1. Artist369
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    Artist369 Active Member

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    Overcoming common sentence structure pitfall

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Artist369, Aug 20, 2014.

    According to writer AJ Humpage (http://allwritefictionadvice.blogspot.com/2011/04/common-sentence-errors-and-how-to.html) the most common sentence error is keeping sentences parallel while using gerunds. As quoted from her blog:

    This is enlightening, but how do I overcome this error with the following example:



    Am I reading her advice wrong? Surely it wouldn't be:

    The above sentence does not have the flow I am looking for, nor does it fit the same way as her example. Is my original sentence really wrong?

    She states on another article on her blog that:

    But what if the secondary action requires no actual effort, in this case, his pulse hammering? Thanks in advance for helping this bemused beginner writer.
     
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  2. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    From what you quote, it seems more technical than a general foolproof rule. It also depends a lot on the circumstance of the sentence. While rewriting my work, I found stuff like you quoted in the OP prevalent and I had to fix it. Basically you have to make sure the sentence actually makes sense, and if the character is committing actions, you have to make sure you do your job as a writer for the reader, in which it makes sense and is easy to comprehend (unless you are doing the contrary on purpose).

    The quote with the kettle is just bad writing, I think. You can use "and then" and something better than "made a mistake." Putting a word like "then" shows that it is not simultaneous, I find, and makes things clearer for the reader.

    When we use poor writing as examples for rules...I feel like we aren't doing justice. Like I can think of better ways to have the guy come into a house, without the lights working. When I encounter problems like this personally - stuff like entering an elevator, or getting in a car - I tell myself to keep it simple and make sure it's logically written. It's easier to avoid problems like the author quotes - it's easier if you just realize that too much emphasis is on "feeling the walls" because of how dark it is. I don't think "and felt" is much better, although I prefer it.

    Anyway, I am just saying, rules in writing are very circumstantial. They do not always apply in a foolproof way. I think you can do the technical stuff she forbids here if you do it better, and if it makes sense to the reader.
     
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  3. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    If we are talking about grammatical correctness with regards to parallelism, then the example you gave including "hammered" is absolutely correct.

    It's the addition of the coordinating conjunction "and" that is causing you trouble, I think. Coordinating conjunctions are used to connect words of the same value. That's why the gerund is not quite right in this instance. "He raced," and "his pulse hammering" do not have the same value. Does this make sense?

    I would suggest getting rid of "and" altogether, and forming this into two shorter sentences. Metal clattered under his feet as he raced towards the console. His pulse hammered against the sore spot at the back of his head. Shorter sentences tend to encourage faster reading, and since this seems like an action packed scene, it might work to raise the level of tension in your reader. It also clears up the flow issue you mentioned above, does it not?

    I hope this helps.
     
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  4. Artist369
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    Artist369 Active Member

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    Thanks for your comments. Can you clarify- does this sentence fall under the same category as the example above:

    In other words, is ANY action listed after the primary action supposed to have the 'ing' stripped off the end? How should the sentence read if both actions need to be occurring at the same time? I know I can always separate them. That's not what I am asking. It's the concept of joining simultaneous actions that have me scratching my head.

    Maybe this is a better example:

    Sometimes you just want the phrases all in one sentence. And adding and and changing the ending to "ed" simply makes it sound weird.

    Especially when the above action is on-going. The heralding is not a one-time action. The gong is gonging repeatedly.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel that the author's sample sentence is less clear than it could have been. I don't read it as necessarily incorrect, because "edging" is a continuous action that could occur simultaneously with another continuous action. I assume that the meaning is that John only had a wall to feel along after entering the hall, and thus after the "edging." But that isn't unambiguously clear.

    OK, moving on to the next sentence that you mention:

    Reaching for the kettle, she realised she had made a mistake.

    I conclude that she doesn't understand what she's saying. You absolutely can do two things at once. You can reach and realize at once. You can run and have a pounding pulse at once. You can walk and chew gum at once. She's just, well, wrong.

    The issue is with doing two things that you can't logically do simultaneously. For example:

    Reaching for the kettle, she poured a cup of tea.

    This doesn't work, because the two actions are not simultaneous--you do the first, and then the second.

    Now, I do agree that "Blahing, he blahed." is often something to avoid. But it's not incorrect.

    I would probably rewrite your sample sentence as two choppier sentences:

    Metal clattered under his feet as he raced towards the console. His pulse hammered against the sore spot at the back of his head.

    But that's a style choice. I do not think that your original sentence was incorrect.

    Edited to add: Going on to your other examples:

    "Hi, there," she said, sitting on the couch.

    Each gong reverberated through the floor straight up into his chest like the striking of a clock at the midnight hour, heralding the end of his fairytale.


    Neither of these are incorrect. I may, again, prefer that the "ing" go away for style reasons, but they are not incorrect. For example, I might write them as:

    "Hi, there." She sat on the couch.

    Each gong reverberated through the floor straight up into his chest like the striking of a clock at the midnight hour. His fairytale had come to an end.


    Editing yet again to add: I'm realizing that my objection to the "ing" structure is that it feels parsimonious--my reaction is, "What, you couldn't afford another sentence? Were you over quota?" If an action is worth saying, it seems to be worth saying, rather than being tossed off with an "ing".

    Editing yet again again: Whoah. In the comments after the post, someone argues that the sentence about the hallway is correct, and the blogger states that "'feeling', is a noun, not a verb." She holds to this assertion through two more exchanges.

    The blogger doesn't know what she's talking about.
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2014
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  6. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    You know what? It appears that I am losing my mind.

    The problem with the reference example you provided about John and the light is the dangler the gerund has caused, not the gerund itself. It is John doing the action, not the hallway like the sentence says. I kind of misread your entire question. Doh!

    There is nothing wrong with using gerunds. Feel free to use them at liberty. With the answer I provided earlier (silly me) I had your sample sentence with the "and" stuck in my head, and that's what tripped me up. Your original sentence is actually not wrong. It has no dangler, which is the real issue we are discussing. Gah, I'm sorry about that.

    However, that said, I would still consider using the shorter sentences in that particular instance simply because shorter sentences do encourage faster reading. Sentence structure is one of the tools an author can use to build tension. In fact, I invite you to go and pull an action book off your shelf (like a Dan Brown novel or something) and flip to a really high-tension scene. Take note of the length and simplicity of the sentences.

    There is nothing at all wrong with the sentence you provided about the reverberating gong (beautiful simile, by the way). I think it's great.

    Aside from that, please ignore everything else I said. I obviously needed another cup of coffee before I tried answering anything today.
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2014
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  7. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Personally I don't worry about the 'rules'. They're a bore to learn. I like to follow my feelings, and if it feels good it's fine. If people are more worried about my grammar and sentence structure than my story, I've failed.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I suspect that you can do that because you've done enough writing that your sentences come out grammatically correct most of the time anyway. There are plenty of people who don't have the grasp of language to do that.
     
  9. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Weird. The person who commented on her blog said that 'feeling' was an adjective, and the blogger (as @ChickenFreak noted) said it was a noun.

    Of course it's not a noun in this case, but 'feeling' can at least be a noun in other sentences. An adjective, though? I don't get it.
     
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  10. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Very true. Contradicting myself, rules are good to know because it gives you an inherent understanding of what's going on and why things may not be working. Understanding how an engine works helps you to identify and fix a problem. I'm just too lazy and arrogant to bother.
     
  11. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Kat Hawthorne gives good advice to break action up into separate sentences. To take the advice even further and apply it to the example in the OP:

    He raced toward the console. Metal clattered under his feet. His pulse hammered against the sore spot on the back of his head.

    The gerund counterpart to this would be:

    He raced toward the console, metal clattering under his feet, his pulse hammering against the sore spot on the back of his head.

    By the way, there is a lot more to this example than the issue of the gerund "hammering". Racing is the focus here. It is the character's action. Clattering and hammering are effects of that action. The sentence is strongest when the main action is presented as the main verb, rather than a verb in a clause.

    When the action is broken up into simple sentences (which I highly recommend), they are strongest when the first sentence narrates the cause and the following sentences narrate the effects.
     
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  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    As I read it, he meant that the entire phrase "feeling his way along the wall for the light switch" is an adjective. That still doesn't sound right to me, though.
     
  13. Artist369
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    Artist369 Active Member

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    Thanks for agreeing with me! It seemed insane to think we can't. I totally get your second example and why it doesn't work- and I agree with that. But the assertion that nothing can be done at the same time- it seemed wrong to me.




    Thanks for the edit. It is definitely stronger. Guess I need to divest myself of the urge to combine every sentence. I just hate seeing "He did x. Then he did x." (Over and over). Especially now that I am trying to cut the "Blahing, he blahed" sentence structure I see that editors don't like. My sentences are repetitive, and to me that looks juvenile.

    Whew. I feel much better, because I literally did NOT understand how that sentence didn't work. You're right. Her defense is wrong. Even I can see that "feeling" was not being use as a noun. That's ridiculous. Now I can write without being paralyzed with fear that I'm writing wrong sentences.
     
  14. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, I see he was indeed talking about the phrase. Maybe it would be an adverb phrase, then? I know this is odd structure, but it might be the same as: "He edged into the hallway awkwardly." It's possibly adding detail to the subject's action, not the subject himself.

    I'm trying to get into the right head state for English 11:read: next semester, so I'm really doing my best to pay attention to these grammar terms.
     
  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I may have just figured out where the "feeling is a noun" error came from. Because "feeling" is an "ing" word, the blogger declared that it was a gerund. Because gerunds are nouns, she declared that it must be a noun.

    But it's neither a gerund or a noun in the sample sentence. In the following sentence, "swimming" is a verb:

    I was swimming to the shore.

    In the following sentence, "swimming" is a noun and a gerund:

    I like swimming.

    I think.
     
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  16. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I admit, I don't understand any of this. I find it confusing.

    Ignoring all the discussion about rules, I'd re-write like this: He edged into the hallway, feeling the wall for the switch.

    The rest of the details are redundant and boring.
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2014
  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    As usual, @ChickenFreak has deftly illustrated both the problem and the solution.

    All a writer needs to do when tacking an -ing action onto the back of another action, is ask themselves: can both of these actions be happening together, or does one action follow the other?

    If the two actions ARE both happening at the same time—as in reaching for a kettle and realising something—then go ahead and use the -ing. If the two actions cannot be happening at the same time—as in reaching for the kettle and pouring the tea—then don't. It's simple when you think it through.

    I do take issue with one of ChickenFreak's assertions, though. Some of us can NOT walk and chew gum at the same time! :)
     
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