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Style Guide Rules vs Artful Grammar (1 Viewer)

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lumino

Senior Member
When asking a question on Quora about the need to revolve sentences around strong verbs I was told that people designed such rules because aspiring writers don't want to take the time to learn grammar, and that if I want to create a masterpiece I might need to ignore such rules.

I am reminded of the first sentence from Pride and Prejudice, which uses prepositional phrases instead of verbs and seems superior to what it would have been with verbs.

What do you think?
 
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seigfried007

Senior Member
First sentence of Pride and Prejudice does have a verb--even if it's not a strong one. It's a controversial enough sentence to get the reader's attention--even without a strong verb.

In general, stronger, more active verbs are preferred in fiction. Variety is the spice of life, however, so it's expected that not all sentences will have engaging verbs.

I don't think the push for active verbs has anything to do with learning grammar. Learning about grammar can help us discuss matters with other writers (such as in regards to active or passive voice).
 

Dluuni

WF Veterans
If you follow the rules, your writing will not be bad. They aren't a recipe for greatness, they're a checklist so you can assure you at least achieve mediocrity. You can make a masterpiece with or without them.
 

James Wolfe

Senior Member
Rules... We don't need no stink'n rules!!! I spat on the "rules" and implement my own instead.

Writing is an art, and no matter how shitty I may write, it's still enjoyable by me... except for that one rough draft I wrote, need a lot of liquor to get through it and I don't drink.


As long as it's readable and enjoyed by others,
 

Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Media Manager
If you have a time machine and plan to travel back to 1813, then Pride & Prejudice is a great book to study.

But if you are writing in the modern era, I would look at more contemporary works.
No one writes like Steinbeck or Hemingway anymore.
Writing has evolved.
Storytelling in general (books, movies...) has evolved since then.


But more to your point, there is a difference between a mechanically correct sentence, and one that works in modern writing.
Essay writing is not the same as writing commercial fiction.
Often a mechanically correct sentence is too klunky for fiction.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
When asking a question on Quora about the need to revolve sentences around strong verbs I was told that people designed such rules because aspiring writers don't want to take the time to learn grammar, and that if I want to create a masterpiece I might need to ignore such rules.

People generally design rules based on what works. Though in Quoras case, I am skeptical.

Look I’ll tell you this: I don’t have the faintest clue what you’re talking about as far as strong verbs. There’s no such thing as a strong verb. There are verbs that correctly describe an action in a given context and there are ones that don’t.

**Content warning**

If I were to write “He rammed her mouth with his penis” in the context of an romantic love scene, the fact that I am using a “strong” verb doesn’t make it a good sentence, because that’s a grotesque and probably inaccurate descriptive (depending on what you’re into, obviously).

If I write “He rammed the door with his shoulder” in the context of a hostage rescue scene, however, that’s much better isn’t it? Because it makes sense for what is being evoked. But it’s the same verb...

The image you are creating should dictate the language choice, not “rules”.
 
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JustRob

FoWF
WF Veterans
A friend who was reading my novel wrote to me "I don't like the way that you've written it but I'm still reading it because I want to know what happens." Does that answer the question?

He never finished reading the story as, he told me, he preferred stories that were closer to reality. It was actually a reasonably conservative science fiction story and he was a scientist, so I couldn't understand how far his idea of reality extended given that our correspondence also regularly covered quantum mechanics, possibly the most unbelievable fantasy ever imagined, at least to many people. His explanation was that he didn't regard quantum mechanics as necessarily being reality as such but used it because it happened to give the right answers. I suppose that was his approach to my writing as well, that it didn't matter whether it was really well written so long as it gave him the answers that he wanted.

Maybe a badly written good story may irritate readers, but the whole strategy in fiction writing is to give the reader an itch and then help them to scratch it. That's effectively what that first line in Pride and Prejudice did, create the itch.
 

Aquilo

WF Veterans
There’s no such thing as a strong verb.

Oh, there is, but me thinks it's not what the OP means. Strong = irregular verb: bring/brought. Weak = walked/walked. It would look pretty strange having no -ed suffixes on a verb throughout a story, though.

But a story with a load of relational clauses: She was X-ing, He was Z-ing, can make for very dull imagery and one boring story.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
Oh, there is, but me thinks it's not what the OP means. Strong = irregular verb: bring/brought. Weak = walked/walked. It would look pretty strange having no -ed suffixes on a verb throughout a story, though.

But a story with a load of relational clauses: She was X-ing, He was Z-ing, can make for very dull imagery and one boring story.

To amplify what you seem to be acknowledging, there is a concept in writing that can be called using strong verbs, or active verbs. I don't know what else to call them. And when a writer advocates using strong or active verbs, they are not trying to speak linguistically or use the terms the way the linguists have appropriated.

John is standing versus John stands. The house was built by John versus John built the house. The necklace is old versus the old necklace.)
 

seigfried007

Senior Member
To amplify what you seem to be acknowledging, there is a concept in writing that can be called using strong verbs, or active verbs. I don't know what else to call them. And when a writer advocates using strong or active verbs, they are not trying to speak linguistically or use the terms the way the linguists have appropriated.

John is standing versus John stands. The house was built by John versus John built the house. The necklace is old versus the old necklace.)

Active and strong verbs are totally different beasties the way Aquilo is using the term. From a linguist perspective, a long, long time ago in an England far away, there were two forms of any given verb: a strong one and a weak one. Same verb, just different suffixes. "Strong" verbs had non-"ed" endings in past tense (they're irregular). "Weak" verbs were conjugated normally--they're regular verbs. We don't use such terms anymore, so it's an obscure thing that I would only expect Aquilo to know (I only found out about it recently via a linguist rabbithole on the forms of awoken/awaken/wake/woke/etc.).

Most of the time, when people are talking about "strong" verbs, they're talking about "active" verbs, but to a linguist (especially one with a sense of humor) a strong verb doesn't have that connotation. Active verbs aren't "strong"--they're just active, so there's no reason to call them "strong" as opposed to "active".

Not all "active" verbs are even all that "strong," depending on how one feels the need to define "strong" which has a lot of meanings and is subjective anyway.
Bob tuckered himself out. VS Bob exhausted himself. VS Bob tired.

Bob shook/spasmed/quaked/shuddered VS Bob had a seizure. VS Bob flailed everywhere VS As he fell onto the floor, Bob's eyes rolled into the back of his head; his arms and legs flailed everywhere, clattering on the linoleum tiles; blood oozed out of his mouth as the children screamed and cried all around him, afraid and unsure of what to do.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Oh, there is, but me thinks it's not what the OP means. Strong = irregular verb: bring/brought. Weak = walked/walked. It would look pretty strange having no -ed suffixes on a verb throughout a story, though.

But a story with a load of relational clauses: She was X-ing, He was Z-ing, can make for very dull imagery and one boring story.

Yeah. To clarify: I accept that strong verbs exist as a linguistic concept - a google search proves that.

The problem is people associate 'strong' with superior. So a simple concept becomes contaminated by value judgement, basically, and confuses people just the way it has confused the OP - who thinks using 'strong verbs' means a faster track to his/her writing being better. And that's not necessarily true.

There's a John Prine song called 'Lake Marie' where the chorus line hook is We were standing by peaceful waters. A linguist would probably fault that line for the watery weak 'we were standing'. In the context of the song's narrative, it fits perfectly.

Then what about 'as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil'? Walk is often touted as a weak verb. So, would 'as I stride through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil' lead to a more powerful sentence? No, I don't think so. Not least because it sounds weird. Nobody strides down the Valley Of The Shadow Of Death. They walk - probably pissing their pants. A weak verb fits a weak action, and the contrast of the weakly 'walk' with the stature of 'valley', 'shadow' and 'death' contrasts well. For one thing, weak verbs contrast well with strong nouns. It delivers the emotion it needs. And that's just one example, of course. How about "Because you're mine I walk the line"?

So, bottom line is...well...actually I can't really remember what this all was even about sorry :(
 
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JustRob

FoWF
WF Veterans
So, bottom line is...well...actually I can't really remember what this all was even about sorry :(

I'm feeling that way as well. If I were feeling strong and active today I'd now be carpenting in my garage. (By the way, if you want to discuss whether "carpenting" is really a verb I suggest you start a new thread, maybe on some other website.) Instead I'm having a leisurely day and am unlikely to make any useful contribution to this thread. However, my fickle creativity is in fine fettle, (evidently) so I can only observe that the "Artful Grammar" in the thread title just suggests to me a female ancestor of a character in Dickens's Oliver Twist. Clearly her dodgy grandson was equally opposed to any rules as she must have been according to that title. Perhaps there was even an amorous liaison between her and Fagin in a prequel that Dickens never got around to writing. That was evidently how the young dodger came to be so fondly under his wing.

It surprises me how deeply these discussions go when I regard the grammatical subject matter to be little more than a coat of paint over the structure of a story. A well structured story may benefit from such treatment but a mere coat of grammatical paint won't do anything for a ramshackle story. My angel has observed that during her beta reading activities here. The technically good writers aren't necessarily the good creative writers. Is there another forum somewhere here for effective creative writing rather than technically correct writing because if so I ought to be there, not here? No doubt you agree of course.
 

seigfried007

Senior Member
It surprises me how deeply these discussions go when I regard the grammatical subject matter to be little more than a coat of paint over the structure of a story. A well structured story may benefit from such treatment but a mere coat of grammatical paint won't do anything for a ramshackle story. My angel has observed that during her beta reading activities here. The technically good writers aren't necessarily the good creative writers. Is there another forum somewhere here for effective creative writing rather than technically correct writing because if so I ought to be there, not here? No doubt you agree of course.

Good point.

Not even sure on what a thread about creativity vs grammar would be like. We get themes on such regularly, but... maybe we don't debate creativity vs SPaG because SPaG can be fixed. It's got bite-size enough rules that people can debate it.

Of course, there's the "How creative is creative?" argument because everyone has a different definition. One persons' "creative" isn't another's, and different people put a different weight on the subject when grading creativity. They may be exceptionally lenient for tropes in one genre but intolerant of worn tropes in another. A tired plot with a fantastic execution is salvageable (and even celebrated) at the bookstore, but an experimental work is often a failure. Too original, and one risks coloring outside the predestined lines and not fitting into a genre enough to sell...
 

JustRob

FoWF
WF Veterans
A tired plot with a fantastic execution is salvageable (and even celebrated) at the bookstore, but an experimental work is often a failure. Too original, and one risks coloring outside the predestined lines and not fitting into a genre enough to sell...

I wrote separately on the subject of innovation, destiny and predestiny yesterday. See HERE. People say that reality is stranger than fiction, so maybe fiction writers need at least to explore the full extent of reality in order to find their destined fiction. Yes, there are risks but there are also risk premiums, as people in the world of investments call them. There's a difference between gambling and pushing out the boundaries.
 
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