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Author Topic: Specifying Vehicles
Rhaythe
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In my current novel WIP, one of my characters isn't driving a "V8 SUV", he's driving a "Dodge Durango V8 Hemi". Another character isn't driving a "sports car", she's driving the "420 horsepower jet-black Audi R8". Another pilot isn't flying a "news chopper", he's flying the "Ecureuil/Astar AS 350".

I enjoy being able to specify precisely what my characters are using within the story context, but this also has the side effect of dating the work into a period piece. For example, if I were to say that a character was driving a brand new Saturn L-Series, then the reader can easily find out that the vehicle was only made between 2000 and 2005.

I suppose my question is does this practice "limit" a story? Do publishers look down upon such specifications, since they impose a sort of mental "timeline" in which this story exists? I could just as easily refer to any of these vehicles by using a more ambigious reference, but I find I prefer to know exactly what my characters are using.


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Devnal
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I don't know about publishers, but I myself am vehicle retarded when it comes to specifics like this.

In stories they mean little to me; A book I was reading recently had the antagonist driving "the run of the mill country club standard black Audi, still mantaining its fresh off the line shine." or something like that. It was enough for me to visualize the car. It may be important to you to get to the specifics of make and model, but it may not be for your reader. Unless it's determental to the story (eg. "You fool! only the De'lorean Z4-90 comes with a flux capacitor!)I don't think its important.

As far as dating your work, I myself think its a hard thing to do in any sense, with or without makes of cars, ther's plenty of other things that are going to date it. Clothing, technology, etc. Another book I was reading (I think it was a collection of of short stories by stephen king under the name bachman) had a "set in the future" vibe. the only problem was that a main conflict was that the character needed to get to a phone. The fact the character didn't have a cell, or no one around did either (no mention even of cell phones) totally dated it. Also Running Man, same book, The character has to mail in video clips of himself (just give the guy a laptop and email the darn things).

Anyways, my point may be deluded at this time, but I think dating your work by naming specific makes is your choice, and that 20 years from now it will be dated anyway, whether you meant it to be or not.

Make sense...?


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Bent Tree
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I think it is a balance.

How does it relate to the character and story.

If for example the character is the type who notices such details and or it is important to the plot then it might be in order.

'Dillon turned his head when he heard that all too familiar rumble of the American muscle. Two punk kids in a Charger reved their engine beside him, but as the light turned the turbo charged Audi taught them a lesson about European technology'

whereas...

'Dillon was sweating. The Hughes 500D that had been following him all morning hovered overhead, barely visible. With two kilos of pollen in the trunk...'

...may or may not be a POV break depending on how knowledgable the drug runner is on the subject of those following him.

It is really a matter of relevance, I suppose. Play with it and go with what feels right.


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cklabyrinth
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I agree with Bent Tree. If the character would notice the type of car, or if it's important to the plot, include it.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I have to say that even if it's something a character would notice, it may not mean much to the reader (except to show that the character is the kind of person who would notice something like that).

In my own case, for example, when I read about a character noticing that another character is wearing an Armani suit, a Rolex watch, etc, etc, etc, it doesn't give me anything to visualize, because all I can tell is that this is a brand name and that much detail means it must be important. If I've ever seen an Armani suit or a Rolex watch, I didn't know it, so I can only guess what the writer is trying to get me to see.

I'd recommend considering what I would probably call the Babbitt rule (after Sinclair Lewis's book Babbitt for which I understand Lewis created a "biography" and background for his character that ended up being longer than the actual book): the writer should know all kinds of things about the story and the characters, but the writer should not inflict those things on the reader.

Another way of putting it is "Do not punish the reader for all the research you had to do for the story by including all of that research."

Now I realize, Rhaythe, that the above "rule" is only somewhat connected to your question, but I apply it in the sense that a writer needs to consider what information the readers really need to have when including information in a story. It's cool that you know make and model and so on, but it may not be necessary for the readers to know all of that.


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InarticulateBabbler
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I think you should call the vehicles whatever the PoV would call them. Some would call it a cab, while others a taxi, still others aHyundai Hybrid, but I rarely find anyone who calls a vehicle a Dodge Durango V8 Hemi...it's just a Dodge, Durango or Dodge Durango. Very seldom is a vehicle called by its motor type and size. Even an Olds 442 (which is its name) isn't named for the motor. (It's named for 4 barrel carburetion 4 speed on the floor and 2 [dual] exhausts. It came with a Rocket V8 303 cubic inch in '49 and changed to a 324, 371 and 394 until '64. From '65 - '69 they came with a 400, and a 455 from '68 to '76 was available. That's not including the difference in small or big block. From '68 to '80, they used a 350, the 403 came between '77 and '79 and the 307 from '80 to '90...but most people don't know all that.)

[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited June 04, 2008).]


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extrinsic
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I call brand naming in story naming exposition. Naming exposition is when a name is used as a shortcut to physical description. Who the target audience is might make it acceptable if they're all intimately familiar with whatever it is. I also think if it's not significant to the plot but the context is necessary, naming exposition can be a form of effective summary, it might even belong in backstory.

However, the question I ask is does the average reader need to visualize the prop object; animal, vegetable, or mineral; thing, character, whatever, from its name. And if so, is the naming exposition a concise description that is readily visualized. I don't think there are many brand names or naming expositions that are sufficiently universal that they would be readily visualized. Ones that are might come in a abundant variety or naming one might cause more confusion than clarity. Have some coke: 8-ounce glass bottle? liter bottle? 2-liter? fountain drink? cocaine? coal?

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited June 04, 2008).]


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JeanneT
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And the fact is that many of us don't want to know all that--said as I uncross my eyes from IB's info-dump.

Like Kathleen's example, there is a good chance that I won't have a clue what you're talking about when you put that in so it may well pull me out of the story. Or my eyes will temporarily glaze over until I get past the testosterone stuff and back to the story.

I'll use an example that I had to get past. I no longer show off that I know the correct name of every single piece of european armor ever used as well as every type of sword -- not to mention its size and weight. Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating a little. There are no doubt a few pieces of armor I haven't studied. I used to be convinced that I needed to tell the reader what they were. And the reader sat there yawning. Fortunately my betas eventually convinced me I should stop. I still occasionally give in to temptation, but it's mostly when my character would think about such a thing and I don't list every piece as she puts it on. LOL


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Naming exposition is a good name for it. It is a good short-cut way to get an image across when needed. Thanks, extrinsic, for pointing that out.

Another name for it might be "term dropping," because it implies that by using such specific names and information writers may risk giving readers the impression that they are saying "I know more about this stuff than you do!"

Science fiction writers have to watch out for term dropping when they describe futuristic technology. As JeanneT said, eyes can glaze over, and surely no writer wants that.


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TaleSpinner
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Ian Fleming and Clive Cussler delight in such detail. It sheds some light on their characters--their attention to detail, their taste (or lack thereof), that in this scene they're slumming it in a cheap car. I doubt it hurts sales.

Brrmm, brrrmmmm,
Pat


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extrinsic
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Inarticulate Babbler, contrary to the seemingly babbling and burdensome expository naming in his post, composed a resonating tell and show. The show is in the figurative meaning of the passage. It's a rhetorical scheme that demonstrates an intent other than the superficial meaning. In poetry that would be called a conceit (no, not the vanity conceit). "See how naming exposition can be tedious," is the figurative meaning I interpreted. I think that's how exposition works best in story. If it's context contributes to the literal and figurative meanings, causation, tension, and opposition, when it's more than just summary, or explanation, or backstory, exposition is a potent contributor to plot.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited June 04, 2008).]


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InarticulateBabbler
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Right.

My first sentence, ultimately, was the relevant one: Stay in PoV.

Even when Clive Cussler provides car information, he does it through his character and not generally during a chase scene.


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Rhaythe
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I'm guessing my question wasn't phrased right. I know about not punishing the reader for not knowing what the difference is between an Astar and a Eurocopter, if any. When I name a vehicle, it's immediately followed up by a description for those not "in the know". My question was is there a problem from a professional level by limiting the timeline of a story in specifying a specific make or model? IE: a sort of pseudo-period piece.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Well, Devnal seemed to have answered your question in the first response (see the post right under your initial post), so we went on to other aspects of your post. (Happens on this forum all the time.)

My take on your question is that every story is reflective of the time in which it was written whether the author intends for it to be or not. (OSC has an article in his collection, A Storyteller in Zion, in which he talks about that with specific regard to the Book of Mormon, but he makes points that are applicable to all writing.)

If you were setting your story in the past, and you had a vehicle described in the same kind of detail, would you consider the story to have "dated" the author?

Maybe if you try to think of your story as historical fiction (in other words, as if someone in the future had written it), it might give you an additional insight into the perspective that concerns you.


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annepin
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It's seems a dicey proposition to me. If you're planning on a brief description after you name the thing you are essentially providing an info dump. Unless it's written in the character's POV, in which case, what's more important, that he or she is driving a specific car or that he or she appreciates certain of its qualities?

I tend to be suspicious of brand-naming in books. It feels too much like placement, and disrupts the story flow for me. But that's just me.

As for this:

quote:
For example, if I were to say that a character was driving a brand new Saturn L-Series, then the reader can easily find out that the vehicle was only made between 2000 and 2005.

Um, maybe a quick Google search would take me there. But would I bother? Probably not.

Okay, but to answer your question: yes, I think it will date your book to a specific place and time. But all books are, to a degree--that's what setting's all about.

[This message has been edited by annepin (edited June 04, 2008).]


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JeanneT
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I know this isn't what you asked, but as Kathleen pointed out, we frequently say what we think and not what you asked so here ya go:

quote:
When I name a vehicle, it's immediately followed up by a description for those not "in the know".

There is a high chance I would stop reading at that point. You would have taken the story to a dead stop for an info-dump and shown what I would consider disrespect for me as a reader.

As has been pointed out, whether we mean them to be or not, our stories are dated by our own assumptions. There are things that date Lord of the Rings, for instance, assumptions he made that are no longer true in our society even though it was fantasy. This is simply something we have to live with as writers.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited June 04, 2008).]


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halogen
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PATTERN RECOGNITION and THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA might give you some ideas on how other authors have handled long "in the know only" descriptions while still keeping the current reader involved.
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Robert Nowall
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If you actually know these things, slip 'em in---it adds to the atmosphere. But don't overdo it, 'cause you might wind up with three pages of car engine specifications that stop your plot cold...

In my last stab at a novel, ostensibly set in 1947, I made little notes in boldface as I went along, reminders to check some detail or other out as I completed my research into the period. (One hundred thousand words in, unfinished, in drastic need of a revision, research undone, and no longer having my favor. I don't know when (or if) I'll get back to it.)


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Crystal Stevens
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I know when I'm reading a book that I hate being bogged down with a lot of details. I'm more interested in what the characters are doing and where the story is going. I really think that the only time a more detailed description would be necessary is if it adds to the story. Otherwise, I would just call it a car, bus, SUV, pickup truck, etc.

I could've run into the same problem with my "Someone is Watching" story. I could've gone into great detail about every horse in the story, but I didn't because it wasn't relative to the story. The only times I did go into a little detail was when it actually added something to the story.

Speaking of different kinds of vehicles reminded me of one of my favorite fantasy series, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. The POV drives a Volkswagon Beetle, but there is a reason why this is his car of choice, and it adds a lot to the story. Otherwise, it would've been better to just have called it Dresden's car.

Something else to consider when it comes to dating your work; Unless the car is really outdated, some cars are still in use even twenty years after they were manufactured. I drive a 21 year old Delta 88 Oldmobile back and forth from work everyday, and it still runs great. Just thinking out loud.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
When I name a vehicle, it's immediately followed up by a description for those not "in the know".

One thing you should watch out for with this kind of thing is that if the POV character already knows this stuff, then who is the POV character telling it to in his or her thoughts?

You don't think to yourself, "I'm going to go for a drive in my DeLorean, a car with doors that open up instead of out and that look sort of like wings." So your character isn't going to think something like that either.

You might have a character notice the surprise of bystanders as the doors of his DeLorean open up like wings, and provide the same information a bit more unobtrusively, though. If the information is necessary at all.

And I picked the DeLorean because of its "dating the writer" potential, by the way.


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MrsBrown
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extrinsic, can you define those terms you throw around? I'm just sitting here saying "huh".
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extrinsic
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I'm not sure which terms you mean, MrsBrown, so, please, take no offense if some of these are redundant.

Tell is exposition. Exposition is when a summary, explanation, or backstory is used to tell a reader what's happening in a story, or tell what a passage means. Generally, exposition is frowned upon because it doesn't allow a reader to experience the story in the presence and moment of the story. It also is frequently considered too much information because the reader is not allowed to form their own interpretation of the meaning of the expository passage. No one likes to be told what to think.

Yet, exposition is a useful device for abbreviating information necessary to a story, that's summary exposition. Explanation exposition is when circumstances are explained, like how a wheel works, or what a character is feeling, the former might be needed, the latter is the least respected use of exposition. Explanation is sometimes essential; however, it's more often frowned upon than summary.

A character's background that takes place outside of the present time of a story is backstory. Generally exposition, backstory is considered an appropriate way to summarize essential background biographical or milieu information that is relevant to the story, but exhaustive detail is frowned upon.

Show is scene, where physical description, sensory details, dialogue, gestures, actions, expressions, and other nonverbal clues, etc., even some well-chosen exposition phrases, are logically combined to convey the flavor, ambience, and dramatic action of a scene.

Literal or figurative meanings are the surface versus the subtended or hidden meanings, subtext is also figurative meaning. A literal statement might be something like, "The sky is blue." A figurative statement might be "Pill bottle cotton clouds scudded across the angry sun." Clouds obviously aren't made of cotton and the sun has no emotions.

Rhetoric as far as creative writing is concerned is the tool for conveying figurative meaning through schemes and tropes. For best results, figurative meaning should be easily deciphered into its literal meaning while being read and interpreted without throwing the reader out of the story. Symbolism and imagery, the more commonly known forms of figurative meaning in story, prosody, and poetry, are derived from both rhetorical schemes and tropes.

Most often figurative meaning comes from abstract cognitive comparisons, or tropes as they're known in the field of rhetoric. But schemes are also powerful tools for conveying figurative meaning. The above figurative statement uses both schemes and tropes for creating figurative meaning, emotive resonance and response, and precise, easily understandable literal meaning.

Pill bottle cotton clouds is a metaphor because clouds are not made of cotton and the abstract implication is illness. It's also a substitution for altocumulus clouds. The appearance and texture of pill bottle cotton is nearly universally known; the term altocumulus is not.

Scudded is a nautical term for a sailing ship running before a gale that has become commonplace in describing the swift movement of clouds. Substituting blew with scudded, a rhetorical scheme of substitution, figuratively implies an approaching storm.

An angry sun is another metaphor and substitution. Angry is substituted for red. Red sunset? Red sunrise? Unfortunately that is not as clear as it could be, yet to a continental US meteorologist it would assuredly mean sunset. What makes angry sun a potent metaphor is that red sunsets are usually pleasant experiences. "Red sky at night; sailor's delight." An angry sun implies otherwise.

Causation is the horizontal movement of plot over time of the story driven by establishing a linear train of cause and effect. A cause is a motivation or action that causes a reaction, the effect, usually emotional, that in turn causes another effect or reaction. In story, the train of causation typically rises in a stair-step or escalator shape toward climax rather than a straight or flat line. Causation is one of the three axes of plot shape that contribute to a story's emotive appeal.

Tension drives vertical movement of plot. Creating tension in story might come from suspense, sympathy with the protagonist's predicament, action, adventure, and/or desire, etc. There are seemingly an infinite number of methods to create tension in story.

Opposition drives both vertical and horizontal movement of plot. Opposition is conflict, opposing purpose with problems, progress impeded by obstacles, and so on.

When causation, tension, and opposition are resonating and pulling together in a story, the story will have a potent, emotionally appealing plot.

I'm sure I've created some more "huhs?" I'll be happy to clarify if you'll be specific.


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Cheyne
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extrinsic- are you a philosophy major or do you just read like one? I think most of us got mr.babbly's (thanks merlion) point without the rhetoric lesson. I thought I left all that jargon behind in university. Mrs.Brown was probably only pointing out that your point was easily made without the double speak.
No insult intended, but I hope your fiction does not read like your posts; most readers don't want to work that hard.

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shimiqua
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And yet, there were terms he mentioned which I have been wondering about, So however lesson like the post is, It helped me learn something. So thanks for posting.

[This message has been edited by shimiqua (edited June 06, 2008).]


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Cheyne
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Upon rereading, my last post sounds snippy when it was intended as light-hearted. I just remember trying to keep my ADHD addled brain focused long enough to follow my philosophy prof's jargon laden lectures. If the humor I intended went uncommunicated I apologize.
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extrinsic
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I do take things more literally than is best. That's why rhetoric--the mere mention of the word sends the audience into a catatonic stupor--is a strong interest of mine, so I can understand figurative meaning. See the Silva Rhetoricae for an in-depth and comprehensive survey of rhetoric.

No harm, so no foul.

I have a BFA in creative writing, fiction concentration, although my transcripts read more like a science major's. My secondary creative writing passion focuses on publishing.

One of my earliest mentors encouraged studying in the Jeffersonian style, anything and everything. I worked as a printer at the time. The job shop master's intent was to improve my knowledge base so I could proofread copy. I've continued broad ranging studies in and out of college. I do want to get an MFA in creative writing, just got to get in somewhere I can afford to go. Circumstances permitting, I'd like to get a PhD, too.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited June 07, 2008).]


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nitewriter
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"If I've ever seem am Armani suit or a Rolex watch, I didn't know it, so I can only guess what the writer is trying to get me to see."

Is it really important that you can't visualize it? I think if a writer writes of a character wearing an Armani suit or wearing a Rolex the intent was to convey something of the economic status of the character - whether or not you can vixualize it I don't think matters.

[This message has been edited by nitewriter (edited June 07, 2008).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Interesting point, nitewriter. I've always figured that the point of description was to set the scene, and describing what a character is wearing helps you see the character. But maybe that's my own visual-processing tendency.

The thing is, even more than not knowing what an Armani suit looks like, the first time I read something like that, I didn't know what an Armani suit even was, so the meaning of the description was wasted on me anyway.


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EP Kaplan
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KDW, can I just say you might want to call that the "Stephen King (post rehab) Rule". Or the Palahniuk rule.

[This message has been edited by EP Kaplan (edited June 12, 2008).]


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kings_falcon
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I'm coming in a bit late to echo IB but, if the POV would make a distinction between the type of vehicle the narrative should.

I have a character who notices eyes, always, because hers are out of the norm. The first time she meets a person she notes his/her eye color. No one else does because no one else cares.

Same thing with weapons, our dear Wolf would notice the type and probably issue year of one when it was pointed at him. I'd just say a "really big gun."

I call my sports car the MG even though I know its a 1977 MGB. the other car is a Mercedes (please don't get me started on that story), I NEVER think of it as the C320. My former busines partner thought of it as the C320. If the POV has a passion or skill in that area, she's going to rattle off the details. If not, it's the car.


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kings_falcon
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Another example is police officers will note make and model. License plate too if they can.

So it depends on your POV


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MrsBrown
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Are we sure there IS such a thing as an Armani suit? The only place I have ever heard of them is entertainment media (a.k.a. fiction). I think its just a convention that some writer made up, and no one else wanted to admit they hadn't heard of it.

[This message has been edited by MrsBrown (edited June 12, 2008).]


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extrinsic
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I've rented Armani neutral gray, tailless tuxedos for attending weddings. Otherwise, I'd make my appearance in flannel and dungarees.
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Cheyne
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Extrinsic can you put that in words the rest of us can understand!!!!
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extrinsic
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How about a picture instead? This is a different brand and the jacket is not quite gray enough, but this is my prefered formal attire style.

http://www.buy4lesstuxedo.com/sb10D_01442/ws20img/ws20img_5001/inventory/MAG-ROMAII2.j pg

On the other hand flannel is a long-sleeved shirt made of flannel. Cowboys, lumberjacks, down home sorts wear flannel in winter. Dungarees are what most people call denim jeans.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited June 12, 2008).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Thanks for the link, extrinsic. Doesn't look any different from any other nice suit, if you ask me. (But then, I think all babies look alike, too. <shrug> )
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Extrinsic can you put that in words the rest of us can understand!!!!

You know, not everything extrinsic says needs to be translated.

We're writers. If there are words we don't know, we should look them up and learn something. Since words are our tools, the more words we know, the more tools we have available to us.


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EP Kaplan
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Silly KDW, everyone knows if you can't fix it with a hammer, it doesn't warrant fixing.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Define "warrant."
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Cheyne
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I may have to give up on irony.
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EP Kaplan
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To justify or give reason.

Definition ten or so out of about a dozen.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Thank you, EP Kaplan.

Irony is extremely hard to get away with online sometimes, because the usual clues aren't available so that others know you are trying to be ironic, Cheyne.

I feel your frustration, especially since smilies don't really help all that much when it comes to irony/sarcasm.

I know something like "irony alert" beforehand might make it not even worth being ironic, but at least if people were to use something like that, others would have a better chance to "get it."

How about putting "irony alert" more than 13 lines below the end of the irony, so it only shows up after readers scroll down. That way you've got the "huh?" at first, and then you'll get the "ah!" after. <shrug>

The irony-challenged among us might really appreciate it.


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halogen
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quote:
Irony is extremely hard to get away with online sometimes, because the usual clues aren't available so that others know you are trying to be ironic, Cheyne.

Yeah, irony doesn't work in this medium. That's why I always stick to deadpan.


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extrinsic
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The French have an extremely rare punctuation mark for irony dating from the late 19th Century, the point d'ironie. It's a small, elevated, backward question mark. Unicode doesn't support the irony mark so I can't show it here, none of the digital text specifications supports it. An upside down question mark might indicate irony. The wink emoticon, ;-) is purported to mean irony, but variant usage has diluted its meaning.

There's also a proposed sarcasm mark that's not catching on, like the interrobang. ‽

I think a useful mark for writers communicating online is the pilcrow, .

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited June 14, 2008).]


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