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  1. Presence
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    Presence Member

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    Being grammatical without sacrificing rhythm

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Presence, Feb 10, 2012.

    Hi there.

    I would like some input that I feel can help develop the style of writing I am travelling towards. There is a particular effect and rhythm that I wish to hone in my writing which may conflict with editors, judges, or people who hold proper use of grammar at a higher standard than I am use to. It's a long journey, but I will share with you one conflict which needs synthesis.

    The conflict is when I want to elaborate a complex idea, in one sentence, with an effect of openness, with the use of repetition and alternation, with a feeling of graceful explanation by providing alternative perspectives that paint the idea with contrasting similarity. I've tried to illustrate this style in the previous sentence and I want to know if it is grammatically okay, and if it is not, what sort of punctuations I would need. I've used semi-colons, but they seem to be a bit confusing, and people don't seem to like them. I try to throw the dash in there from time to time -which I'm utterly grateful to have been shown- but feel it's effect is too scattered for those purposes.

    If that example doesn't convey my dilemma well enough, I have a sentence that a friend who proof read found the snytax difficult:

    When the bell sounds within you, and the eyelids that once glazed over the lucidity of that perceptive awareness which so keenly discerns the quintessence of truth, which so insatiably observes the nature of reality, shoots open with a boom as resounding as the creation of the stars, you must answer the call to exploration if you are to ever look at your own life with dignity.

    I've tried working with it and turned it into:

    When the bell sounds within you, and the eyelids that once glazed over the lucidity of that perceptive awareness which so keenly discerns the quintessence of truth and so insatiably observes the nature of reality, open with a boom as resoundingly as the creation of the stars, you must answer the call to exploration if you are to ever look at your own life with dignity.

    But I still sense that readers won't be able to follow the rhythm quite the way I am intending.
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know what this means. What is "contrasting similarity"? What do you mean by "effect of openness"? "Graceful explanation by providing alternative perspectives"?

    It sounds to me like you're trying way too hard. You're very young, aren't you? I bet you are. This is the kind of writing I used to do when I was in my late teens. I love the rhythm of great prose, but it's very easy to overreach and lose track of what you're doing, and worse, lose the reader.

    Here's a question I sometimes ask people when I see them writing like this: Who is your model? Do you have a favorite writer who writes like this? If not, there may be a reason. This kind of stuff is difficult to read because it's (no offense) too weak. You're substituting lots of Latinate words - and lots of adjectives and adverbs - when your prose really needs the solid punch of the vernacular (forgive me for that Latinate word!). You don't have to put everything into one sentence. And you'll find that, with a vivid image or two, you can communicate the same ideas with better rhythm, more vividness, and better readability.

    Who are your favorite writers? And why? Do they achieve the effects you're going for? If so, perhaps your should emulate their techniques.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Why is it necessary to stuff it into one sentence?

    Maintain good grammar, and take whatever time you need to make the writing flow correctly and preserve clarity.

    A sentence should express one idea, and express it clearly. Even a compound sentence should primarily express one thing, the relationship between a pair of throughts. A compound sentence should not be used as a gunny sack filled with bric-a-brac.
     
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  4. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    Eh... In this case, I'd say less is more. It becomes confusing when you add too many layers to the sentence, if that makes sense.
    You could easily remove that middle chunk and make it much easier to follow while still in your words:

    When the bell sounds within you, and the eyelids open with a boom as resounding as the creation of the stars, you must answer the call to exploration if you are to ever look at your own life with dignity.

    It still has that prose feel, but you don't get caught up in the extra explanations and layers of the original sentence (in my opinion, at least).
     
  5. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    Oh Coggy, I do love it when you get all metaphoricaological on us :D

    Reps for rhyming 'gunny sack' and 'Bric-a-brac' ;-)
     
  6. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    Yes, this is MUCH better. All the middle part of that sentence did was sound pretentious and totally lose the thread of thought. Now it makes a statement with some meaning.
     
  7. AMA
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    AMA New Member

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    ..."It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"...

    Like you, Presence, I adore the compound sentence, probably more than I ought to. Maybe minstrel is right about it being the art of the young... o_O
    But I think that poetic prose has its place.

    Maybe save it for that jaw-dropping statement like Dickens did. If you use it too much, it loses its power, right?

    I wish you the best of luck! What is the basic rule for writing for an editor's eye anyway? And what of those exceptions to the rule? When do you decide to be basic or exception? After the first printed seal?
     
  8. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good long sentences are fine. Bad long sentences are not fine.

    The first requirement of any sentence is that it actually says what the writer wants it to say.

    Do you wish to look with dignity, or, look upon a life characterised by dignity? I guess the latter; your sentence says the former.
     
  9. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    Shakespeare's words, among others who wrote in meter, quite literally sing and resonate in effect, even if the words being read are not songs at all. He suceeded in doing this without stuffing so many thoughts and words into a sentence. Yes, his vernacular is high and oldern, and at first glance may seem jumbled because you are not use to the syntax, yet most of his words are said purposeful, calculated, and very much to the point. They are clear, concise, and stick to one thought within the sentence or relation to something, while also hitting on deeper levels within his audience.

    I too have a problem with over complicating things. You want your readers to be able to connect with you. I honestly had to re-read what you wrote about five or six times to even begin to try and understand what it was you were trying to emphasize in your words, not just what they meant. Technically speaking, you lost me after the second clause.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    my eyes [and my brain!] did glaze over... grammatical gobbledygook and syntactical silliness do not impress editors and publishers... you seem to be trying for the over-wording world record and the result reads like an explosion in a dictionary and thesarus factory...

    try diagramming that sentence [if you're old enough to have been taught how] and you'll see why i can't provide any less harsh input... please know that i'm not meaning to be insulting... just helpful, by giving you my unvarnished reaction to the piece...

    love and hugs, maia
     
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  11. Presence
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    Presence Member

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    Wow, thank you everyone for your input. I am putting much thought into what all of you have said, and I feel like I should be paying each of you. My sincerest gratitude.

    I feel like running with the example I've given, with the elongated sentence I provided, and explaining my dilemma further. The idea of an eye, that we all have, which can discern the quintessence of truth, in my world feels like a wondrous and beautiful concept. Combining the profound concept of quintessence to the sacred idea of truth is like putting on a mystical-ambient song while gazing into the midnight sky; it inspires a sense of wonder from its compound. I want to be able to include that sense of wonder in the sentence so that the reader can transition from that heart-opening feeling, into that sense of "spiritual" duty rendered by the rest of the sentence.

    However, as I have seen, it has not achieved this feat. You cannot imagine how thankful I am to have been shown this. So is it possible to achieve this in one sentence, through the various tools of punctuation, through separating it into 2 sentences, or is it essentially a matter of venacular -which I have considered, but fret about de-valuing the concepts I want to use by settling to use words which are less fulfilling.

    I'll confess that I am 25, and the last books I have read are: Siddhartha, Demian, Narcissus and Goldmund, Steppenwolf, and am currently on chapter 5 of The Glass Bead Game. All written by Hermann Hesse. I'll also admit that I recognize some of his style of writing in my own pieces. I feel that this particular style with compound sentences started when I read Siddhartha.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Re:

    "or is it essentially a matter of venacular -which I have considered, but fret about de-valuing the concepts I want to use by settling to use words which are less fulfilling."

    You're creating sentences that are fulfilling to you, but they're not fulfilling to your readers. You seem to feel that you're "de-valuing" your concepts if you refrain from using the most complex phrasing available, and you also seem to value ambiguous word choices. But I would argue that when a person has to re-read your sentence repeatedly to extract meaning from it, then you've already drained the value out of the concepts that you want to communicate.

    If the reader is going through a thought process like the following:

    "Bell. What bell? Maybe it'll be clear later. OK, eyelids, glazed, lucidity--I guess he means that people can see things and those things really are what they see, or something. He might mean seeing metaphorically, or literally; I can't tell. Insatiably - OK, they're eager to see it. And opening their eyes is apparently a big dramatic thing (Creation of the stars? Yikes.) so that makes me lean toward the metaphorical eye opening. And then they're supposed do something or their life isn't worth living, but I'm not sure what it is they're supposed to do. I assume that the bell is some inner drive or change that leads them to metaphorically open their eyes to something that they've been ignoring, and explore it. But that's just my first guess. OK, let's start over from a few paragraphs back and see if this makes any more sense the second time."

    then that reader isn't getting your rhythm or much of anything else out of the sentence. At best, he might figure out your general meaning.

    There's nothing wrong with simple writing that makes its meaning clear. Even your writing in this post is difficult to translate. For example:

    "Combining the profound concept of quintessence to the sacred idea of truth..."

    Why is quintessence labelled "profound" while truth is labelled "sacred"? Why do either of them need a label at all--surely both truth and quintessence are words that are strong enough to stand without being cluttered with extra adjectives? And why "combining to" rather than "combining with"? Is "combining with" inferior because it's the more commonly used, and therefore more easily understood, phrase?

    And why "...it inspires a sense of wonder from its compound..." instead of "...the combination inspires a sense of wonder..."? "Compound" in this context is ambiguous, while "combination" is not. I'm getting the feeling that you consider that ambiguity to be a good thing, and I would argue that it adds complexity, reduces clarity, and adds nothing to compensate for what is lost.

    You know the old argument that an abstract painter needs to learn the basic rules and techniques of his craft before he can move on to break the rules? I think that the same is true of a writer. I think that you need to learn to communicate cleanly and clearly before you can move on to play with language, because no matter what else your writing does, it needs to communicate meaning.

    I've never read any of Herman Hesse's work, so I just Googled some samples. Some of what I found was elegantly simple and crystal clear. Others had long sentences composed of many of these elegantly simple structures. Your writing seems to be seeking complexity rather than simplicity; I'm not seeing the link between it and the few Hesse excerpts that I was able to find.

    ChickenFreak
     
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  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    who are you writing this for?... consider the fact that next to no one today reads hesse for pleasure...
     
  14. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    ChickenFreak gets major reps for expressing exactly what I would have said, had I been able to disentangle the reasons why I cannot abide sentences like those above. But unfortunately my brain went into total spasm at said sentence.
     
  15. Jowettc
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    Jowettc Contributing Member

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    I have a quotation from the writer Sydney Smith:

    "run a pen through evey other word you have written;you have no idea what vigor it will give your style."

    It feels to me as if you are attempting to 'force' a style upon your writing. At this stage of your writing you should be worrying less on high prose and thesaural dictation and more on capturing simpler elements. e.g. How to describe a room correctly, how to mix beats and rhythms in long and short sentence structures, how to correct grammatical errors and so on.

    Writing is a lot like a musical instrument in my opinion; One first learns how to hold the instrument correctly, then how to move one's fingers on the left hand, and then the right. Eventually one learns how to create a pleasing beat and rhythm. It takes quite some time until one develops their own 'style' of playing which, eventually, will become their trademark.

    Relax, be patient and try a variety of different styles, lengths, beats and compositions. You will make mistakes, but you will also learn a lot. Don't give up, don't be disheartened and remember that the talent within eventually comes out - the time it takes depends on you, and the effort and passion you put into learning this art.
     
  16. Presence
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    Okay, I have applied the lessons I pieced together, from all the different perspectives offered here, by rewriting the sentence. Tell me what you think:

    "When you experience the awakening that calls to you as profoundly as the radiance of the stars, then you must answer the call if you are ever live with dignity."

    I saw that when I asked myself, "What am I trying to say in that sentence," another sentence came about. I realized I was trying to create the experience of awakening without actually saying it; hinting at it with confusing hints. But the reader needs you, the writer, to do the work of simplifying and providing clarity. It's a beautiful expectation if you ask me; one that can develop and evolve not just the writer's writing but also the writer's ability to understand his/her's own feelings, intuition, and thoughts.

    To Mammamia: the sentence I provided was from a rant writing contest I am going to enter at on Feb. 28th. It's a piece on recognizing the oppressing and liberating sides of social influence. In the piece it suggests constantly searching for the intention behind each influence followed by the decision to be influenced or not. It cautions against habitual defiance and habitual naivete. It's also the first article I've ever tried to enter a contest with, so I'm learning a lot from the process of writing it.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I no longer get tangled in the complexity of the sentence, but it's still not saying much to me. You have multiple concepts in the first clause - awakening, calling, profundity, radiance, and stars. Only radiance and stars have a link. The rest seem to be pretty words with no particular relationship.

    I don't see stars as "calling"; they shine, they distribute radiance, they might be seen to bless or illuminate or communicate. As I see stars, they reach out, they don't "call"--they don't beckon or pull something in.

    A call could awaken a person, but your sentence isn't structured to give that impression. Without that, I don't see any link between "call" and "awaken". Your original metaphor, in the previous example, was about opening your eyes, but a call is something you hear, not something you see.

    If the stars aren't seen as communicating, then I don't see any link between "profound" and "stars". And I don't see a link between "profound" and "call", because to me a call isn't communication in the sense that would allow for profundity. A call can be urgent, or strong, or clear, or commanding, but I think that it's a stretch to call it profound.

    If I were to rewrite this with the concepts linked to one another, I'd write it as:

    "When you are awakened by the call, when you see the truth illuminated as if by the radiance of the stars, then you must answer that call if you are ever to live with dignity."

    But... I still don't like this. It's still too grand. It's more interested in its own beauty than in what it's communicating. I see the sentence as preening, focusing on itself, rather than looking up to meet the reader's eyes and communicate with him.

    ChickenFreak
     
  18. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    This new sentence sounds like a conclusion. Personally, I highly doubt that as a reader I could be filled with wonder by reading one sentence in this style. I haven't read much of this style of writing, but I think it would strengthen your idea and your style greatly if you took the concept in this sentence and made it into a paragraph--not just two or three sentences, but a nice, meaty one. If you keep each part of the concept to one or two sentences, it will flow much easier and you'll build up that wondrous feeling that you're trying to portray. Again, I haven't read much of this style, but that would do it for me!
     
  19. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    That's not true at all. Hesse is awesome (in parts - I couldn't read the Glass Bead Game, but Siddhartha is great); the problem is that this does not read like Hesse.
     
  20. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Notice the words 'next to no one'. Besides, my friend who works in Penguin Publishing has said that the Hesse books almost never sell more than 1,000 per year. For a publishing house as big as Penguin that's not a lot of readers.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    thanks, lemex!...

    LM... that qualification of mine does make what i said 'true'...

    getting back to presence and the new sentence...

    i agree it still makes no sense on its own and still comes off as the writer trying too hard to sound 'literary' or whatever, not hard enough to let the reader know what it's supposed to mean...
     
  22. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    Is that per-book, or overall?
     
  23. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    But they're either publishing him in translation or in a language that most of their market doesn't speak. How does Hesse sell in German-speaking countries? A better example from the English speaking world would be Virginia Woolf, I think.
     
  24. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Per book.
     
  25. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's frankly immaterial whether Hesse is much read or not much read these days. (Though for the record I've read pretty much all his output. Lightman, having read all of it, I would urge you not to revisit The GBG).

    Presence's prose does not read a great deal like Hesse's. Though, Hesse does throw together some longish sentences. (Which, in the English translation at least, are not always wholly delightful, it must be said.)

    Even if it resembled it, what of it?

    The prose of many current authors has been clearly influenced by others who are now not much read.

    If Hesse today is not much read, tomorrow, he might be much read. He is a significant author. He has significant things to say. The greats come and go from fashion. But, they are always there. Being great.

    And, more to the point: one does what one wants to do.
     
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