1. Justin Rocket 2
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    Justin Rocket 2 Contributing Member

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    Poetry vs. Prose

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Justin Rocket 2, Apr 24, 2015.

    How important do you believe it is for novel authors seeking publication from a traditional publisher to adhere to proper grammar and syntax? In my rough drafts, I often find myself more focused on the sounds of syllables and the influence that a phrasing has on the mental image being created.
     
  2. ladybird
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    ladybird Contributing Member

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    In truth I don't' know. What I do know is that I've just finished reading the Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough and it's the most poetic book I've ever read. The imagery and sounds and syllables and ... and ... inspirational. One sentence flows seamlessly into the next. I'd say the mental image you create is as important as much and even more than proper grammar and syntax. But that's me and I'm sure others will disagree :)
     
  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you deviate from standard syntax for good reason, I don't think it's a problem. If you don't have a good reason, though? It's just sloppy.

    I think it's up to you, possibly with the help of some betas, to figure out whether your reasons for deviation are good enough.
     
  4. Swiveltaffy
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    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

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    Deviating from standard syntax strongly, if used often, can also be tedious to read in a novel. It all depends, though. Situation by situation.
     
  5. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Depends totally on the novel, the audience and how well you can break a rule. I've seen some general fiction authors get away with murder - pov switches, not introducing the name of the character for pages, switching tenses in the middle of a paragraph, etc. But all this seemed to be their creative license. They also seemed to have a firm grasp on words, syntax everything - they weren't making mistakes but choices. And since the publishers know a lot of the general fiction authors don't have a clear audience they can play a little with structure, and poetics.

    On the other hand genre fiction seems to give less leeway on creative choices - publishers don't want odd sentence structures or random stream of conscious, I've even read the typical amount of description is no more than fifty words - they want a smooth easy read, and they seem to give more leeway on the occasional sloppy choices - head hopping, filter words, grammar mishaps.
     
  6. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    What on earth has this thread to do with poetry?
     
  7. Swiveltaffy
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    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't you know? Jeez, man. Poetry is good and it's poetry, because it doesn't follow the rules. MAN.
     
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  8. Justin Rocket 2
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    Justin Rocket 2 Contributing Member

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    I wonder what "poetry" means to you.
     
  9. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    To me, it means 'poetry'.
     
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  10. Boger
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    Boger Contributing Member

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    How does your style influence "proper grammar and syntax". Of course that's valuably.
     
  11. Justin Rocket 2
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    Justin Rocket 2 Contributing Member

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    What this thread has to do with poetry should be obvious, then!
     
  12. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    The sound of prose, or unorthodox grammar and syntax, does not poetry make.
     
  13. VirtuallyRealistic
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    VirtuallyRealistic Active Member

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    I don't mean to step on any toes, but I believe what he is referring to is flow and rhythm in a novel (poetry) vs. standard spoken word (prose). He thinks having a good flow and rhythm in a novel is more valuable than the proper syntax of standard speaking.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't understand what you mean here. I think that I need an example. It sounds like you're saying that as long as the words sound interesting, it doesn't matter if the reader can understand them.
     
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  15. Justin Rocket 2
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    Justin Rocket 2 Contributing Member

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    I'm saying that understanding doesn't require proper grammar. I'm also saying that there are many things akin to understanding, but which aren't understanding (empathy, significance*, for example) and that these, too, do not require proper grammar. Finally, I'm saying that all these things (understanding, empathy, significance, etc.) may be better communicated, at least in some cases, by breaking grammar rules.

    *by 'significance', I am referring to how the scene approaches and turns upon turning points within the scene. Alliteration, parallel sentence structure, onamatapoeia, paragraphs composed of one short sentence, etc. can all be used without breaking grammar rules. However, breaking the grammar rules in novel (heh) ways can surprise the reader (even if they don't know why) causing them to take notice and making the scene's turning point all the more impactful.
     
  16. Boger
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    Boger Contributing Member

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    Luckily you seem to realize that being the exception doesn't mean everyone should follow.
     
  17. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's pretty common to break some of the rules of formal grammar when we're producing creative writing. Sentence fragments are pretty common in a lot of writing. Character or narrative voice allows for a lot of non-standard usage.

    It's just another tool we can use to create the effect we want.
     
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  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that it depends. Fiction doesn't have to follow grammatical rules with the same strictness as, say, a PhD thesis, or the text of a law. But I think that a fiction writer has to KNOW the rules and break them for a good reason. And "poetry" is not one of the usual good reasons, though it theoretically could be a good reason. So I'd need to see a sample to have some feel for whether it works.
     
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  19. Swiveltaffy
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    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

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    I second the question: What does poetry even mean in this context?

    ETA: I know there's a post describing the musicality, but is this what everyone it talking about here?
     
  20. Justin Rocket 2
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    Justin Rocket 2 Contributing Member

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    Below is an example from my current WIP. Note that the second paragraph consists of a single sentence fragment.


    Shivering from the March rain, his eyes dark with pain, the doctor was insistent. “Can't stop,” he responded every time Boone tried to let him rest.

    Yet, he was getting worse.
     
  21. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    The rain/pain rhyme caught my attention in a way that didn't seem likely to be deliberate. And I found the second paragraph kind of disjointed - I think I'd leave out the comma. But I didn't have a problem with sentence structure. (I don't actually see a fragment there...?)
     
  22. Justin Rocket 2
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    Justin Rocket 2 Contributing Member

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    The rhyme is something I'm working on removing. I also edited this part and there isn't a sentence fragment in the second paragraph. However, sentences shouldn't start with "and".
    The following is something ChickenFreak wrote (and which I subsequently modified) which has two sentence fragments forming two complete paragraphs.

    "Finally," said the Communications lead, known as Harvey to those who could remember his name. He bent to unplug the radio. "I thought we'd be debating all morning..." He paused, lifting his head.


    The motor of a snowmobile – the distinctive whirl of Red Racer, the decade-old snowmobile Luke had brought back from the dead.


    Going up the mountain.
     
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  23. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    What sentence started with "and"? Are you critiquing my post, or...?

    But sentences can totally start with "and". I think elementary school teachers discourage it as a way to avoid sentence fragments, but it's not grammatically or stylistically incorrect.

    For my taste, I'd change the second fragment into a sentence in order to make the thought clearer. I mean, I think it's the snowmobile that's going up the mountain, but it's also possible that Luke brought the Red Racer back from the dead while going up the mountain. So for me, there's no problem with sentence fragments in general, but they need to be looked at to ensure there's no loss of meaning/clarity. I'd say "It was going up the mountain."
     
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  24. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I could certainly live with these lines, even though they are not 'grammatically correct.' They convey the notion that everything has stopped, except the sound of that Red Racer. This fragmentation creates suspense, because it implies this snowmobile going up the mountain is something that maybe shouldn't be happening. It works for me.

    However, I would be VERY cautious about doing this kind of fractured sentence thing too often. It would certainly call attention to itself, and become irritating. I remember a friend telling me they couldn't stand a particular writer because the writer started so many sentences with "And." It wasn't that this writer was breaking rules, it was that she was doing it too often. That comment stuck with me.

    By the way, 'and' is a conjunction, as is 'but.' It's not grammatically correct to begin a sentence with either one, because there is nothing for them to conjoin. However, in creative writing, we can get closer to mimicking speech patterns, and in speech we often begin a sentence with 'and' or 'but.' I'd just say don't do it too often, or it begins to read like a hiccup.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2015
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  25. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    This is a paragraph from near the start of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall ...a Man-Booker prize-winning novel. She uses poetic language, and takes huge liberties with all sorts of writing tools, including sentence fragments. Note the use of semi-colons—and a colon as well. So much for 'you must stick to all the rules of grammar in order to get published, and never use semicolons or colons.' She's won the Man-Booker prize twice, by the way. I'm not a particular fan of her style, but it is her style and nobody else's. She's hugely successful, and her novel has just been turned into a very popular TV series here in the UK.

    Yes, he says, vigorously nodding, making his nose drop gouts of blood: yes, he indicates himself as if to say, Walter was here. Kat calls for a basin, for water, for water in a basin, for a cloth, for the devil to rise up, right now, and take away Walter his servant. ‘Sit down before you fall down.’ He tries to explain that he has just got up. Out of the yard. It could be an hour ago, it could even be a day, and for all he knows, today might be tomorrow; except that if he had lain there for a day, surely either Walter would have come and killed him, for being in the way, or his wounds would have clotted a bit, and by now he would be hurting all over and almost too stiff to move; from deep experience of Walter’s fists and boots, he knows that the second day can be worse than the first. ‘Sit. Don’t talk,’ Kat says.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2015
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