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Twizzle
01-27-2008, 05:52 AM
Well, color me flabbergasted.

So, I'm taking a writing class. And we were doing a lesson on micro structure in a scene. We had to break down a scene we'd written into stimulus and response sentences.

Okay. Never done it before, I'm up for new stuff. I mean, it's why I took the class-to learn new stuff.

So, I had a sentence where basically it would be written... as the MC opened the door and stepped into the bakery she smelled gingerbread.

The instructor said no. She must open the door and step in. Then she smells. Two sentences.

Okay, but I'd kind of envisioned her smelling it as she opened the door and stepped in. Not after. And I kinda like 1 sentence.

It's not possible, she said. She would enter then smell.

(which okay, I'm thinking I should take a field trip to a bakery and try it. besides, I probably deserve to buy myself something from the bakery now to. I'm upset. yeah. I deserve a eclair. I know I do.)

So she said "as" construction is unsophisticated and the mark of an amateur and if I wanted my writing to be more sophisticated I should read a book about self-editing (which I already own.)

Well, I feel dumb. Using "as" is unprofessional?

and um, basically she, um, called me amateur and unsophisticated. (And no. She hasn't really seen my writing. This was the first lesson where we actually submitted something we'd written. Maybe 15 sentences, tops?)

:cry:

*sigh*

So, how come no one told me this...

Is there anything else I should know, because this one shocked me.

Sage
01-27-2008, 05:59 AM
I had a reader tell me the same sort of thing. Smelling while she enters is completely reasonable, IMO. The reader told me that if I use "as" the post-"as" part has to be a directly related to the rest of the sentence.

I think "while" works as well, and may not be frowned upon as much (?)

Birol
01-27-2008, 06:04 AM
:Lecture: Creative writing instructors are a bit like beta readers. The value of their instructions will vary based on their own experiences. First, if you can, quietly find out her own publishing credentials. Don't challenge her. Don't make it sound like you're having a fit because she questioned you, but do find out her own professional experience if you can. Some aren't that widely published or learned.

Second, I agree with her assessment, but not her reasoning. I smell things outside bakeries all the time. Pass by and the scents of freshly baked breads waft over you, calling you inside. However, because of pacing, I like it better as two sentences instead of one. The longer sentence reads to me as if it were more formal to me and as if you were displaying the advanced skills you had learned in high school English.

TsukiRyoko
01-27-2008, 06:08 AM
For the sake of pacing and, in some cases, being grammatically correct, I agree with her advice- for the most part. Context is a HUGE part of story writing, and depending on the context of the story, the way you had written may or may not have been correct. I know I've had creative writing teachers who were overly picky about a lot of things. I've also had creative writing teachers who've given me advice that I thought was being picky, but then when I tried it, I agreed with their suggestion.

Try rewriting the scene as two seperate sentences and see if the series of events fits into place better. It if doesn't, then you might just have a picky teacher. Most of the creative writing teachers I've had weren't too experienced with writing for pay (or, in essence, an actual audience adise from the class and their immediate peers), so even though they're teaching you, they might not be giving very solid advice.

Twizzle
01-27-2008, 06:27 AM
:Lecture: Creative writing instructors are a bit like beta readers. The value of their instructions will vary based on their own experiences. First, if you can, quietly find out her own publishing credentials. Don't challenge her. Don't make it sound like you're having a fit because she questioned you, but do find out her own professional experience if you can. Some aren't that widely published or learned.

Thanks, Lori. No, I do respect her experience. Her background is very different than mine, though-which is why I thought I could really learn some new perspectives. She's a published romance novelist, and I have no reason to think I shouldn't trust her judgement.

I'm seriously trying to not argue. And I'd hate it if she thought I was. Which is why I came here, to find out. I'm afraid if I asked, she'd think I was arguing. If I made a mistake, though, I want to know. I want to learn how to do this right. It's why I took the class.

I have said a few times I was finding things a bit hard and very different than how I usually write. I also said I was getting confused and would have to go back and reread things and go back over examples. And it is hard. It's like trying to write in a totally different way, and I'm so stumped.


Second, I agree with her assessment, but not her reasoning. I smell things outside bakeries all the time. Pass by and the scents of freshly baked breads waft over you, calling you inside. However, because of pacing, I like it better as two sentences instead of one.

That's also why I questioned it? Because of pacing? My concern was that it seemed to make all the sentences pretty short and paragraphs uber-short? I always thought you varied sentence length.


The longer sentence reads to me as if it were more formal to me and as if you were displaying the advanced skills you had learned in high school English.

Sorry. That's not the actual sentence. It's just the general structure of how the real sentence would read.


Okay, I feel really confused now.

Twizzle
01-27-2008, 07:13 AM
Try rewriting the scene as two seperate sentences and see if the series of events fits into place better.

She actually did that. She rewrote it, breaking it up, and said I'd done it incorrectly. And it's not that it doesn't work. So many short sentences bother me, sure. But it works. It's just, it means something different than what I'd intended.

I envisioned her smelling it as she walked in. Not she walked in and then smelled. Like Lori said, you can smell things outside a bakery. Why wouldn't you as you walked in?

The problem is the construction. I wasn't aware I shouldn't use the word "as." I asked if I could flip things, change the sentence structure and she said, no. They need to be seperate. To use an as structure is unsophisticated and amateur. So, I'm stumped.

She's the instructor. I have no problem changing it. It's just...is "as" structure that horrible?

Birol
01-27-2008, 07:21 AM
Have you asked her why it makes it unsophisticated and amateur?

Gray Rose
01-27-2008, 07:33 AM
Just my 2c, not worth a lot. It is said that beginning writers overuse the "as" construction. I have certainly seen it overused while beta-reading, and I try to get rid of 80% of my own "as" in the rewrites. This is not an amateurish construction per se, I feel; just got a bad rep, that's all. If you have to keep it, keep it, but why not use this as a chance for creative experimentation? Try to convey your meaning without using "as".

E.g.

Gertrude opened the bakery door, and the spicy odor of gingerbread urged her to step over, into the magical world of warmth and dough.

Novelhistorian
01-27-2008, 07:43 AM
One sentence doesn't make a writer amateurish and unsophisticated. You might just as well say that a single snap judgment by a teacher might fall into either of those two dreadful categories.

As has its uses, and, as it happens, I'd be as guilty as anyone, as if I too deserved those labels. But your sentence must be seen in context. If I thought you were rushing through the scene, not letting the character smell the bakery, I might say, Break it up. Otherwise, I wouldn't let your career or self-image or prospects for writerly happiness rest on a single sentence, or what a writing teacher says about it (or anything else), no matter how well-published she may be.

Histry Nerd
01-27-2008, 08:45 AM
Hey, Twizzle -

Keep in mind it's her class, and within the context of her class, she gets to say what's right and what's wrong, what's amateur and what's the mark of a professional. I'm sure you could spend a few hours at a bookstore and find a hundred examples to support her assertion. And a hundred more to refute it.

I'm not sure there is such a thing as right and wrong in writing fiction. There's what works, and what doesn't. If it works for you, use it. If not, find something that does.

I see nothing unprofessional or amateurish about the word as. The example sentence you posted could be stronger, but not because of the as per se--it's because it's telling, not showing. I'm not in the scene, hearing the door open or smelling the gingerbread. I probably would write your sentence more like this:

-- She pushed open the door, and the tang of fresh gingerbread invited her to step inside.

Or something like that.

Then again, I'm as unpublished as the next wannabe. So take my advice only if it works for you.

For what it's worth.
HN

rugcat
01-27-2008, 09:42 AM
However, because of pacing, I like it better as two sentences instead of one. The longer sentence reads to me as if it were more formal to me and as if you were displaying the advanced skills you had learned in high school English.To confuse you further, I see nothing wrong with your sentence at all. Obviously I don't have the context of the discussion, but to call it the mark of an amateur seems ridiculous. If you use the construction over and over, that might be a different thing.

Even published writers don't have a corner on right and wrong. Listen to what people have to say and give it serious consideration, but never accept anyone's word as absolute gospel.

(Except mine, of course.)

Klazart
01-27-2008, 11:19 AM
One thing I learnt recently, is that while everyone might have an opinion, and many of us might even have a qualified opinion, most do not know how or have the skills to convey this opinion constructively.

Taking a rule of thumb to declare something as amatuer regardless of context seems like an unprofessional thing to do. *wink*

Anyway, the point is often people might disagree with you about something. Someone who is trained and professional will be able to articulate that difference of opinion without it seeming like a personal attack, which is basically what your instructer's comment comes off as.

Those without the necessary skillset, will resort to gross generalisation and dumb down their response to make it more effective. I mean, once something has been declared amateur then you can't exactly argue against it can you? Sort of like being declared a "liberal." Though I'm card-carrying and proud to be one.

Not amatuer, that is, I hope.

Twizzle
01-27-2008, 06:08 PM
Hey, Twizzle -


The example sentence you posted could be stronger, but not because of the as per se--it's because it's telling, not showing.

HN

I swear, this isn't the actual sentence. :D I wouldn't use that sentence, I promise. It's just the structure I was trying to illustrate.

Well, thanks everyone. I feel a bit better. I have no problem trying it a different way-it never hurts, and you only learn. I think it was her comments...it's one sentence from one lesson, why that'd brand my or anyone's writing as unsophisticated???

SadieCass
01-27-2008, 06:17 PM
I think she probably could have worded it better, something more like "You could make this sentence stronger" - instead of just calling it flat out unprofessional or unsophisticated. I'm sure many writers use it (I know I have on occasion, though I try to take most of them out in edits)...

And she's probably right there...something more along the lines of "The smell of gingerbread assaulted her the moment she opened the bakery door" - and then a second sentence about stepping inside - might be a little stronger...

But, published or not, she should learn to use some tact. Like I said, telling you the sentence could be stronger is better than what was said.

Just listen to the lesson, and not the harshness of the words :) The lesson is what's important!

Twizzle
01-27-2008, 06:25 PM
Have you asked her why it makes it unsophisticated and amateur?

No. Seriously, I was so surprised and hurt by her comments, I came here first to find out. I mean, it's one sentence. (I did the rest of the lesson right, and she had nothing to critique about anything else in my writing?) At this point, I'm afraid of saying or asking anything.

The first and previous lesson she'd made comments about the plot I'd chosen-how I shouldn't write it, because it required such a high skill level. How she had to wait years before she felt she had the skills to write such a plot. Meaning, I guess, I was nuts to think I could pull it off. I was like, well, okay. I hear your warning. But you know, I think it's exciting and stretching and trying new stuff is how you learn. And heck, so what if it flops, right? Nothing lost. And now this.

So I'm feeling gunshy, I guess. I probably should, though. *sigh* I'll ask her. But if she's mean again, I definitely going and getting an eclair.

Mr Flibble
01-27-2008, 06:44 PM
I thought much the same when I read that advice in 'Self Editing for Fiction Writers', Browne and King.( great book btw)

But the reason they gave for it is plausible. It has been so overused by hack writers, it makes you seem unprofessional ( and let's face it you want to come across as a quality writer, not an amateur, to agents and editors). You could end up with physical impossibilities. Also you're diluting your action, making it seeem less important, removing the reader from it. And now I've taken it out of my own work, I can see the writing is much stronger.

To use your example:

as the MC opened the door and stepped into the bakery she smelled gingerbread.

You could write:

The MC opened the bakery door and smelled gingerbread. ( not great I know)


The 'as' is unnecessary. And I think that's reason enough you cut it - you don't need unnecessary words. It doesn't mean you can never do it. Just think if you really need that little word. But your teacher sounds a bit...sharp.

Albedo
01-27-2008, 06:52 PM
To me, an amateur 'as' construction is something more like

As he opened the door to enter the room, he crossed it and picked up the phone.

because this action is obviously not instantaneous to the motion of opening the door, whereas in Twizzle's sentence, smelling gingerbread was. I think the instructor is being a bit dogmatic.

Bufty
01-27-2008, 07:09 PM
Nothing wrong with 'as' per se - but if it is used willy-nilly it does not aid clarity in so far as it often tends to give the reader events in the reverse order and thus does not lead to a smooth read.

'As' needs to earn its keep just like any other word.

JanDarby
01-27-2008, 07:48 PM
I can see the instructor's point, although I think it's going a little overboard. The issue is simultaneous actions. She may be right that you can't open the door (at least not all the way) and step all the way inside at exactly the same time. You have to wait until the door's at least partway open before you can step inside. On the other hand, you can step inside and smell simultaneously, in which case the "as" construction would be correct, and all you'd have to do is drop the door-opening.

Focus on the "simultaneous actions" issue, rather than the word "as," and you'll be fine. Well, except that there's another problem of over-use; a lot of beginners will use the "as I did X, something else happened" construction a LOT, so it's more a matter of repetitive structure than anything wrong with the sentence itself.

Personally, I'd be a little leery of an instructor who takes a "my way or the highway" approach. I do think the rules of writing are important to know, but the reasons for them are even more important. Listen to the reasons, and decide for yourself whether the reason makes sense and if you can use the rule to make your writing better. (Which is the whole point of taking a class -- to improve, not to judge yourself or be judged, although it feels like the latter.) If you really comprehend the reasons, then you can know when to break the rules, rather than applying them mechanically.

BTW, if you want a good explanation of what I suspect the instructor was getting at, check out Jack Bickham's Scene & Structure, particularly the early chapter(s) where he's talking about action and reaction.

JD

WerenCole
01-27-2008, 10:22 PM
If you are looking for a good grade in her course then play with the system. There are very few classes that are difficult to ace once you figure out how to "play" the teacher.

If you don't care so much about the grade then just take in all information and assimilate it into your writing ethos, say thanks and move on.



I suggest going for the eclair.

jclarkdawe
01-27-2008, 10:49 PM
Now, personally I think your instructor is a horse's, well, maybe I shouldn't say that, and I don't like to insult my horse. Not about the advice, but the presentation was sadly lacking. But that happens. Accept it and move on.

Remember that my grasp of grammar is virtually non-existent. So I don't know the whys and wherefores here.

But I've heard that "as" is a word to watch out for. Along with some other words (the list keeps expanding), it's one to watch out for. And my approach is to see if there's a way to get my meaning across by avoiding it.

You know about the forests and the trees. You and your instructor are concentrating a leaf. You need to step back and look at what you're trying to accomplish (back to the twig).

You've got three actions here: (1) open, (2) steps, and (3) smells. My immediate reaction was could I avoid the problem and one of the actions. For example, you could use Walking through the door, she smelled the gingerbread men. Unless it's important to know she opened it, we don't need to say it.

I will say one question I have is which is the important act here -- smelling or going through the door?

Listen to your instructor on what's wrong. She sounds dogmatic, but take advantage of that to come up with creative ways to solve her problems. You'll probably end up an even better writer.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

DWSTXS
01-27-2008, 11:08 PM
I think the instructor was wrong, adn I'd bet a paycheck or two on finding the exact thing in that instructor's writing somewhere........that is, IF that instructor has been published.

Not to mention the fact that calling you 'amateur' and 'unsophisticated' is wrong too. One, you as an 'amateur' came to them for HELP......calling their 'customer' names is wrong.
Two, calling you 'unsophisticated' smacks of elitism.......making it sound as if that so-called instructor means to say that their way of writing is the only right way to write.

IMHO....I say find a better instructor.........and on the way out the door, mention to the instructor that their teaching methods are 'amateurish' and 'unsophisticated'

maestrowork
01-27-2008, 11:14 PM
I had an agent who wrote back -- instead of criticizing my story, characters, even prose... she said:

You should never being a sentence with a gerund or "as."


I just chuckled and tossed her letter aside.

maestrowork
01-27-2008, 11:24 PM
I envisioned her smelling it as she walked in. Not she walked in and then smelled. Like Lori said, you can smell things outside a bakery. Why wouldn't you as you walked in?

That said, shouldn't she smell the gingerbread BEFORE she steps in? I can see where such a "simultaneous" type of sentence structure can pose a problem as it may stop us and make us think about the logic of those simultaneous actions. I think as is a very specific construct, and most often it can be replaced by an "and":

As she opened the door and stepped inside, she smelled gingerbread.

vs.

She opened the door, stepped inside, and smelled gingerbread.

vs.

She smelled gingerbread. She opened the door and stepped inside.


I think that's the problem with this construct. I know you can smell things WHILE you're doing something, but "as" seems to be only effective if the actions really must be simultaneous:


As she was falling from 25,000 feet to the ground, her entire life flashed through her mind.

As he was in the middle of singing his aria, he heard a loud fart in the audience.

akiwiguy
01-27-2008, 11:42 PM
I do find that "as" bugs me in my own writing. It seems as though if I use it once, it creeps into nearly every sentence. In fact I smiled when I saw this thread, because about a night or so back I threw my hands up in horror at what I'd just written for this very reason.

Twizzle
01-27-2008, 11:46 PM
lmao...great examples.

She's totally right-the sentence should be reworked. I know what it is I'm want to say, obviously I didn't do a good job of it. I didn't get that across. It's a first draft, so I will definitely go back and tweak it. And you can be sure I'll scrutinize any "as" construction in the future.

I guess what shocked me is, well, it seems the more a writer's been around, the more you'll hear them say rules? Rules are great, but...

To have someone, esp an instructor, so categorically condemn something, was well, it was a moment. Thanks again, everyone.

DWSTXS
01-27-2008, 11:52 PM
okay..........now you guys are gonna have me searching for all 'as' sentences in my WIP. Thanks. Just what I needed. More work. LOL

akiwiguy
01-28-2008, 12:00 AM
As he was in the middle of singing his aria, he heard a loud fart in the audience.


Or, with a change of POV...

As the hushed audience became captivated by the aria, he made his fateful decision to silently emit a little wind.

DWSTXS
01-28-2008, 12:09 AM
Or, with a change of POV...

As the hushed audience became captivated by the aria, he made his fateful decision to silently emit a little wind.

or....with a change of character.........

"she finished her aria, arms spread majectically, looking out over the audience, and just before the next note, she emitted a long, loud blustery fart....."

The audience gasped, then someone howled with laugher........

choppersmom
01-28-2008, 12:51 AM
"Twizzle let her feet lead her straight to the bakery door. She swung it open, and was immediately struck by the scent of eclaire filling, its creamy deliciousness wafting up her nostrils and tickling her olfactory nerves with its insidious temptation."

Mr Flibble
01-28-2008, 12:52 AM
I guess what shocked me is, well, it seems the more a writer's been around, the more you'll hear them say rules? Rules are great, but...

Ah, but once you know the rules and how to apply them, then you know when you can break them....

donroc
01-28-2008, 01:43 AM
Kiss my "as" is my reaction.

akiwiguy
01-28-2008, 02:03 AM
or....with a change of character.........

"she finished her aria, arms spread majectically, looking out over the audience, and just before the next note, she emitted a long, loud blustery fart....."

The audience gasped, then someone howled with laugher........

OK then, since a wee competion seems to have evolved...

As his aria reached its climax, he seized the moment to dazzle the crowd with the unexpected. He strained, and the ensuing fart was of thunderous proportions. But as the audience broke into wild applause, he realised with horror the folly of attempting such improvisation after a hearty dinner of beans.

See, "as" can work.

akiwiguy
01-28-2008, 02:10 AM
OK then, since a wee competion seems to have evolved...

As his aria reached its climax, he seized the moment to dazzle the crowd with the unexpected. He strained, and the ensuing fart was of thunderous proportions. But as the audience broke into wild applause, he realised with horror the folly of attempting such improvisation after a hearty dinner of beans.

See, "as" can work.

Joking aside, this actually illustrates the whole point of the thread. Something like this I think works better...

As his aria reached its climax, he seized the moment to dazzle the crowd with the unexpected. He strained, and the ensuing fart was of thunderous proportions. But as the audience broke into wild applause, but at that moment he realised with horror the folly of attempting such improvisation after a hearty dinner of beans.

Tsu Dho Nimh
01-28-2008, 05:54 PM
So, I had a sentence where basically it would be written... as the MC opened the door and stepped into the bakery she smelled gingerbread.

The instructor said no. She must open the door and step in. Then she smells. Two sentences.

Uh ... "as" is used in English to indicate simultaneous action. If what you wanted was for the gingerbread to waft out and for the character to be inhaling as she steps in the door ... you were right.

"As Sam Spade opens the door, the phone begins to ring."
"As the robot arm rotates, it retracts."

Soccer Mom
01-29-2008, 04:54 AM
She may be knowlegable, but that doesn't mean she can teach.

Horseshoes
01-29-2008, 05:11 AM
So, how come no one told me this...

Is there anything else I should know, because this one shocked me.[/quote]


Honestly, we meant to. Just hadn't gotten around to it. Sorry and all.

Hey Twizz, get out of the class what you can. You're doing fine, writing, cogitating, rewriting. So goes the battle.

johnrobison
01-29-2008, 06:10 AM
You have to think about the dynamics of the particular event.

I could release the anchor line as the boat drifted toward shore. That's a real "as" set of events.

I think the odor of a bakery is smellable outside, or inside. I don't think that's as much an "as" thing. You smell it from the street, and the odor draws you in. Or you walk in and breathe in the odor of fresh baking.

As you move into a building you tend to bring with you the smells of outside. If the bakery door were open, the food smell would come out to you. Neither would result in the "as" situation. As someone else suggested, the phone could ring as you entered, but the smell is in or out.

Does that make your writing amatuer? I don't know. I'm sure my own writing is full of so-called mistakes, but no one has seen fit to correct me and I've attained good sales.

orion_mk3
01-29-2008, 06:34 AM
As I read the responses here, I feel a trickle of sweat winding down my brow. As I'm fairly certain I use the construction myself, I hope it's not *that* frowned upon.

As other writers, and successful ones, seem to have used it, I wonder if it's one of those rules that was made to be broken...after you have six bestsellers in the can.

ExposingCorruption
01-29-2008, 09:53 AM
Twizzle,

In giving it serious consideration, the use of the word "as" makes it seem like she is smelling the gingerbread while she opens the door. How about putting a time stamp on it with something like this; "The MC could smell gingerbread as soon as she opened the door and stepped into the bakery."

Twizzle
01-29-2008, 04:43 PM
lmao. a gingerbread debate.

everyone has been so great, thx. I think what I wanted to say was she could smell the gingerbread outside. It wasn't until she stepped into the bakery that it overcame her. something along that idea. just not so cheesy.

So I, of course, went to the bakery-you can, indeed, smell it from the parking lot :) -and grabbed a box of eclairs. Went home and polished off some wine with one. Fine. A lot of wine. I felt much better. Tipsy and full of pastry, I spent a delightful night coming up with a snarky list of the TRUE list of things that are unsophisticated and the mark of an amateur. Farting and arias were not on there.

Turning in my next assignment on kitteh stationary was one, though, and should be a great hit.

In the wise words of donroc, I say kiss my "as."

I have learned a great and valuable lesson.

Twizzle
01-29-2008, 04:55 PM
"Twizzle let her feet lead her straight to the bakery door. She swung it open, and was immediately struck by the scent of eclaire filling, its creamy deliciousness wafting up her nostrils and tickling her olfactory nerves with its insidious temptation."

:Clap: Now that's a sentence.

ona
01-29-2008, 05:35 PM
It's not for the teacher to determine what you wish to express. (And I see nothing illogical about that.)

Yes, "as" is overused and there are often more effective and varied ways to express what's going on. Good to think about these, of course.

But the word exists for a perfectly good reason, and would die off if it didn't.

As a writer, she may be fine, but as a teacher, it seems she sucks.

donroc
01-29-2008, 05:58 PM
What would Faulkner say about his book and the band AS I LAY DYING in this context. Would he offer such alternatives AS ---

Whilst/while I lay dying
During the time I lay dying
The moments I lay dying
The year I lay daying
Slowly I lay dying

Soccer Mom
01-29-2008, 06:30 PM
http://icanhascheezburger.files.wordpress.com/2007/12/funny-pictures-kitten-fell-off-chair.jpg

Twizzle
01-31-2008, 01:31 AM
poor kitteh. :(