1. Artist369
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    Artist369 Active Member

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    Clear sentence structure question

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Artist369, Aug 16, 2014.

    Please clarify if the following sentence is correct or not:

    As I sit and read the sentence, I am wondering if there is ambiguity over the time progression of these events. Does using this particular phrasing suggest both actions are on-going (which is physically impossible), or can we extrapolate a causal effect from the first action to the second (which was my goal)?

    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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  3. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is valid and the meaning is very clear. He pulls himself to his feet and then staggers.

    Personally, I am a fan of simple sentences, so I would write "He pulled himself to his feet and staggered toward her sprawled form."

    Or maybe just "He staggered toward her sprawled form."
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It's fine the way it is. Think of it this way: "[After] pulling himself to his feet..." In my mind, it's sort of like the implied "you" in, for example, "Place the dishes on the table."
     
  5. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some purists would say it's incorrect, since he can't pull himself to his feet and stagger at the same time. Technically it should be, "Having pulled himself to his feet, he staggered toward . . . "

    But that directs too much attention to the act of standing up, doesn't it? And everyone knows what you mean by the way you have it; the construction is practically idiomatic.

    What I would question is the use of "sprawled" as an adjective. I think it's because "to sprawl" is something the woman's body would do, not what would be done to it.

    " . . . her sprawling body"? No, not that either, because that would imply she was still in the process of sprawling and had not yet come to rest.

    Maybe something more like " . . . towards her body that lay sprawled on the ground" or "body lying sprawled on the floor."

    What fun!
     
  6. A.J. Pruitt
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    A.J. Pruitt Member

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    Using the word -and- between two action clauses indicates two simultaneous actions happening at the same time. The word -and-, is actually another word for plus. In our modern English form, we have seen the word -and- misused so often that we begin accept the word as a "it's all right to use it like that because so many others use that form of grammar".

    I had the pleasure of attending a lecture on Creative Writing where a well known Canadian writer was presenting. He had a unique example of how modern writers accept the use of cliches or misused words in their writing under the premise of "everyone knows what I mean"

    Example; .......John swung around and picked up Sally and dropped her off at the market........ What is the author actually indicating with this cliche loaded sentence?
     
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  7. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Uh, it's a really wild barn dance with a load of craft tables at the side?
     
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  8. A.J. Pruitt
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    A.J. Pruitt Member

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    Yup, either that or Sally ended up with a sore bum.
     
  9. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    @A.J. Pruitt how do you recommend narrating a sequence of actions?
     
  10. A.J. Pruitt
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    A.J. Pruitt Member

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    Daemon; that's a very good question where the answer can be answered in only one form; move the story along with strict chronological sequences. It also helps to use words that actually indicate what they mean or what the character is actually doing.

    The sentence in question gave a clear and precise indication of what the author's character actually did. My only question would be, was the character on the floor requiring him to pull himself up to his feet, or did the character push himself up and out of a chair?

    When I write, I attempt to make the sentence (scene) as clear as possible in the reader's mind (creating a mental movie). I attempt to move everything along in a strict, chronological order to keep the reader's mental movie moving along smoothly.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2014
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  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm on the purist side--to me, this says that he's simultaneously pulling himself to his feet and staggering, which would require four legs, or two bodies, or something. It would make me pause and doubt both the writer and editor.

    The simplest rewrite would be:

    He pulled himself to his feet and staggered toward her sprawled form.

    If you want the "ing" in the sentence, you could add something that he can do simultaneously:

    Breathing hard, he pulled himself to his feet and staggered toward her sprawled form.
     
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  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I think your strategy is a good one. I'm a big fan of clarity myself. Wondering about what's going on in a story will always take me out of the 'zone.' It's never as simple as it seems, though, especially when writers are trying to get variety into their sentence structure. But this, then that, then this will keep the mental pictures flowing right along, as you say.
     
  13. Artist369
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    Artist369 Active Member

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    Thanks for all the help, but I'm getting slightly confused by the conflicting suggestions.

    Some context: the character was holding onto a rail when his ship lurched, sending him to the ground. He pulls himself up (using the rail- but that detail seemed superfluous), and then goes to check on the woman on the floor.

    The simplest fix for me would have been to go with Chicken Freak's idea:

    Yet, according to Mister Pruitt, usage of the word AND would be inject ambiguity into the sentence- just the thing I don't want.

    If this is true, then my fix will only make the sentence MORE confusing. Please enlighten me. What is the appropriate sentence to convey both actions, AJ?
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2014
  14. Artist369
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    Artist369 Active Member

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    I looked at your reference link, but I do not know to what you are referring. Please elaborate. Thanks!
     
  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, "pulling" means that the two actions happened simultaneously--that is, it doesn't have ambiguity; it definitely means the wrong thing. :)

    I wouldn't say that "and" means that the actions were simultaneous. Instead, I think that it just assures that they both happened--getting to his feet happened, and stumbling toward her happened. If you say, "For dinner, I had shrimp cocktail, steak, and apple pie," you don't mean that you were gobbling them all at the same time, just that each of those foods was eaten during the meal. (Edited to add: I realize that this is a different use of the word "and". I consider it relevant all the same.)

    And the order in which the foots are listed--a food usually eaten as an appetizer, another normally eaten as a main course, and another normally eaten as dessert--suggest, though it doesn't guarantee, that the foods are presented in the order that you ate them. Similarly, the order of getting to his feet and then stumbling suggest that that's the order in which they happened. It's not completely unambiguous, but it's pretty clear.

    If you want to completely eliminate ambiguity, you could of course change it to

    He pulled himself to his feet, then staggered toward her sprawled form.

    There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but I think that an over-precise outlining of first this, then that, repeatedly used, is going to make the narrative sound rather like a police report or lab notebook, or something else where legalistic precision is required.
     
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  16. Artist369
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    Artist369 Active Member

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    I agree. But I also think the alternative, of dividing up every action into its own sentence, would create overuse of the same sentence structure.

    There's just something ungraceful about the above sentences. I had no idea the answer to this question would be so complex.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I still think the "and" solution works just fine. I run off to find a book by an author that I have reasonable regard for, and find Final Curtain by Ngaio Marsh.

    About a door: "It swung inwards and Troy was confronted with a Victorian bathroom."

    "He startled Troy so much that her hand jerked and she waited motionless until he had finished the speech..."

    "...at that moment a side door was flung open and Miss Orrincourt burst into the Little Theatre."

    Now, I do find a large number of different ways of describing a sequence of events--the "and" structure is rather rare. But all the same, it is definitely used to tie one event to a subsequent event.
     
  18. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Simplicity is grace in my mind, just as brevity is the soul of poetry. I am rapidly developing an appreciation for narration in the form of simple sentences without even an "and" to connect them. It takes all of a paragraph to get used to. When you are used to it, it looks so clean.

    Even better:

    "She was sprawled out on the ground. He pulled himself to his feet. He staggered toward her."
     
  19. A.J. Pruitt
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    A.J. Pruitt Member

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    @ Artist369; I can fully appreciate your confusion in regards to the differing concepts of how to construct a clear and precise sentence. You must remember, you are receiving answers from individuals who decipher a problem from different personal observations; likewise, the answers will be varied.

    My personal observation would be to separate the actions of your character. The word -then- separates the actions in the reader's mind, but retains the fluid motion of your characters actions. The actions of your character are too closely related to break them into separate sentences; hence, choppy sentences.

    When you read your paragraphs and/or sentences aloud to yourself, do you lose the fluid movement of your own writing, even though you know what you mean to convey? If you do, this is the first indication that your reader will have a greater problem than you with following the movement of your writing process. If you or the reader has to stop to clarify the sentence in his or her mind, then the flowing movement of your sentences are lacking. You have stopped the reader's mental movie.

    When I teach a creative writing class, I always have the students read their work aloud. If they hesitate or feel the need to re-read a sentence because they have lost the fluid motion of the sentence, I ask them to re-write the sentence.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2014
  20. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    I like this idea Pruitt. I'm going to try this. I figure, why not? I already gesture whatever motion I want my characters to do and if it doesn't feel natural, it doesn't go in. I get weird looks from my kids when I'm writing, but it is a very active sport for me. LOL
     
  21. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    That's the way to do it.
     
  22. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Excellent advice. We do this in our writers' group as well. Sometimes we read each other's work out loud, and the author marks any spots where the reader trips. (Lately one of our members has taken to throwing wrapped chocolates at the speaker, if they trip ...with mixed results! :))

    Kidding aside, though. A very good strategy!
     
  23. Gloria Sythe
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    Gloria Sythe Member

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    @AJ Pruitt: I think your summation of creating a mental movie in the readers mind has opened a new realization of how important flowing sentences are. After reading your post, I realized why I don't get past the first chapter of some of the books I start to read.

    With that being said, I printed out ten pages of the manuscript that I am working and started reading into a voice recorder. I was up until 3:00 AM this morning printing more pages and re-writing. I had never before realized that I was seeing a movie in my mind being created by the story , words, I was reading. Now, I fully understand your concept of the need of writing fluid sentences and keeping everything in strict chronological to keep the story flowing forward.

    Thank-you for giving us your valuable insight.

    As side note here, My father collects National Geographic books and I found all three of your articles. Your writing is unusually crystal clear. Please don't disappear on us. It is people like you who we need as our coaches and teachers.

    Gloria
     
  24. John Krone
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    John Krone New Member

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    I think you could use the word "and" preceded by a space and comma. It would give the desired separation and sequence, of actions, using your existing words.

    The rail I think is important though. If he was holding the rail, he wouldn't have fallen. A "wet rail" would solve that problem.
    Reaching again for the wet rail, he pulled himself to his feet, and staggered to her sprawled form.
    I'm curious why the word "form" was chosen also. If it was dark then it's a powerful use of the word. If he's groggy from the fall, then it's also a powerful use if the word. If either of those are the case, then the context or details, I think should reflect that to deliver more intensity from the word "form". The sentence itself, did not convey definitely either case to me.

    I love the care you take to make sure it's great.
    John
     
  25. Artist369
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    Artist369 Active Member

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    Thanks for your suggestion John, but I think you may need more context for the scene. The rail is not wet, nor can it be. It's the rail along the edge of the controls of the ship where sudden wetness would be problematic.

    So in fact, he is groggy from the fall. But thanks for your suggestion. I chose the phrase "her sprawled form" to avoid saying "her lying on the ground." I've been trying to cut anything that doesn't add flavor to the writing. That's also why I didn't say "He reached for the rail to pull himself up". It's implied.

    But any suggestions I'll keep tucked away for future use, so thanks for your input. And thanks to everyone! It's been far more educational than I anticipated.
     

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