Sentence Structure - how do you write yours? - Page 2

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  1. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Hmm...I suggest in order to roundly dismiss that it is a phonetic/rhythmic (nobody mentioned rhyme and I think "beats" means the same as rhythm) issue you should explain and expand on your alternative view. "Basic construction" is not a codified term in literary criticism (not in my textbook anyway...) and therefore could mean anything, from spelling to grammar to meter to use of imagery and so on. It also includes phonetics. What do you mean by saying the "basic construction" of Paragraph 1 is poor but that it isn't to do with how the sentences feel to read? What else is there that could be wurong?


    Well, you gave something of an explanation, only unfortunately it does not entirely make sense. At least not to me, but perhaps I am a numpty. Way I see it, Paragraph One is objectively not any more meaningless than Paragraph Two: It means exactly what it says, which is about some guy getting out of bed to a knock. This is more or less the same meaning as the second. "it doesn't flow well" -- again, the only thing that could possibly mean is exactly what I said which is that it is rather monotone and flat, so essentially an issue of phonetics/rhythm (or "beats" if you like -- what is the difference between rhythm and beats by the way?) Don't know what "overly stressing" means in the context of writing.

    As for being boring...well, it is more boring in the context of fiction but who is to say this is fiction? If it was a fragment from a newspaper article nobody would have a problem. One important point that actually makes comparing these two paragraphs futile is that the second actually carries a lot more information than the first. This makes it impossible to form a completely fair comparison between the two in terms of style -- everybody prefers the version that says more.


    The wider point that sentence structure and rhythm is vital stands and I agree that the old cliche about "getting into heads" is generally true, however if we are going to critique the two excerpts posted (which I don't think was the point of the thread) one need not take it for granted that the way the second paragraph is written is better in all circumstances, nor that there is anything innately wrong with the first besides the fact it is phonetically dry. Certainly not in terms of "basic construction".

    Yes, I know no one mentioned rhyme. I just threw that in as rhythm and rhyme seem to go together.

    I cannot see a paragraph like this in any newspaper or other nonfiction entity. So, to me, this paragraph screams 'fiction'.

    Everybody prefers the version that says more? You mean the second paragraph, right? Well, I guess I'm not a body, because I don't prefer it. (I wonder if I'm a ghost.)

    With bdcharles permission, I will point out specific issues that I see, to hopefully clarify my earlier comments.

    (bdcharles, I understand that this was something you improvised to aid the discussion, and not indicative of your typical writing.)

    'It doesn't flow well' because there's a jump within a sentence from one point of time to another, more on that below. It has nothing at all to do with being monotone.

    The first paragraph as a whole, not individual sentences or words, has issues. It is not just 'phonetically dry', in my opinion. Changing word choices doesn't address the problems I see.

    Assuming the reader knows who Bob is, which we don't, let's look at the original paragraph.

    Bob heard a knock from the front of the house.
    Where is Bob? Why is it so important to mention the knock came from the front of the house? Maybe the mention of front makes more sense in some parts of the world, but where I live, a knock at the back door would be more unusual. So 'from the front of the house' is, to me, extraneous. The front is where a knock should happen.

    This sentence leaves much to be desired, and not just word choice. What is Bob feeling when he hears the knock? That info would liven this up more than rat-a-tat-tats, in my opinion.

    All that's needed is the knock and how he feels about it, in that order. Sentences that tell about the feeling before the event are like jokes where the punchline is told before the setup.

    He got up and put on his favourite slippers, but he could see nobody there, or anywhere nearby.
    Was he barefoot, or wearing socks? Does he really need to put on slippers? Was he lying down to sleep in the middle of the afternoon? If so, why? Does it really matter that they were his favorite slippers? How many pairs of slippers does a man typically own? So 'favorite' is, to me, extraneous. It adds nothing to the suspense. My current feeling, as a reader, is 'who cares'.

    Now we get to the time jump.

    The rest of the sentence just doesn't fit. He put on his slippers but couldn't see anybody there? Where is 'there'? Were the slippers supposed to enable him to see through walls and/or doors? Did he stand next to his bed and expect to see who was at the door?

    The problems have less to do with poor word choice than expecting the reader to make assumptions, like he went to the door and opened it. That (forcing readers to make assumptions) hinders building suspense. Instead, tell about his annoyance as he goes to the door. Then, as a separate sentence, he looks out and finds no one. Then tell about his confusion.

    For added bonus, throw in Bob thinking back to hearing the knock and wondering if it was something other than the door.

    For additional woo-woo (not a technical term in any book, I'm sure), have Bob close the door, look around inside for what might have made the sound, give up, start to go back to bed, and hear a knock again. This time, because he's so close to the door, he opens it quickly -- to find nothing and no one.

    (My opinion alert!

    Time, I feel, should flow, especially within a paragraph. Jumps work great between chapters, but can occur within a chapter. Just keep time jumps between paragraphs. And time NEVER jump within a sentence. And it generally works best if time flows forward. Flashbacks can quickly become tedious if done too often.)

    He looked up and down the street, then stepped cautiously out into the afternoon sun.
    This sentence actually works!

    Adding a bit more about his feelings and thoughts would help to build suspense, but this sentence is not a mood breaker.

    Breaking it up into shorter sentences, in my opinion, would break the mood. Shielding his eyes from the sun doesn't help build suspense either, in my opinion. It distracts, slightly, for me, so I wouldn't add it. The focus, at that point, should be on the empty street and Bob's mounting confusion/concern. That would get me thinking he's about to hit from behind.

    Of course, all of this is opinion. You are entitled to your own.

  2. #12
    Wɾ°ʇ°∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jack of all trades View Post

    With bdcharles permission, I will point out specific issues that I see, to hopefully clarify my earlier comments.

    (bdcharles, I understand that this was something you improvised to aid the discussion, and not indicative of your typical writing.)
    Yes, go ahead.

    To clarify, the point is about how rhythm and flow work to create readability. The content is immaterial - I just wrote this to have an example, so there’s no need to critique the actual words. I’ll break it into clauses:

    ——-
    Bob heard a knock from the front of the house.


    He got up and put on his favourite slippers


    he could see nobody there, or anywhere nearby.


    He looked up and down the street,


    then stepped cautiously out into the afternoon sun.
    —-



    Versus

    ——

    Bob heard a knock.


    Not a pounding, but nor was it a genteel tappity-tap-tap either, just a straightforward rat-a-tat-tat, all business, seeming to come from the front of the house.


    He got up and slid on his slippers.


    Was he expecting a delivery?


    Bob didn't think he was.


    He pulled the handle.


    The door squeaked open.


    Nobody.
    —-

    see how length and pattern of emphases changes more in the second? To a degree content will drive this because sentences written in free indirect speech may be more close POV wise so they may be questions, fragments and so forth, but even if they’re not, the actual raw sounds of the words and sentences can aid readability.




    Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and are awed,
    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    - Rainer Maria Rilke, "Elegy I"

    *

    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous

    *

    C'mon everybody, don't need this crap.
    - Wham!





  3. #13
    Hmmm.. I just hammer mine together any old how. I did, accidentally, write a sci fi short in a noir style.

  4. #14
    Like BV said, I do 't think consciously about it.

    For me sentence structure is only a component to the bigger picture: paragraph structure.
    When I am proofing, I am looking for a metered cadence to the whole paragraph.


    John glanced up at the ravens perched over his car as he walked. Although he had always found birds to be fascinating creatures, the love had never extended to the black birds that squawked busily on the powerline. Ravens annoyed him for reasons he could never quantify. Really he thought of them as little more than winged bandits.


    My paragraph structure sorta resembles a mini essay. I start with a statement or impression, then comes the dispute (although), then a substantiation (annoyed him), followed by a closure sentence. It's a complete circle.

  5. #15
    Yes, the beat of the words is a key aspect of my style. In the poetry forum I have mentioned more than once that I seldom post poetry there because my prose is my poetry.

    An outstanding example of this appeared near the beginning of the original version of the opening chapter of my novel, which I posted in full HERE a long time ago. This is the particular sentence, which refers to a nightdress given to a girl by her boyfriend.

    Its smooth hyphephilial surface clung to her in places so closely that it was more like a tattoo than a fabric, but she didnít want him tattooing his life on her body like that.
    The rhythmic structure is more obvious if it is set out as lines of verse thus.

    Its smooth hyphephilial surface clung to her
    in places so closely that it was more like
    a tattoo than a fabric, but she didnít want him
    tattooing his life on her body like that.
    The twist here is that the rhythm itself is strongly reminiscent of a military tattoo played on drums, literally making a "play" on the words "like a tattoo" and also mimicking the beat of a tattooing machine on skin, so the sentence has multiple impacts. (Oops, I've just done it again, haven't I?) I realised what was happening when I wrote it and had to break the rhythm intentionally in the next sentence. One can go too far with this approach. Nevertheless I am inclined to add words to sentences or change them just to improve the beat. This isn't even a conscious process; I simply feel that a sentence doesn't read right and the reason in that situation is usually that the beat is wrong, not anything to do with grammar, word count or meaning.

    I have had comments that in particular my dialogue seems to read very realistically and this may be because putting this beat into the words reproduces the essential pattern of breathing when a person speaks. When writing dialogue it is all too easy to forget that the speaker needs to breathe. One should always read out loud dialogue to ensure that it can be spoken with the breathing pauses coinciding with the thinking ones as happens naturally. It is unnatural for a person to stop for breath halfway through uttering a thought. The cycle is think, speak, breathe, think, speak, breathe. Of course some people just gabble continuously without thinking at all about what they're saying, so maybe their dialogue should be written differently. Even the beat of the words can portray the nature of a character.
    'Sharing an experience creates a reality.' Create a new reality today.
    'There has to be some give and take.' If I can take my time I'm willing to give it.
    'The most difficult criticism that a writer has to comprehend is silence.' So speak up.

  6. #16
    Wɾ°ʇ°∩9 bdcharles's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JustRob View Post
    The twist here is that the rhythm itself is strongly reminiscent of a military tattoo played on drums, literally making a "play" on the words "like a tattoo" and also mimicking the beat of a tattooing machine on skin, so the sentence has multiple impacts. (Oops, I've just done it again, haven't I?) I realised what was happening when I wrote it and had to break the rhythm intentionally in the next sentence. One can go too far with this approach. Nevertheless I am inclined to add words to sentences or change them just to improve the beat. This isn't even a conscious process; I simply feel that a sentence doesn't read right and the reason in that situation is usually that the beat is wrong, not anything to do with grammar, word count or meaning.
    ...
    I have had comments that in particular my dialogue seems to read very realistically and this may be because putting this beat into the words reproduces the essential pattern of breathing when a person speaks. When writing dialogue it is all too easy to forget that the speaker needs to breathe. One should always read out loud dialogue to ensure that it can be spoken with the breathing pauses coinciding with the thinking ones as happens naturally. It is unnatural for a person to stop for breath halfway through uttering a thought. The cycle is think, speak, breathe, think, speak, breathe. Of course some people just gabble continuously without thinking at all about what they're saying, so maybe their dialogue should be written differently. Even the beat of the words can portray the nature of a character.
    Perfectly said




    Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and are awed,
    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    - Rainer Maria Rilke, "Elegy I"

    *

    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous

    *

    C'mon everybody, don't need this crap.
    - Wham!





  7. #17
    I have this internal beat in my head that almost always dictates sentence structure. It's sort of funny to call it a "beat" because I'm a drummer too, and I remember reading that section on King's On Writing and going: Yes, yes, that's it! I'd never been able to describe it before, but that's precisely what it is. A beat.

    Sometimes I feel as though I have to add more words - even if I don't know what they are - because that's what the beat is demanding.

    It really makes significant editing a chore.

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