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RULES for 'a/an' and 'the' : Tips and Advice • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

RULES for 'a/an' and 'the'

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HawkEliz489
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RULES for 'a/an' and 'the'

Postby HawkEliz489 » Sat Jun 25, 2016 1:53 pm

Hey guys. I've got some questions about 'a' and 'the'.
I know that mostly when using 'the' for an object means that you're speaking about a certain object. And when using 'a' it means you're speaking generally about the object (I hope I know this one right and I'm not making funny of myself).
I've also heard that when you're introducing something in your scenario for the first time, you've got to use 'a' before it. But I'm not quiet sure if I've got this right, and it kind of looks weird and wrong to me.
To put the question properly and stop confusing you, here is an example of what I'm talking about.

Let's say there is a scene in which your MC walks in her own room/apartment, and it is a first scenario in which you actually introduce the place to the reader. And let's say you need to mention what objects are in there, should you use 'the' or 'a'?

Example: She threw herself on the couch as she walked in. OR She threw herself on a couch as she walked in.

What I mean is, since MC is familiar with her surrounding, shouldn't there be used 'the couch' instead of 'a couch'? I mean, aren't we talking about a certain couch here and not generally about the couches? So which example is right and what should you do in situations when MC is familiar with her surrounding but the reader is not?
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shadowwalker
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Re: RULES for 'a/an' and 'the'

Postby shadowwalker » Sat Jun 25, 2016 2:48 pm

In your example, I don't think it has anything to do with familiarity - it has to do with quantity. If she throws herself on "a" couch, it implies there are other couches in the room, any of which she could make use of. If she drops on "the" couch, it can be assumed there is only one.
"It seems rather like wanting to be ... a writer, rather than wanting to write. It should be a by-product, not a thing in itself. Otherwise, it's just an ego trip." - Roger Zelazny

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HawkEliz489
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Re: RULES for 'a/an' and 'the'

Postby HawkEliz489 » Sat Jun 25, 2016 3:00 pm

“Do I look like the leader of this merry band of misfits?”

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shadowwalker
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Re: RULES for 'a/an' and 'the'

Postby shadowwalker » Sat Jun 25, 2016 3:37 pm

"It seems rather like wanting to be ... a writer, rather than wanting to write. It should be a by-product, not a thing in itself. Otherwise, it's just an ego trip." - Roger Zelazny

It's really not that hard. Just tell me a story.

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roda havet
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Re: RULES for 'a/an' and 'the'

Postby roda havet » Sat Jun 25, 2016 6:21 pm

I have another question about the examples given above. Do you really need to describe what the object looks like? For instances in the examples above it mentions a couch. Can you put the sentences as follows or does it matter? Examples: She threw herself on the flowery couch as she walked in. Or She threw herself on a flowery couch as she walked in. I'm asking because the reader doesn't know what it looks like. Or is it better to let the reader decide that for themselves. :)
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shadowwalker
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Re: RULES for 'a/an' and 'the'

Postby shadowwalker » Sat Jun 25, 2016 6:31 pm

"It seems rather like wanting to be ... a writer, rather than wanting to write. It should be a by-product, not a thing in itself. Otherwise, it's just an ego trip." - Roger Zelazny

It's really not that hard. Just tell me a story.

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roda havet
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Re: RULES for 'a/an' and 'the'

Postby roda havet » Sun Jun 26, 2016 3:54 pm

Thanks Shadowwalker, that does make a lot of sense. :)
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James A. Ritchie
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Re: RULES for 'a/an' and 'the'

Postby James A. Ritchie » Sun Jun 26, 2016 6:20 pm

If you wrote "a couch", readers are going to think there is at least one other couch in the apartment, which might be the case. "The couch" means there's only one.

If there is more than one, you would probably write something like, She walked in and threw herself on the leather couch that faced the TV. The stickiness of the leather made her uncomfortable, so she moved to the cloth covered couch near the window.

As for description, it depends on the scene, and on the flow, but some description is almost always a good thing. Good description sells stories. "Good description" is a balance. It means enough to let readers see the setting, but not so much that readers lose track of story and character.

One of the biggest differences I see in slush pile stories that get rejected on page one, and stories that move on to the editor's desk, is the quantity and quality of the description. If readers, and editors are all readers, can see the setting, can't see the characters, and can't see the action, that story is dead. Learning how to write the amount of description, and learning which details of description are needed, is one of the big hurdles to writing good, publishable stories.


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