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Lee G.
04-19-2006, 05:34 PM
Is self-conscious always an adverb? For example, could I write: His movements were self-conscious. Or must I always write: He moved self-consciously?

I'm assuming the first sentence means his movements were conscious of themselves, which is horribly wrong, but it sure would be nice to have the flexibility to use "self-conscious" as an adjective.....

How about this example? His rowdy noise-making seemed self-conscious. To my ear, this sounds acceptable, but I'm still using the word as an adjective. Any advice?

Dark Sim
04-19-2006, 05:43 PM
I don't see why not. Well, my personal feeling is that anything can be an adjective, if you're not going to obey the strict rules of grammar. One can have self-conscious movements - it gives a different sense when you write "His movements were self-conscious" compared to "He moved self-consciously." I say do what you want if it helps to tell the story in a better way.

Aconite
04-19-2006, 06:24 PM
There's a difference, though, between breaking "rules" of grammar that aren't really rules ("Don't start a sentence with a conjunction" and "Don't end a sentence with a preposition" are such fake rules), and doing something grammatically that changes the meaning of the sentence. "Self-conscious movements" means, strictly speaking, that the movements are aware of themselves, which cannot be.

Dark Sim
04-19-2006, 06:52 PM
There's a difference, though, between breaking "rules" of grammar that aren't really rules ("Don't start a sentence with a conjunction" and "Don't end a sentence with a preposition" are such fake rules), and doing something grammatically that changes the meaning of the sentence. "Self-conscious movements" means, strictly speaking, that the movements are aware of themselves, which cannot be.

You're probably right in the strict literal sense of the meaning of the sentence. I took only a few seconds to read the sentence (which other readers might only do too if the novel were in their hands) and simply picked up the sense of what he was trying to convey. However, movements being self-conscious might just be a short-hand, conversational way of saying something longer (ie you are aware of your own movements rather than the movements being aware of themselves) but one's mind fills in the blanks to get the sense of what is being said. Of course, if agents are going to call you up on that, then it's best to err on the side of caution.

Sage
04-19-2006, 06:52 PM
"Self-conscious" is an adjective. It usually applies to people. Literally, it means "aware of self," but in context it applies to people who are shy, embarrassed, or in an awkward situation. Jian was self-conscious of every move he made in front of the girl he liked.

As an adverb, it's "self-consciously." Jian moved self-consciously.

As a noun, it's "self-consciousness." Jian was consumed with self-consciousness as his crush entered the room.

maestrowork
04-19-2006, 07:03 PM
I think self-conscious describes a person, so I would say "he felt self-conscious around her" or "he moved self-consciously." But I probably wouldn't say "the movement was self-conscious" -- it makes me think that the movements themselves are self-conscious.

CaroGirl
04-19-2006, 07:25 PM
I think the main thing that writers try to do is create an image that the reader can relate to. If the image follows the rules of grammar, so much the better. If it does not, and the image is a powerful one and doesn't yank the reader out of the story screaming, "That's not right!", then by all means use it. Writer's describe a "foolish hand", the "angry storm", a "lonesome road". Of course a hand is not foolish, a storm is not angry, a road is not lonesome, but, in their context, the images work well. Maybe, as the writer, you want the movements themselves to be self-conscious. I certainly *get* the image you're trying to portray and I don't have a problem with it at all.

What is a writer's job but to play with language and try to say things in a different way? If writers followed all the rules all the time, nothing new would ever be said.

maestrowork
04-19-2006, 09:11 PM
Writer's describe a "foolish hand", the "angry storm", a "lonesome road". Of course a hand is not foolish, a storm is not angry, a road is not lonesome, but, in their context, the images work well.

Not necessarily. First of all, that's telling, not showing. Second, these are all cliches. Third, these are what we call "pathetic fallacy."

Of course, it's not to say pathetic fallacy can't be useful. In poetic writing, for example, they can be very powerful and effective. However, in fiction, it comes down to style.

reph
04-19-2006, 09:28 PM
"Self-conscious" is always an adjective.

The first thing to do when you want to know whether a word can be used a certain way is to see whether dictionaries have definitions for your proposed use and examples of it. The American Heritage Dictionary has "The dialect became a self-conscious prose poetry in her plays."

Why object to "self-conscious movements" when we accept "an insincere smile," "a clever idea," and "a defensive maneuver"?

CaroGirl
04-19-2006, 09:30 PM
Oh yes, I used cliches only because they happened to come to mind, and because they were once original and apt images for what they portray. A cliche is only a cliche because it's overused. If I, in my brilliance (ha-ha), created a cliche, wouldn't that be a legacy?

The pathetic fallacy can be quite useful (when used sparingly) to help limit the use of adverbs. Instead of saying (again, forgive me for the cliche), "the wind blew angrily against the house" you can say, "the angry wind blew against the house". Using it can provide interest and variety in fictional narrative. Remember that some great fiction writing is quite poetic. And I completely agree with you: it does come down to style.

In terms of showing not telling, the OP's example is about telling, not showing, and we're all answering to that, in terms of "self-conscious movements". It might indeed be better to use a simile or metaphor, like "the wind rattled the windows like a caged gorilla." Or, in the case of the example, "he moved as if he were onstage, a thousand eyes watching his twitching limbs." That likewise conveys his sense of self-consciousness without actually saying it. However, in and of itself, I still don't think it's exactly *wrong* to write "self-conscious movements."

Aconite
04-20-2006, 12:33 AM
Of course, if agents are going to call you up on that, then it's best to err on the side of caution.I wasn't thinking of agents so much as readers. I do try not to torture the very literate ones. *grin*


Why object to "self-conscious movements" when we accept "an insincere smile," "a clever idea," and "a defensive maneuver"?For me, because "self-conscious" carries the connotation of self-awareness. It may not be purely logical, but there it is.

ComicBent
04-20-2006, 01:50 AM
It is perfectly correct to use 'self-conscious' as an adjective to refer to nouns that do not in themselves possess the ability to have emotions. The operative idea is that the noun is part of or connected with an agent that does possess such a capacity.

*The man reflected on his self-conscious behavior at the meeting with the Queen.*

Obviously, 'behavior' is just an action, not something that can think. The 'self-conscious' notion is applicable because the behavior is part of a sentient being.

The same idea is at work behind 'sincere smile' also.

Jamesaritchie
04-20-2006, 02:41 AM
"Self-conscious" is always an adjective.

The first thing to do when you want to know whether a word can be used a certain way is to see whether dictionaries have definitions for your proposed use and examples of it. The American Heritage Dictionary has "The dialect became a self-conscious prose poetry in her plays."

Why object to "self-conscious movements" when we accept "an insincere smile," "a clever idea," and "a defensive maneuver"?



For me, there's a mountainous difference movements being self-conscious, and self-conscious movements, and the reason to reject this is because I doubt many people are going to understand it the first time through.
I don't believe it matches your examples at all for a couple of reasons.

If it jumps off the page as "movements are not self-conscious," it's bad writing, allowed or not. For me, this jumped off the page instantly,

I also see a big differene, a huge difference, between "self-conscious movements" and your examples. The examples you give are, to me at least, clearly attributable to the person, not the smile, the idea, or the maneuver, and most good writers show this in the context of the sentence. But even when they don't, I still see a big difference. "A clever idea is the only one that comes close to being the same, and I don't think it quite qualifies.

The real question, I think, is why would anyone want to write "self-conscious movements" when there are much better, and clearer, ways of writing the sentence?

"Is it allowed" is nearly always the wrong question. The right question is "Is there a better way of writing this"?

reph
04-20-2006, 06:06 AM
The real question, I think, is why would anyone want to write "self-conscious movements" when there are much better, and clearer, ways of writing the sentence?

"Is it allowed" is nearly always the wrong question. The right question is "Is there a better way of writing this"?Well, one might write "awkward steps" or "affected gestures" or "twitches of embarrassment" or something else. (I don't have the context that would aid a choice.) I only tried to answer the original question, which was approximately whether "self-conscious movements" had to be avoided because movements don't have consciousness.

maestrowork
04-20-2006, 07:32 AM
To me, "his self-conscious movements" describes him, not the movements, so that might work, like "nervous movements" or "there's that nervous moment" -- they all actually describe the person(s). It might work, but very ineffective. That's just me.

Sage
04-22-2006, 06:45 AM
LOL. After thinking that I had never used "self-concious," except when describing a person, I found I had an instance where my character caught herself admiring a guy's body & turned away with a "self-conscious cough."

Natasya
04-23-2006, 04:07 PM
Is self-conscious always an adverb? For example, could I write: His movements were self-conscious. Or must I always write: He moved self-consciously?


I don't mind both but neither sound good. I usually avoid saying "self-conscious" - come to think of it - is there any other word that would aptly replace that but means exactly the same? I checked the thesaurus but am happy with none of the result.

punstress
04-25-2006, 09:17 PM
I don't mind both but neither sound good. I usually avoid saying "self-conscious" - come to think of it - is there any other word that would aptly replace that but means exactly the same? I checked the thesaurus but am happy with none of the result.

Conspicuous?

reph
04-25-2006, 09:41 PM
"Conspicuous" doesn't mean self-conscious.