1. evizaer
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    evizaer Contributing Member

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    What is your opinion of this complex sentence?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by evizaer, Nov 10, 2007.

    Here's a tricky sentence from a micro-story i posted in the short stories section of this site. What do you think of it?

    Here's my analysis:

    [Are you the remnants of a friend] (who, in the peak of a nightmare where he cycles away from impending death,) [has awoken], (robbing the body you now inhabit of impetus,) (and leaving only a bicycle and a faint whiff of fear as evidence?)

    Are you (a)[he] who (b) has awoken (c) (d)?

    a.) Complex Subject: the remnants of a friend
    b.) Parenthetical with Subordinate Clause: (in the peak of a nightmare) where (he cycles away (from impending death))
    c.) Modifier with complex object: robbing [the body you now inhabit] of impetus
    d.) Modifier with complex object: leaving [only a bicycle and a faint whiff of fear] as evidence

    Now that I've analyzed it, it is quite elegant. Notice the parallel construction of the modifiers c and d. Notice the parallel structure of a and the object of c. It's also key how the sentence is chronologically ordered: First, "you are a friend", second "who had a nightmare", third "cycling away from impending death", fourth "awakens", fifth "robbing impetus and leaving the bicycle." To restructure those would make the sentence even MORE confusing, because the chronology would be distorted.
     
  2. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    To provide context here is the link to the original post:

    Writing Forums

    As you know from that post I appreciate the background and the sentence and its clauses do indeed make semantic sense. As we both know though this is a complex structure which in reality may not be the best in which to convey that which you wish to infer. By the guidance of compliance a speaker or in this case writer is being uncooperative if they choose to utter or write overly complex structure.

    The debate comes is in terms of the intended audience. No one will agree I imagine that this language formation is suitable in every day use and construction, in prose, fiction, narrative etc we find its natural home. I like to think that some of which you wish to pragmatically infer is lost in the complex grammatical semantics.

    I am not against your phrasing just wish to express the opinion that very complex grammatical structure albeit elegant, may not be the most cooperative nor best choice of sentence structure when attempting to layer so many levels of inference.

    I hope my comments have been seen as constructive and informed. I would be upset to think they could be construed otherwise.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    My honest opinion is that you are trying to stuff too much information into one sentence.

    The sentence, though complex, appears syntactically and sematically correct. However, it remains painful to read.

    Just because you can do a thing, does not mean you should.

    I don't think it's simply a matter of restructuring the sentence. I think it's a matter of providing more context before you get to the sentence, so you don't have to try to cram all that information in at once.
     
  4. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    As a writer, I can appreciate the elegance of the construction.

    In fiction, though, I think this would pull the reader out of the story. Most people don't read fiction to analyze it; they want a story that sweeps them into it and keeps them there.

    This would take me out of the story, and you would have to do some pretty fancy footwork to draw me back into it.

    Just my tuppence.
     
  5. evizaer
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    evizaer Contributing Member

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    I guess this sentence is just too archaic in its construction. I've read some essays recently that include sentences like this, and I've been reading a book on Style where the author lauds sentences of similar complexity and construction when used sparingly.
     
  6. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    I think this style would fit an essay better than it would fiction. Essays often have more scholarly topics and more serious readers; one of their purpose is to provoke analytic thought.

    Interesting that you used the word "archaic". When I first read it, I thought it had a Shakespearan ring.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    aside from the needless over-complexity of the sentence, the switch between 'you' and 'he' is confusing... i wouldn't be at all impressed by this, nor would i want to keep reading, sorry to say...
     
  8. evizaer
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    evizaer Contributing Member

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    It's really hard to get across such a complex thought without using a complex sentence. I have a few ideas for revision:

    "Are you the remnants of a friend who has awoken from a nightmare where he cycles away from impending death, leaving only a bicycle and a faint whiff of fear as evidence?"

    That still doesn't feel right. I may even like it less than the original sentence.

    "Has a friend awoken from a nightmare, leaving you in front of my house robbed of impetus and with only a bicycle and a faint whiff of fear as evidence?"
     
  9. Anthony James Barnett
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    Anthony James Barnett Contributing Member

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    Reply

    As I see it, the job of a writer is not to self-indulge in abstract prose. A writer should put ideas across in the simplest way possible.

    Stories should be created in a way that leaves the reader with no ambiguity, and with no sense that there is a 'writer' between them and the story. The words and the author should become transparent to the story or message. Readers should be so involved with the story that words flow without interruption. If you need to unravel words to get to the plot, then the words are wrong.

    Sorry for the damp response, but I feel it's too easy to get bogged down in the rights and wrongs of technicalities that should not be there in the first place. - Anthony
     
  10. dwspig2
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    dwspig2 Member

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    Personally, I enjoy writing sentences like that. I also enjoy reading sentences like that.

    That said, there is a time and a place for such sentences. Such sentences can be good. Anyone that's going to tell you otherwise is - in my opinion but not to point fingers - making sweeping generalizations that can lead to dire situations. Complex sentences are good for conveying complex thoughts, as you have stated. Complex sentences are not good for places where you want to convey fast-paced action. Where the narrator is "speaking," these types of sentences are "fine" as far as "fine" applies to this situation.

    Basically, proceed with caution. Use such sentences judiciously for their best effect. I can speak from experience - because I have the same problem with such sentences - that an over abundance of complex sentences is pretentious and cumbersome. As I have already said though, there is a time and a place for them. We need to learn to distinguish between the appropriate and inappropriate times and places, therefore.
     
  11. evizaer
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    evizaer Contributing Member

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    That is exactly how I feel, dwspig.

    Can you tell me if you think that sentence was appropriate in context?
     
  12. dwspig2
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    dwspig2 Member

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    The sentence makes sense and is fine until I get to the end. That's where things go to shambles, and it's because of your dangling modifiers, which are grammatically incorrect!

    You write: Are you the remnants of a friend who, in the peak of a nightmare where he cycles away from impending death, has awoken, robbing the body you now inhabit of impetus, and leaving only a bicycle and a faint whiff of fear as evidence?
    This underlined, italicized part is totally incorrect for the very reason that it doesn't stand beside what it's modifying. What exactly is it modifying? As it stands now, there is nothing for it refer to. I think you meant for it to refer to the bicycler, but it's really not clear because it could be the remnants, the friend, the nightmare, or death. That's a lot of ambiguity, and it all comes about because you have a dangling modifier.

    Modifiers must go right beside, or as close as possible, to that item in the sentence that they modify. A modifier dangles when it doesn't have a specific "modify-ee" and it's misplaced when it does modify something but is placed in the incorrect spot.

    If you clear up this problem, you're going to have a complex sentence that probably is going to make things much clearer and more enjoyable for the reader.
     
  13. dionusos1
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    dionusos1 Member

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    How about: "Are you the remnants of a friend? A friend who has awoken from a nightmare in which he cycled away from impending death, leaving behind only a bicycle and a whiff of fear?"

    To be honest, I just don't like the analogy and I don't even want to know the context of this sentence. It's too long-winded.
     
  14. pet.
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    pet. Senior Member

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    I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with this sentence. I might make a few changes;

    Are you the remnants of a friend who, in the peak of a nightmare where he cycles away from impending death, wakes, robbing the body you now inhabit of impetus (no comma) and leaving only a bicycle and a faint whiff of fear as evidence?

    I think the change in tense from past pluperfect (is that the right term in english?) to present makes the sentence easier to read, somehow, while remaining correct.

    dwspig2, I Think (but am not completely sure) that because "who" comes directly after the "friend", we know that it is the friend who has awoken. Because of the placement of "robbing" next to "awakens", we know the awakening is what is doing the robbing. That's how I read it anyway.
     
  15. dwspig2
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    dwspig2 Member

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    A progressive participle cannot modify a verb. A progressive participle is an adjective by nature, and thus it must modify a noun. Adverbs modify verbs - such as "awaken" - and all of the forms of these verbs.

    If "robbing" were modifying "awoken," it would have to be able to modify other verbs and the forms of those verbs. For instance, can you do something "robbing?" Can something be "robbing" done? No, because "robbing" is a progressive participle acting as an adjective.

    Perhaps a change of the "robbing the body you now inhabit" to "only to be robbed" would make this sentence a little more manageable.

    And.........in English we have either the pluperfect tense (antiquated nomenclature) or the past perfect tense (preferred nomenclature).
     
  16. evizaer
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    evizaer Contributing Member

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    I don't really know how to respond your your "dangling modifiers" comment. Here's a try:

    I awoke early, robbing myself of a good night's sleep.
    Which is the same as:
    I awoke early. I robbed myself of a good night's sleep.

    The first sentence is valid. I just did that, but conjuncted it with another similar clause.
     
  17. dwspig2
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    dwspig2 Member

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    Better:

    Robbing myself of a good night's sleep, I awoke early.
     
  18. evizaer
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    evizaer Contributing Member

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    That's not any better. The arrangement of those two clauses has only to do with emphasis, and little with grammar.
     
  19. dwspig2
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    dwspig2 Member

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    No, it's grammatically correct. If you really do care about grammar and still want things to be in that order, rework the sentence thus:

    I awoke early and robbed myself of a good night's sleep.


    Number one: It's now grammatically correct.
    Number two: It's now parallel, and that fact can contribute to grammatical correctness.
    Number three: It's now more fluidly and is, therefore, a better sentence.

    I still maintain, however, that my first revision - if you insist on using a progressive participial phrase, is the correct version of the sentence.
     
  20. mercy
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    mercy Senior Member

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    What do I think? Honestly, reading this sentence is like trying to memorize a list of five digit numbers. By the time you get to the end, you can't remember where you started.
    I'm sorry but it shouldn't take four or five sentences of analysis to understand one sentence. It's better to come out and say what you mean. Elegance comes with the words you choose, the way that you arrange them, and their flow. Elegance is free from coarseness. This piece is pretty rough.
     

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