Literary Phrasing

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Literary Phrasing

Post by dtaylor4 » Tue Mar 10, 2015 2:16 am

For a bonus in a recent tournament, the lead-in and prompt for a bonus part about a novel called it both a "story" and a "tale." I was intentionally vague with not wanting to call it a novel.

I did have one person question the phrasing, as he alleged that those pointed at a short story as opposed to a novel.

In my writing, I use "story," "work," or "tale" when wanting to indicate that I am asking for a title, but do not want to readily indicate the form. Is this misleading?

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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Tue Mar 10, 2015 5:27 am

There's not really many situations where it's truly necessary to obfuscate the literary form of a work. Just say "novel", "play", "poem", etc. unless you have a very compelling reason to want to hide it.

I tend to agree that "story" usually indicates a short story and can be misleading if you use it for something else. "Tale" is more unusual and confusing than specifically misleading.
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by Dominator » Tue Mar 10, 2015 7:37 am

Ukonvasara wrote:There's not really many situations where it's truly necessary to obfuscate the literary form of a work. Just say "novel", "play", "poem", etc. unless you have a very compelling reason to want to hide it.
There may not be many of these situations, but they do exist. For example, an otherwise prolific author may only have one notable work in a given form. Still, I think a generic "work" is preferable to "story" because the latter is nearly synonymous with "short story" and the former is plenty vague. In most situations, writers should do what Rob suggests and just say what kind of work it is, because that facilitates more learning and does not become tediously repetitious.
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by kievanrustic » Tue Mar 10, 2015 10:31 am

On this note, what about questions that are not only ambiguous but completely wrong? Can one call "The Interpreter of Maladies" a novel? Can one call Ulysses a novella? Is confusion over such an error protestable?
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by Steeve Ho You Fat » Tue Mar 10, 2015 11:31 am

If you can't decide or don't want to say if something is, say, a novel or a novella, there's nothing wrong with the word "book".

(Please don't start writing questions on poems that call them books now).
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Mar 10, 2015 12:52 pm

political entity = polity

literary entity - lolity
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by Captain Sinico » Tue Mar 10, 2015 1:02 pm

I'd say that calling what's unambiguously a novel a "story" isn't really misleading, though it's perhaps not the best practice (unless you have some other reason to avoid saying "novel.") If, for example, someone were to protest that the bonus is misleading and must be thrown out, I'd definitely deny that: novels are, by and large, stories - presumably including the one in question here - and you didn't say "short story." The fact that it's rather hard to draw a clear distinction between those categories is a further argument in favor of saying that's fine.

To the surprise of very few, I'd like to take this opportunity to expand the discussion to make a point I often make! An overlooked mechanic, or perhaps even lost art, in the writing of questions is the use of progressively different descriptions. This question can serve as an example.

The best thing to do here would be something like: to start by describing the thing in question as a "work," then "tale," then "book," then "novel." In doing this, you are being more descriptive and exact, but also using your descriptors in a pyramidal fashion. While the latter obviously doesn't matter much in a bonus such as this, in a tossup, it can be most useful.

On the other hand, the standard practice of calling something the same thing throughout a question ("this work," or "this polity," say) is not only less informative, it's also needlessly stultifying and obfuscatory; abrogates a whole class of clue - namely, the ability to carefully revealing more or less by description; and, in extreme cases, can even produce hoses, ambiguous answers, or otherwise punish knowledge for no particular reason.
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by 1992 in spaceflight » Tue Mar 10, 2015 1:34 pm

Andrew actually does pose an interesting question here. When I read The Things They Carried for my contemporary literature class last year, one of the first discussions we had was whether it could be considered a book or a short story collection. I can see the arguments for both, but I think it's the preferable idea to say "short story collection" or even just "collection" to avoid ambiguity when writing a question if you're not sure whether to call something a novel or a short story collection.
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by dtaylor4 » Wed Mar 11, 2015 1:24 am

For clarification's case, here's the prompt/first part:

An eye operation serves as a turning point in this story, in which the patient ends up dying.
[10] This tale sees Laurel Hand read Dickens to her father, Judge McKelva, when not feuding with her stepmother, Fay.
ANSWER: The _Optimist's Daughter_

I didn't want to come out and call it a novel, hence my use of "story" and "tale." I usually find "work" to be clunky, and think "book" points at either a collection or a novel.

I normally try and do what Sorice suggests, both in questions and in life.

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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Wed Mar 11, 2015 1:32 am

There is no transparency-related reason not to refer to that book as a novel (or maybe a novella).
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by theMoMA » Wed Mar 11, 2015 1:48 am

Agree with Rob; I don't see why you wouldn't want to call it a novel, or a "short novel," or even a book. Any of those seems much less likely to lead a person who knows clues for The Optimist's Daughter floundering because they think you're asking for a short story or some kind of legend, because those are the meanings typically conveyed by the words "story" or "tale," neither of which is typically used to describe a novel.

I understand Mike's point that it's suboptimal and occasionally confusing to use an imprecise reference to the answer throughout a question. Quizbowl would undoubtedly be a better place if no one ever said "this polity" or "this figure," and if "this work" were kept to a bare minimum. But I think that, rather than descend from imprecise to precise references, a much more elegant solution is simply to use the precise reference throughout the entire question: "this man," "this novel," "this country," etc. Very rarely will this lead a player to be able to narrow down the answer space so dramatically that a question plays poorly; if that seems to be the case, you might want to figure out a better way to ask about the same topic.
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by Ike » Wed Mar 11, 2015 8:01 am

theMoMA wrote:I understand Mike's point that it's suboptimal and occasionally confusing to use an imprecise reference to the answer throughout a question. Quizbowl would undoubtedly be a better place if no one ever said "this polity" or "this figure," and if "this work" were kept to a bare minimum. But I think that, rather than descend from imprecise to precise references, a much more elegant solution is simply to use the precise reference throughout the entire question: "this man," "this novel," "this country," etc. Very rarely will this lead a player to be able to narrow down the answer space so dramatically that a question plays poorly; if that seems to be the case, you might want to figure out a better way to ask about the same topic.
Also agree. I think a lot of quizbowl writing can be improved by putting more care into pronouns. I think we should get rid of the phrase "this work" or "this polity" unless you have a good reason to use it - I would say that 95-98% of all quizbowl questions don't need to use the phrase "this work."

As to Mike's theory, you can still improve the specificity of your tossup with pyramidal descriptors without being vague! Consider a tossup on Waiting For Godot: I might use the phrases "This drama" and "This play" at the beginning, and then as I progress, "This two act play" or "This tragicomedy in two acts" (its subtitle) and at the end "This masterpiece of the Absurd Theatre." All of these provide some amount of descriptive clues, and more importantly, makes your writing less coarse-sounding.
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Mar 11, 2015 10:38 am

Now that we're expanding this beyond just literature, I want to point out that often in history tossups, excessive use of "this leader" becomes a clue to the player that the answer being sought is female. At lower levels of quizbowl, where there is maybe one askable female monarch per country, this might be all you need to get 10 points.

I occasionally would write tossups on male figures, where I would use "this leader" to refer to the person all the way until the end of the tossup, just to keep people honest and punish anyone who tried to lateral this way.
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by theMoMA » Wed Mar 11, 2015 11:34 am

"Work" is useful shorthand for "artwork" in sentences like "This man painted a work in which..." In that case, because of the context, the meaning of "work" is perfectly precise and clear. Otherwise, it's best to go with a more specific reference to the answer: "this book," "this poem," "this play," etc. Ike has a good point about ability to create more specificity in references to the answer as a question unfolds.

I think "figure" is rarely useful, especially when it's shorthand for "historical figure." (Only in quizbowl is it common parlance to call Abraham Lincoln a "figure"! In most contexts, he's a "man," a "president," a "politician," or a "leader.") In certain mythological contexts, "this [mythological] figure" is alright, but "this hero," "this man," "this deity," "this god," "this goddess," or "this woman" are almost certainly preferable for their specificity.

My general rule is that I want my references to the answer to be consistent and precise, to cause as little confusion as possible. I try to use simple words in their common meanings. If I'm worried that a player will be able to narrow the answer down too quickly simply because of the references to the answer, I might try to tweak the references, or I might try to tweak the answer line. (See below for some strategies for doing both in the context of tossups where the answer is a woman and there aren't many women in the particular answer space.)
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by theMoMA » Wed Mar 11, 2015 11:38 am

Bruce, here are a couple useful tricks I've learned about obfuscating that the subject of a question is female:

* Sometimes, it's not actually all that detrimental to just come out and say "this woman." I wouldn't have any qualms about saying "this woman" in most collegiate questions, for example, where the answer space is usually rather large. Before you use one of the below strategies, consider whether simply identifying the person as a woman is actually ok.

* Use definite descriptors to refer to the answer. Instead of calling Marie Curie "this scientist" (or worse, "this figure"), consider using terms like "this discoverer of polonium" or "this coiner of the term 'radioactivity.'" This can help disguise gender-neutral terms suggesting that the answer is a woman.

* Ask on the person's surname, regnal name, or title/office. People are very well-attuned to the idea that "this leader" or "this person" is very possibly referring to a woman. But "one ruler with this name" or "one politician with this surname" doesn't tend to produce the same effect. You can often very easily create a "this surname" tossup by adding a clue about the subject's family (daughter, husband, father, etc.). There are often female rulers with the same regnal name (Isabella I and II of Spain, for example, or Marie de Medici and Marie of France, etc.), so that questions on "one ruler with this name did X; another rule of this name did Y" are possible. If that's not the case, it sometimes works to flip the question to ask for a title that the person held. Instead of asking about Margaret Thatcher, for example, you could write a tossup on prime ministers of Britain using clues about Thatcher and her rivals, or Thatcher and her ideological allies, such as John Major.
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by Cheynem » Wed Mar 11, 2015 11:56 am

You could also do one of my favorite asinine writing tricks in which you write on something like "Prime Minister" using ONLY Thatcher clues.
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by Captain Sinico » Wed Mar 11, 2015 6:54 pm

theMoMA wrote:...a much more elegant solution is simply to use the precise reference throughout the entire question: "this man," "this novel," "this country," etc. Very rarely will this lead a player to be able to narrow down the answer space so dramatically that a question plays poorly; if that seems to be the case, you might want to figure out a better way to ask about the same topic.
I buy your reasoning to a point, but not to your conclusion. The effect of always using the exact same reference is to bore the hearer needlessly. Moreover, it is rather to waste verbiage in a context where that's already a big enough problem. By using the same reference, you lose a chance to communicate new information by repeating something you already said.

Still, those are matters of style more than substance. More importantly, as a matter of clue ordering, it's clearly imprudent to throw out the ability to change references by committing to always use the same one at the outset. Giving away an easy clue implicitly and thereby obviating later, harder, explicit clues is just the most obvious example of why this might be. For writers who already know very well what they're about (as you obviously are,) the converse is more often the issue: a question may still use a "harder" reference when you may want to use an "easier" one. (The 12th and final line of that "California from poets who sometimes lived there" tossup probably doesn't need to still cleave to "This polity.")

That said, I certainly concede that a given question may work better using the same reference throughout - certainly I've known questions for which that is the case. However, to claim such is always or even generally true is rather to overstate the case.

In summary, I say: you ought to carefully consider your references and whether to vary them throughout the question. Mechanical use of the same one every time is elegant in an algorithmic sense, but will often fail to produce elegant prose, and may hurt clue order!
Ike wrote:As to Mike's theory, you can still improve the specificity of your tossup with pyramidal descriptors without being vague! Consider a tossup on Waiting For Godot: I might use the phrases "This drama" and "This play" at the beginning, and then as I progress, "This two act play" or "This tragicomedy in two acts" (its subtitle) and at the end "This masterpiece of the Absurd Theatre." All of these provide some amount of descriptive clues, and more importantly, makes your writing less coarse-sounding.
That's certainly exactly what I mean, Ike. Those all communicate more information per se, but also, they're just much more interesting! We could well end with "Name this drama that is considered a masterpiece of the Absurd Theatre," (to ad-lib some pretty standard quizbowlese) but why would we, when "Name this masterpiece of the Absurd Theatre" says the same thing in less words, and in a more engaging fashion?
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by Amizda Calyx » Wed Mar 11, 2015 9:21 pm

dtaylor4 wrote:For clarification's case, here's the prompt/first part:

An eye operation serves as a turning point in this story, in which the patient ends up dying.
[10] This tale sees Laurel Hand read Dickens to her father, Judge McKelva, when not feuding with her stepmother, Fay.
ANSWER: The _Optimist's Daughter_

I didn't want to come out and call it a novel, hence my use of "story" and "tale." I usually find "work" to be clunky, and think "book" points at either a collection or a novel.

I normally try and do what Sorice suggests, both in questions and in life.
There's zero reason not to say "this (short) novel(la)" in this case since, assuming this bonus isn't somehow linked to a tossup on Welty, there's no way for players to lateral their way into the answer knowing she only wrote a couple novels.
Also: While I am amused at the juxtaposition of "eye operation" and "this tale sees", I think it's worth a reminder that novels do not have sight and this question could be rearranged to be less unnatural-sounding. The lead-in is also awkward.
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by jonpin » Wed Mar 11, 2015 10:57 pm

While we're on the subject of verbal tics to avoid, for the love of god, think long and hard before you use the word "titular". And then don't use it.
Joelle wrote:
dtaylor4 wrote:For clarification's case, here's the prompt/first part:

An eye operation serves as a turning point in this story, in which the patient ends up dying.
[10] This tale sees Laurel Hand read Dickens to her father, Judge McKelva, when not feuding with her stepmother, Fay.
ANSWER: The _Optimist's Daughter_

I didn't want to come out and call it a novel, hence my use of "story" and "tale." I usually find "work" to be clunky, and think "book" points at either a collection or a novel.

I normally try and do what Sorice suggests, both in questions and in life.
There's zero reason not to say "this (short) novel(la)" in this case since, assuming this bonus isn't somehow linked to a tossup on Welty, there's no way for players to lateral their way into the answer knowing she only wrote a couple novels.
Also: While I am amused at the juxtaposition of "eye operation" and "this tale sees", I think it's worth a reminder that novels do not have sight and this question could be rearranged to be less unnatural-sounding. The lead-in is also awkward.
Amusingly, because of the "eye operation" mention (and the fact that I don't know lit), I first read that answer line as "The Optometrist's Daughter".
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by samus149 » Wed Mar 11, 2015 11:56 pm

jonpin wrote:While we're on the subject of verbal tics to avoid, for the love of god, think long and hard before you use the word "titular". And then don't use it.
Joelle wrote:
dtaylor4 wrote:For clarification's case, here's the prompt/first part:

An eye operation serves as a turning point in this story, in which the patient ends up dying.
[10] This tale sees Laurel Hand read Dickens to her father, Judge McKelva, when not feuding with her stepmother, Fay.
ANSWER: The _Optimist's Daughter_

I didn't want to come out and call it a novel, hence my use of "story" and "tale." I usually find "work" to be clunky, and think "book" points at either a collection or a novel.

I normally try and do what Sorice suggests, both in questions and in life.
There's zero reason not to say "this (short) novel(la)" in this case since, assuming this bonus isn't somehow linked to a tossup on Welty, there's no way for players to lateral their way into the answer knowing she only wrote a couple novels.
Also: While I am amused at the juxtaposition of "eye operation" and "this tale sees", I think it's worth a reminder that novels do not have sight and this question could be rearranged to be less unnatural-sounding. The lead-in is also awkward.
Amusingly, because of the "eye operation" mention (and the fact that I don't know lit), I first read that answer line as "The Optometrist's Daughter".
Holy crap that says optimist. I've been saying "The Optometrist's Daughter" for two years.
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Re: Literary Phrasing

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Thu Mar 12, 2015 1:03 am

You guys need to get your eyes checked.
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