1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Bewildered Me or Was Bewildering?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by GingerCoffee, May 6, 2014.

    I'm trying to get away from 'was' and the other forms of to be, but I'm not convinced 'bewildered me' is any better.

    The sentence currently is:

    "Evolution bewildered me, how it favored the tactic of prey freezing in place made little sense."

    The option is:

    "Evolution was bewildering. How it favored the tactic of prey freezing in place made little sense."

    What say you?
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I say that there's nothing wrong with 'was' and other forms of to be, and I'd like to know who first presented the idea that there was, and speak firmly to them. I assume that it originated with the false idea that these are passive voice constructions, though maybe there's some other origin.

    In this example, "was bewildering" is better. In my experience, bewildered is rarely used as a verb in this way.
     
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    That's funny. I decided on 'was bewildering'. Your answer is reassuring and maybe your explanation is why it was bothering me.

    Now I have a different question, use proper punctuation or use what the reader would be more familiar with?

    I already use 'who' sometimes when 'whom' is called for to not read as too snobby. What about semicolons?

    "I compromised, I set one of my traps."

    It should be, "I compromised; I set one of my traps." But the semicolon, like whom, worries me that it sounds too snobby.

    Sigh...
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was firmly told, in the commentary on one of my pieces, that semicolons are silly in dialogue. I also understand that semicolons in either dialogue or narrative are a problem in fiction published in America. If I grit my teeth and remove them even when I think they ought to be there, I'm more likely to replace them with a period, making two sentences, than a comma:

    "I compromised. I set one of my traps."

    This changes the sound of the line in my head, but it's the lesser of two evils, for me.
     
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  5. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I noticed in quite a few books of mine that in dialogue characters had stops instead of semicolons.
    I didn't realize there was some sort of prejudice against semicolons.
    Thought it simply changed the characters pace when he spoke as if he actually paused for a brief second.
     
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  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Not to hammer the point home too much, but where did you hear that semicolons are a problem in American fiction? I subscribe to the New Yorker, Harper's, and the Atlantic, and they all publish high-quality fiction each issue, and almost invariably there will be semicolons in it. When I first saw mammamaia stating that semicolons aren't allowed in American fiction, I started going over these stories with a red pen, circling semicolons, colons, adverbs, dialogue tags that weren't "said", and all the rest of the stuff the "in the know" people on this forum say are no-nos. There was often a lot of red on the pages.

    You might argue that semicolons are "highbrow," and are okay in that kind of fiction, but in genre fiction you should leave them out. But I also subscribe to three major science fiction magazines and I see semicolons in their stories as well (though perhaps not as frequently).

    I say, go ahead and use semicolons. If the editor doesn't like them, he or she will probably replace them with periods/capitals.

    Sheesh. Some people are pretty pedantic about this kind of thing, and from what I've actually seen published, they shouldn't be.
     
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  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah. Some people like to think of a semicolon as some sort of highbrow punctuation mark. For a writer, though, it is a very useful tool.

    It indicates a closer relationship between two independent clauses than a period (full stop) does. In other words, it means the reader will expect some other thought to be directly connected to the independent clause they just read. The full meaning of the statement comes in two or more completed parts.

    A comma doesn't always work, because a comma is not used to separate two long independent clauses. According to the Webster's Compact Writers Guide:
    A full stop indicates that thought is finished, and another one is starting up. A semicolon indicates that there is more to come before the thought is finished. If that's highbrow writing, well so be it.

    I'm with the people who think semicolons look silly in dialogue, though. Dialogue is a direct representation of what people say, and people don't really talk in semicolons. A semicolon is a signal to a reader of narrative.
     
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  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think they do. :) The same closer-relationship concept seems applicable to the spoken word. But I've mostly broken myself of the habit all the same.
     
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  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I suppose you're right. However, I personally don't struggle to leave a semicolon out of a piece of dialogue. Not as much as I would struggle to leave it out of narrative. I don't struggle to leave it out of narrative, actually. If I want to use it, I do!
     
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  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Because this is fiction, using a comma here is perfectly acceptable. I have absolutely no issue with it.
     
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  11. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    I do. A run-on sentence is a run-on sentence, and is never appropriate in any sort of writing, including fiction and in dialogue therein. Nothing says 'incompetent author' to me like that construction.
     
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  12. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Have you ever had the chance to read the last chapter of Joyce's Ulysses? Some of the "sentences" go on for thousands of words.

    I think you're actually limiting yourself by advocating sticking to the rules all the time. Without bending or breaking some of the rules, we'd never have stream of consciousness or some of the other experimental techniques we see today. Breaking the rules is fun. Try it some time. :)
     
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  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    avoid the dilemma with:

    "I compromised, set one of my traps."
    or
    "I compromised and set one of my traps."

    both of which read better and are much better writing, imo...

    chicken freak is right on the previous 2 questions...
     
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  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Thanks for everyone's input. For the record it was narrative not dialogue, I used the quotes because I was quoting from my WIP. I like the idea of using a period or a conjunction and sidestepping the issue. One never knows if one's submission is going to an editor who agrees with @thirdwind or @stevesh. ;)
     
  15. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    The business of publishing was a whole different breed of cat in Joyce's day. I doubt very much if he could have found a publisher if he had written Ulysses today.

    Just for the record, any advice or opinions I offer here are with the assumption that the questioner wants to have his or her work published (either by a professional publisher or by him/herself), purchased and read. If I pick up GingerCoffee's novel and come across a run-on sentence that isn't obviously structured that way for some sort of effect that makes sense to me, it's time to close the book and pick up the next one. So many books, so little time.

    Rules involving grammar, syntax and structure exist in part to make for a consistent experience for readers.

    Yes, I've read the last chapter of Ulysses. Now ask me if I enjoyed it.
     
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  16. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If you want more contemporary examples of writers who have used run-on sentences, check out David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, or Cormac McCarthy.

    Based on my examples above, you can get published if you break the rules. Also, your post is simply one reader's opinion. A run-on sentence (or lack of punctuation, etc.) wouldn't stop me from picking up a book and reading it. On a more serious note, you're missing out on a lot of great literature simply because some writers choose to bend or break the rules.

    Breaking the rules lets writers explore new ways to share their thoughts and ideas. If we stuck to the same old rules and traditions, we'd lose some of the greatest writers in history. Also, keep in mind that some readers like to be challenged.
     
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  17. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite
    hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.”
    ― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
     
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  18. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Of course everything I post here is just my opinion. I thought that was what the OP was asking for.

    I find Wallace and Pynchon (Pynchon, especially) nearly unreadable in some of their works. I haven't read McCarthy.

    I think you missed what I said about consistency. If you write to be read, the 'breaking of rules' mostly ends up being a steaming pile of narcissism: breaking the rules just for the sake of doing so, or to demonstrate to your (all too few) readers how so very clever you are. If you want to tell a story and amuse or entertain your readers in the process, following those horribly restrictive rules is the best policy, I think. It means your readers can absorb the story without having to try to figure out why you wrote the way you did. Challenge your readers with your ideas, not by forcing them to decipher your non-standard prose.

    I read a lot and very quickly. Errors in grammar and (increasingly, these days) spelling stop the flow and pull me out of the story until I go back and find what the author or editor did wrong. It's very annoying, and the worst thing that a writer can do to a reader. JMO.
     
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  19. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm certainly not advocating breaking the rules just for the fun of it. I agree that there should be good reason to do so, and with great writers, there always is. Imagine stream of consciousness writing that is forced to obey the rules of grammar. Is that truly stream of consciousness then?

    Sometimes complex ideas require complex writing. That's just how it goes.
     
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  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    We had a discussion at our Writers Group meeting last night about the use of semicolons. One of our members has eyesight problems, and has to edit her writing (which she keys in herself) via a computer that 'reads' her story back to her out loud.

    She says she notices the change in the pace of the reading if she switches from a period (full stop) to a semicolon when connecting two independent clauses. (Which, unless the statements are very short and directly parallel, you never do with a comma.) She said a semicolon pause is definitely shorter and leads to a different 'reading' of the combination than the one she gets with a full stop. She often switches from one to the other, depending on how they sound to her when the computer reads them out.

    In other words, a semicolon is NOT something you can easily replace with something else. It has its place in our arsenal of writing tools, and should never be despised.

    Kurt Vonnegut was voicing his own opinion. However many MANY other authors—who are/were just as successful as he was—do not agree with him. You won't be 'wrong' if you follow his advice, but others won't be wrong if they choose the other option. It's not a matter of right or wrong, it's a matter of taste.
     
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