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Cal's Soapbox #1

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Sat Sep 08, 2007 7:27 am
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Caligula's Launderette says...

Cal's Hyde Park Corner Soapbox

The Grit

1. The Way of Words

Syntax, the dictionary defines it as a noun, the grammatical arrangement of words in sentences. One of the most simplistic syntax in the English language is subject, verb, object. Often writers use the same syntax over and over again. The sentences are remained unvaried and usually contain the same number of words. Or they are very complex, packed full of all sorts of interesting things, the problem being that they are too full. On the other hand, sentences can remain too sparse. The best way of things is to vary your sentence structure; play around with length, denseness and scarcity.

If I may be so bold and borrow my dear Dreamy for a spell.

Quote from The Chair of Wind and Darkness:

The speaker’s voice boomed out over the civilians heads in the dark auditorium, loud, harsh and graced by hollow distortion as it echoed over the hundreds of the packed-in working class and thundered up to a vaulted ceiling. It seemed even louder over the left side, over the leagues and leagues of deserted chairs, empty but for the dozen or so Kasimovs lounging high up in the consecutive middles of the far-back rows. Some of them had a boot hooked up on the back of the chair before him, as if to demonstrate to whoever cared to look that he was thoroughly hot and bored; which of course he was perfectly entitled to be, as a Kasimov. The people were perhaps too respectful, too intimidated to sit near them. Of course they had stared before the lights had gone down, little children who looked wide-eyed at the military dress sabers and the long coats, the medals that glimmered in the dark heat. They had doubtless been told not to talk to Kasimovs, not to approach them - those, on a higher plane of soldiery. High and strong like glossed granite, more polished around the edges.

Now, see here, the syntax remains heavy, and there is hardly any variation - this type of sentence structure I call Russianesque because of it’s similarity to the style of many of the famous Russian authors- Tolstoy, Nabokov, Dostoyevsky, and Pasternak.

What needs to happen here, is the diction needs to be flushed out, the syntax varied much more, some of it simplified. Also, try using the inverse, that can be fun.

Not to say writing this way is bad or the wrong thing to do, but I think harder to get your point across.

STICKY-NOTE #1: Don’t rush. Don’t force things to happen before they are due. Don’t push too many things into a sentence just because you can. And for god-sakes be sparse when using fragmentation.

STICKY-NOTE #2: Inverted sentences. I think both Snoink and Brad (Incandescence) talked about inversion before; here are my two cents

So here is your first simple grammar lesson from your friendly neighborhood Neurologist Dr. Cal.

If a clause begins with a negative adverb, inversion should be used, with the subject following simple present/simple past of the verb to be, or the first auxiliary. If the simple present/simple past of any verb is not the verb to be, the auxiliary to do must be used. Here is a usage chart.

negative adverb or adverb phrase + verb to be or first auxiliary + subject

Examples: Little did I know we would again meet. No sooner had we left home, that it began to rain.

When inversion is used with a verb of motion, an adverb or adverb phrase of motion should be placed at the beginning of a clause, followed by the verb, followed by the subject of the verb.

adverb phrase of location + verb of motion + noun subject

Also inverted word order is used in subordinate clause of condition sentence if the conjunction is absent and there are words such as: should, would, had, were, could.

Examples: Should he come, ask him to wait. Were he here, he would help us. Had we known it, we would not have gone there.

2. Repetition vs. Redundancy

Let me clear these two things up right now.

Repetition: repeated action, performance, production, or presentation. Repeated utterance; reiteration.

: superfluous repetition or overlapping; superfluity.

Repetition includes the patterns of imagery, phrases, words, metaphors, similes, thoughts; the reiteration of themes, motifs, etcetera. Redundancy is, say, when characters blather on and on about things that they already know, or have been stated clearly earlier. Usually you find redundancy when the author is trying to make word count or can’t think of anything else to put there. Redundancy is evil as it often smacks the reader in the head with whatever you are trying to say. It’s like saying -Look at me! Look it’s me, again! Oh, look it’s still me. Do ya, do ya, get me now? Do ya?-

To use repetition to your advantage, try drawing similarities between your characters, or structure a scene where the repeated metaphor is more subtle, but still noticeable.

For example in my '06 Nano, Heroine Addiction, my protagonist Margo reiterates the same phrase many times, always just before she is going to get farther into trouble. “This is so not my day.”

3. “The Book is the boss.” - Alfred Bester

Limyaael discussed this in one of her rants, and I felt the need to do so as well. Hands down, the book is the boss. All that information you gather about characters, worlds, races, etc is essentially dispensable. What they are there for is for supports, something like the flying buttresses on a the later gothic cathedrals. From a Limyaael Rant:

Tolkien is usually pointed out as the exception to this, and sometimes to excuse an author’s tendency to dump in a whole lot of extraneous information. Thing is, Tolkien did cut some information out of his story and leave it in the appendices, including a lot of the history of Rohan, the romance of Aragorn and Arwen, the ultimate fates of most of the members of the Fellowship, and tons of Elvish language details. The facts that pop up in his books, including details of landscape and Elvish legends—and, yes, language—overwhelm many readers and turn them off Tolkien (and I think showed up where they did because Tolkien loved them too much to get rid of them entirely, while he could do without depicting a ton of romance). So “Tolkien did it!” is not a valid excuse for the novel to be loaded down with stupid details.

What does “stupid” mean in this context? It means, "Things that do not serve the story."

Fraser: Stop stealing the blanket.
[Diefenbaker whines]
Fraser: You're an Arctic Wolf, for God's sake.
(Due South)

Hatter: Do I need a reason to help a pretty girl in a very wet dress? (Alice)

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Fri Dec 07, 2007 8:40 pm
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Rydia says...

I've been meaning to read this for a long time and I'm glad I did. Those are some great tips, Cal and I'm pleased that you separated repetition and redundancy.
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