Editing client releases first literary novel
A restrictive writing tip: That vs. which

Maintain tone by avoiding subjective tension

Sometimes when 12573125_10153184642700216_5301911336937239437_nselecting which word to use, our aim is off. Usually, this can be resolved simply by thinking a little bit more about exactly what is meant and then changing that word.

When our aim is off on more than a word but a whole passages of text, writers commit the error of “subjective tension.” This is “the difference between what you mean and what you actually say,” an apt phrase coined by science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany.

Usually this difference amounts to something that is humorous or campy, which can break the tone of your piece. Some examples include:
Her jaw fell to the floor.
He jumped through the door.
She strained her eyes as looking through the window.
He twisted up her face.

Of course, not of these images literally can take place. Hence, the suspension of disbelief that a reader brings to a story is broken.

A variant of subjective tension is the gag detail, which is “an unnecessarily unrealistic detail that blows the story’s credibility,” according to CSFW’s Sarah Smith, who devised the term. An example of a gag detail she gives is, “I can accept a Neanderthal going to Harvard, but a Neanderthal with a middle name? Gag.”

Sometimes, though, subjective tension and gag details can be used to great effect. They can help form the repertoire of jokes in a humorous story, as in Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” If done right and maintained throughout the entire piece, they can create a deliberately campy and fun story, such as the 1960s “Batman” television series.

Need an editor? Having your book, business document or academic paper proofread or edited before submitting it can prove invaluable. In an economic climate where you face heavy competition, your writing needs a second eye to give you the edge. Whether you come from a big city like Grand Rapids, Michigan, or a small town like Frying Pan Landing, North Carolina, I can provide that second eye.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)