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Something Is Wrong In Fantasy

Something is blurring the focus in Fantasy.

Did that get your attention? Fantasy is great. There is nothing wrong with the genre, but as aspiring authors, we need to realize the responsibility we have in presenting “something” to our readers.

“Something” covers a lot of area. If used without thought, this single word can distance our readers. As world builders we are in the position of power. Part of this power platform is providing information to our audience. So, if we take the short cut and use “something” when really that something can be described, we are denying readers a range of details. We are blurring the focus, keeping vital clues hidden.

So often we use “something” thinking the word will suffice. “It” is something’s partner in crime. If we use “it” without thought, again we are avoiding sharing. It often leads to generality and like “something” doesn’t sharpen focus, rather “it” softens clarity.

Sometimes pronouns are useful to avoid echoes and repetitious use of a noun. Fair enough. That’s all good. Also, in dialogue “something” is often a pattern of speech. Still. Let’s be vigilant and not short change our readers.

Vague descriptions, generalities, clichés, and stereotypes can weaken a story. Discerning readers will lose interest if they are not gripped and held by vivid environments and decisive characters.

When “something” makes a character look around…it isn’t sharing! A little hint as to whether the alarm was caused by a noise, a smell, a breath of wind, a sixth sense, will include the reader in the moment. Something we don’t want to do is to make them feel left out and uniformed.

I am guilty of making this error myself. In order to illustrate how we can avoid the pitfall, I have taken examples from my recent round of edits. Here are a few samples of “something” I found, my alternatives, and where I chose to leave the sentence as is. Using FIND I discovered thirteen cases of “something”, after editing there are only six, in 91,000 words. I am pretty sure they are now all used in dialogue. Here goes…

Examples I Kept

“Are you looking for something?” Caleath gestured to the stable’s dark interior where the smell of meadow hay and horses overpowered night’s cold offering.

“Really? I would never have guessed. About fashions in general or something more specific?”

Something or someone has convinced him I am here and still alive.”

Examples I Changed

Knowing neither age nor ill health affected the wizard, Caleath guessed something deeper worried the mage.
Knowing neither age nor ill health affected the wizard, Caleath guessed a more complex problem worried the mage.

“There must have been something in the ale.”
“There must have been a sedative in the ale.”

He hoped Azriel would leave him alone for long enough to achieve something.
He hoped Azriel would leave him alone long enough to achieve a result.

Her reticence counts for something.”
Her reticence counts in her favor.”

This is not something we should even think about aloud,
This is not a topic we should even think about aloud,

“Oh, I am being informed. Do you have something to add?”
“Oh, I am being informed. Do you have anything to add?” (I am not sure anything is really any better than something. Iif anyone has a substitute here, I am listening! I thought of ‘snippets of information’ ‘more gossip ‘’other examples’ but they don’t work for the moment or the character’s voice.)

Something more than rotting vegetation, weeping wounds or mold, tainted the air.
An odor sharper than rotting vegetation, weeping wounds, or mold tainted the air.

Caleath wondered if the Kentorian green had something to do with her persuasive powers.
Caleath wondered if the Kentorian green enhanced her persuasive powers.

How can I condemn you for something I am guilty of?”
How can I condemn you for a crime I am guilty of?”

Something can often be replaced with a little more detail. Still, as you can see, there are times I run out of ideas too. For those examples, I hope “something” fulfills a purpose.

Do you have any suggestions? Of course, this is one of many words we begin to cull as our writing skills improve. Once aware of the over use of “something” in fantasy, as a reader, I feel cheated when an author reverts to this shortcut. Have a look at your writing. Have you fallen into the same trap, or did you know about this one already? Do you have examples you would like to share? Do you need alternatives? Have you come across other overused words that spoil your reading pleasure?

These sentences are taken from the edits I have been working on for the fifth book in the Chronicles of Caleath, Invaded: The Darkest Day. Released July 2012, if edits were completed. 🙂

Title image by MarianneLoMonaco.

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8 Comments

  1. Avatar Calamity says:

    Now that’s something! A most comprehensive article on a much overused word. With a little extra thought you came up with more detail and a clearer read. Worth the effort. Good luck with your latest book Rosalie

  2. Avatar Lionwalker says:

    Haha, really liked this post. Great hook in the title!
    Also very true, the story is in the detail, but on the flip side, too much detail kills the momentum of the story. It’s a fine something we have to walk 🙂

  3. Avatar AE Marling says:

    I see “something” as fulfilling a few key roles. First, in dialog it can demonstrate uncertainty and spontaneous thinking. Those who are quicker, smarter, or who had prepared would probably use a more precise word.

    Second, it can create a breath of suspense. If “something” makes a crashing noise behind the protagonist, we have to wait until the next sentence or paragraph to see what it is. Our anticipation is heightened. “Something” can be the blur that bursts onto the stage and demands we refocus. Of course, in some situations it could be eschewed. Instead of “Something crashed…” we could have “A crashing noise sent jolts of surprise running through me….”

  4. I agree that “something” can be a bit of a crutch especially when used in description, as it is vague and fails to concretize whatever is going on in the scene. But I would also have to agree with AE’s comment, that in certain contexts the word “something” indicates some level of uncertainty as a result of its inherent vagueness, and that can be used to increase suspense.

  5. Excellent article, Rosalie. You explain very well, why ‘something’ should be used more consciously in writing than we’re used to in real life. I’ve come across writers and articles who/which simply ban ‘something’ from fiction of any flavor. Of course that’s nonsense, particularly in dialogue. Your examples of ‘surviving somethings’ show that very well.

    If we use something out of laziness though, we’d better come back after the first draft and weed out those that weaken the visual quality of the story. It’s like using weak verbs and weak nouns. And yes, in rare cases these can all be justified.

    Replacing something with anything doesn’t quite strike me as an improvement. 😉 Both is fine in your example since it’s dialogue and just the way most people would phrase the question.

  6. Avatar AJ Zaethe says:

    “Something” is definitely one of those words to avoid, but a word I feel is worse is “seem” “seems” or “seemed”. The word does work, however, it should be used sparingly. In Wolfangel, the word “seemed” appeared 7 times in the first 4 pages of the novel, ridiculous! Replacing the “seem’s” with “appeared” or “felt” gives more action.

  7. Thanks for your comments. 🙂
    Calamity, Something needed to be said. 🙂
    Lionwalker, it is a fine line but I think once we know the line exists, the battle is half won.
    AE Marling, as long as authors know something can become a problem, they won’t fall into the trap of overusing the word. It has a role in writing, I agree, but advocate care and understanding when using something.
    Brandon M Lindsay, when used selectively and in the correct context, yes, something can work well.
    Edith, I think authors who ban some completely have learnt their lesson too well. With all the ‘words to avoid’ there are times when they come in handy. Especially in dialogue. My motto is ‘all things in moderation’. Once we know there might be a problem with something and work to avoid falling into the over use or laziness trap… then we can use the word with confidence.
    A J Zeathe… Seem, seems, seemed… a whole new story. Yes, they should be used sparingly and only if another alternative can’t be found.
    Again, thanks for your comments.

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