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What's wrong with "Suddenly"?

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What's wrong with "Suddenly"?

Postby Cord Phaeton » Tue May 10, 2005 9:28 am

In Elmore Leonard's recent NY Times article on writing, he gives his 10 rules for writers, condensed here:


1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ''said'' . . .
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.''
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

***

Now, for number 6 he says this rule doesn't require an explanation.

But a screenplay that I have just finished contains about 20 "suddenlys," so I want to know, before I go to all the trouble of writing them out, what's wrong with them? Isn't "suddenly" a Good Word, with a precise meaning?

Thanks!
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Re: What's wrong with "Suddenly"?

Postby KatyBr » Tue May 10, 2005 11:18 am

Cord Phaeton wrote:
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ''said'' . . .
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.''
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Now, for number 6 he says this rule doesn't require an explanation.

But a screenplay that I have just finished contains about 20 "suddenlys," so I want to know, before I go to all the trouble of writing them out, what's wrong with them? Isn't "suddenly" a Good Word, with a precise meaning?

Thanks!


Most of those rules sound arbitrary anyway and don't apply to published writers.

in merely aspiring writers metaphors and suddenlies abound. It reminds me of the professor I had who asigned a long written work on current events who had his personal (read; prescriptivist) ideas on 'good' literature. He said we couldn't use certain words he didn't approve of. This might be why he didn't like metaphors.
extended or telescoping metaphor: A sustained metaphor.
The teacher descended upon the exams, sank his talons into their pages, ripped the answers to shreds, and then, perching in his chair, began to digest.

implied metaphor: A less direct metaphor.
John swelled and ruffled his plumage (versus John was a peacock)

mixed metaphor: The awkward, often silly use of more than one metaphor at a time. To be avoided!
The movie struck a spark that massaged the audience's conscience.

dead metaphor: A commonly used metaphor that has become over time part of ordinary language.
tying up loose ends, a submarine sandwich, a branch of government, and most clichés

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Postby Cord Phaeton » Tue May 10, 2005 1:23 pm

Thanks, Katy.

For the info, and for the idea to post my own picture of my "daddy."
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Postby Cord Phaeton » Tue May 10, 2005 1:25 pm

Which obviously didn't work. Hmmm.
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Postby KatyBr » Tue May 10, 2005 5:01 pm

CP, try saving your favorite picture to a picture site (for free!) like Webshots, visit the picture at their site and save as in your avatar spot. Or just try a different site for your piture Angelfire and geocities are pretty territorial about their bandwidth. Oh, and you can't host it yourself or you'll lose it when you're offline, I think. I'm so lo-tech....

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Postby uncronopio » Tue May 10, 2005 8:03 pm

I am with Katy on this one. I am not sure why, but people giving writing workshops tend to come up with silly rules like the ones you mentioned. If you are patient enough you can come up with counter examples for all the rules. As an example, have a look at chapter 18 of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and suddenly is there. I am sure you have read more than one good book that starts with weather.

Those 'rules' are only guidelines about issues that new writers tend to use too much. The best writers will always break the rules and get away with it.
"Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest." -- Mark Twain
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Postby Brazilian dude » Tue May 10, 2005 8:35 pm

that starts with weather

I immediately put down books that start mentioning the weather.

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Postby Cord Phaeton » Tue May 10, 2005 8:48 pm

Thanks uncronopio!

I found three suddenly's in that chapter.

Which made me feel a lot better.

Leonard must just have Hemmingway on the brain or something.
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Postby tcward » Tue May 10, 2005 10:23 pm

As far as "suddenly" is concerned, Google reports an equal number of hits for "instantly", at over 24 million hits each. But "immediately" has them both beat, with a startling 5 times the number of hits!

-Tim
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Postby Stargzer » Wed May 11, 2005 1:42 am

Brazilian dude wrote:
that starts with weather

I immediately put down books that start mentioning the weather.

Brazilian dude


Especially on dark and stormy nights. . . :wink:
Last edited by Stargzer on Wed May 11, 2005 9:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby KatyBr » Wed May 11, 2005 11:44 am

cliches notwithstanding, background makes a difference, scenes must be set. I have one book that begins in a desert on a stagecoach. While I didn't begin with "it's sweltering, dusty and dry...." I did find a way to start it with setting the scene.....

Katy
“Sun, dust, and heat,” Oletta moaned to herself, as the stagecoach lurched from side to side. She adjusted her bonnet “Drat that pin.” she thought, as she pushed it in away from her scalp. The shredded curtain over the open window did little to keep out the elements. She leaned back from the window, trying in vain to find a way out of the relentless sun as her body was tossed here and there.
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Postby gailr » Wed May 11, 2005 10:06 pm

6.Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose.''

The Evangelist Known As Mark uses "immediately" nine times in his first chapter, and 35 times altogether. His writing style was intended to promote a sense of urgency so that all hell would not break loose for the reader.
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Postby Verbum » Thu May 26, 2005 4:52 pm

I once started a book by Balzac that spent a whole chapter getting from the mountains surrounding the town to the doorknob. I put the book down and never opened it again, nor did I ever read anything by Balzac after that. But I gather that kind of stuff was frequent in the 19th C. I suppose we have movies now to give us this kind of description much more quickly.

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Postby gailr » Mon May 30, 2005 7:00 pm

Verbum, are you acquainted with the works of James Michener? In some of his books, one feels dragged through the entire creation of the universe--and not the 6,000 year biblical literalist "short" version, either--before reaching the stage where geology has produced mountains high enough (albeit worn down enough to traverse) to require that chapter to get down into the town and to someone's doorknob.

Another style I find exhausting is the one employed by Thomas Wolfe, where no noun appears without an honor guard of adjectives and no verb goes unchaperoned by adverbs.

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Postby Apoclima » Mon May 30, 2005 7:13 pm

the works of James Michener


I agree, gailr! He is exhausting!

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