforehand that Jill is alone, the comment is implicitly self-directed. This is why the context of the scene is important for dialogue clarity.

A similar point can be made regarding laughing and smiling, both of which are open, externalized expressions of thought and feeling. The reflexive pronoun is appropriate here as well. The sentence Jill smiled is different than Jill smiled to herself because the two have distinct implications: The former suggests that she is smiling openly and/or outwardly; the latter indicates discretion with regard to a smile she has no intention of sharing with others in the scene. That being the case, the reflexive pronoun is used only in the second example. This rationale applies to laughing for exactly the same reason.

Of course, the “to oneself” modifier is sometimes unnecessary to indicate a private laugh. The simple use of other words or cues does the job nicely: Jill laughed under her breath. This sentence suggests that Jill is keeping the laugh to herself. Alternate words or phrases apply equally to all forms of expression, internal or external. This is where writers exercise creativity.

This is a simple rule that marks the difference between the seasoned writer and amateur. Although clarity is important in writing, nonsensical redundancies and unnecessary modifiers annoy readers who quickly lose confidence in the writer and that writer’s abilities. As a matter of fact, overkill in written expression destroys the communicative process for both writer and reader because it quite often impedes clarity by creating ambiguous or unintended references.

A writer should NEVER underestimate the reader’s intelligence; the latter is quite capable of deductive reasoning. One should remember that a writer can convey more by saying less, IF she or he chooses the right words or phrases to use in the first place.

Coming Soon: more on redundancies…


Posted in Editing, Fiction, Logic and Illogic, Writing Development Issues, Writing Topics | 4 Comments »

Awkward Adolescence Part II: The Growing Individualist

Posted by CW64 on November 10, 2009

My isolation in youth played a major part in my eventually becoming an individualist, which is what I consider myself above all else. Yes, I know that, in my introductory, I post referred to myself as a writer above else, but, after all, considering that my writing revolves around my individuality and the concept of individualism, the primary status of ‘individualist’ over ‘writer’ would seem to make sense to me.

Then again, my particular style of writing denotes who I am as an individual and individualist, so I cannot be distinguished as an individual or individualist without the inclusion of my writing passion and style, which thus must be established first, no?

Ah, more contradictions.

Or are they?

When I was sixteen, I was drawn into billiards (colloquially, "pool"). One might wonder what that has to do with writing.


Playing pool well requires thinking from beginning to end; every shot must be considered beforehand, even though a player might not know what her or his opponent is going to do throughout the game. That’s the challenge, and the strategy, though sound, will change just as consistently with the development of the game.

Writing, as said, is the same way. A general plan is conceived with the basic idea of a story or writing concept and then laid out in rough draft form. Revisions, then, subsequently fill in the gaps, expand and morph the story and the nature of the characters within it, become tighter and stronger and more vivid. With revisions comes the story’s final version; the climax, though preconceived, brings resolution—just like shooting in the eight ball (or nine ball, depending on the particular game).

Likewise, my writing has also driven me with becoming a better pool player. Writing strategies, such as being flexible with the development of a story and its characters, has directed me to be open-minded and more observant about the game and the organization on the table, not to mention shooting technique. Wording, phrasing, color of a story require just as much care as sliding the pool cue and pushing that cue ball; how a player slides her/his stick, how hard s/he hits the cue ball, how s/he hits the cue ball, all determine how the shot will be played and where the target ball will end up, just as the elements employed determine how a story will end up. Billiards and writing are parallel in this way.

Let’s not forget that Ringers would not have been written without my experience and knowledge of pool and hustling. Young Scotty is sixteen, and he is torn between playing pool professionally—to him, a sure thing—and going to college, which doesn’t guarantee anything in life. This struggle is one with which I am all too familiar; it is part of my life and has been for years. That is why this story is distinctly me—I both excel at the game and have advanced degrees. To me, this is an even balance.

In the end, I think that is why I was drawn to both—because of their ongoing developments and the intrigue that comes about as a result. The passion for both only intensified and made me more determined when I went off to college.

That was a good sign of interesting things to come!

Next: My Erratic Twenties . . . .



Posted in General Commentaries, Historical Accounts, Logic and Illogic, Personal Experiences, Short Stories, Writing Development Issues | 2 Comments »