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  • #150630
    Noah Cochran
    @noah-cochran

    I know what should and shouldn’t be done in prose is highly nuanced and opinionated, but I chose a few examples that I find myself running into, to ask y’all about. So, my question is, in the following examples, are they okay as they are, or if not, how would you write them? (aka, is there a better way to write them?)

    Here they are:

    Alfonso and his chancery paid the mercenary captains, and the captains paid the mercenaries, but Drastan often got the feeling that their captains took even more than their greater share already demanded.

    I chose this as a stand in for long sentences that are trying to tell several things. How would you rewrite this?

    Darkness cloaked the world in shadows by the time Drastan had entered the streets of Toledo.

    Something just feels off about this to me. Is ‘by the time’ a bad phrase to use?

    Wren’s eyes widened.

    My question for this one is whether or not I can write it for the current PoV character. So if Wren is the PoV character in limited third person, does it make sense to write that sentence?

     

    Drastan glared at them, and then turned and strode away.

    My question for this one is the word ‘then.’ Should it be used in instances like this, or should it be eschewed always or at least whenever possible?

    “What do you see?” Drastan hissed, growing impatient.

    This is a question of telling vs showing for me. Is the phrase ‘growing impatient’ feel like pure telling, or is it something that you would write while still trying to feel close to the character’s head?

    Drastan placed a hand on the cool stone of the elegant building, and glared at Fadrique’s back.

    So, I’ve taken relatively advanced grammar (though I do think the use of sentence fragments enhances fiction a ton), but when it comes to comma usage, I am quite lacking. The above example uses a comma after ‘building,’ is that necessary? I find myself running into this a lot when dealing with conjunctions. My main worry is flow, not stringent grammar rules, but answers on either one would be appreciated.

    Drastan was by his side in a flash, a long knife gripped in his hand.

    Would you say ‘with a long knife gripped in his hand?’

    Drastan was about to tell Fadrique that he was wasting their time

    Is the bolded ‘that’ needed?

    Crackling torches that rose a full head above Drastan lined the stone paths, illuminating its lavish contents.

    Is the bolded ‘that’ needed?

    The young woman’s mouth worked for a moment, and then she nodded.

    For some reason, I don’t like this sentence. How would you write it?

    Drastan rubbed his head as she began gathering the knives and sword.

    Would you replace ‘began gathering’ with ‘gathered?’ I.e, are words like ‘began’ and ‘start’ ever okay to use?

    “Yes. I’m having a hard time piecing together who in the world is after us. The fact that all three of us were attacked–” Drastan swallowed as an image of Kelren’s pierced chest flashed through his mind. “–it clearly shows that whoever wants us dead has something to do with last night’s murder.”

    For some reason, I’m having a hard time finding how to properly punctuate a break in dialouge with m dashes. How should the above be written?

    Then the wave hit.

    That was when the door swung open.

    Above are two examples of almost speaking as if the character is telling you what happened, not as if it is happening to the character. Would you ever write a sentence like that for third person limited?

    She felt no panic, no anxiety, nothing. But that didn’t mean she had surrendered self-preservation.

    Two questions here. In the first sentence, is that too much telling for emotion? In the second sentence, would you ever use the phrase ‘but that didn’t mean?’

    Ignoring the sensation of vulnerability that lying on the ground while talking gave to her, she said,

    How would you write the above?

     

    With a skipping step that matched the flute notes filling the air, Wren entered the inn’s main hall.

    Would you use the bolded ‘that’ above?

    If you could give your thoughts on at least some of the questions, I would be grateful.


    @r-m-archer


    @briannastorm


    @obrian-of-the-surface-world


    @taylorclogston


    @josiah


    @joelle-stone

    #150631
    The Inkspiller
    @the-inkspiller

    @Noah-cochran

    I may not be the foremost expert on prose, but I’ll take a gander at answering your questions and lending my own verbose expertise, whatever its meager worth might amount to. I by no means wish to hijack your style, but invariably my suggestions for rewrite / revision are probably going to very much reflect how I personally would write the sentence, without necessarily knowing the background of your story or the context of the given excerpt.

    Given the number of quotes to work with, this will be a long reply. Hopefully the forums don’t eat it.

     

    Alfonso and his chancery paid the mercenary captains, and the captains paid the mercenaries, but Drastan often got the feeling that their captains took even more than their greater share already demanded.

    Perhaps something like:

    Alfonso’s chancery paid the mercenary captains, and the captains paid the mercenaries; for all their shows of humbly sympathy, Drastan suspected their captains were lining their own pockets.

    I’m not sure how much we could really shorten this one sentence without breaking it up into separate sentences, or potentially altering the meaning of this excerpt.

    Alfonso’s chancery paid the mercenary captains, and the captains paid themselves; whatever was left over went to the mercenaries. Naturally the captains reassured the men they were getting their fair share, but Drastan knew better than to trust a man who could afford more than two pairs of clothes.

     

     

    Darkness cloaked the world in shadows by the time Drastan had entered the streets of Toledo.

    As for this, there are a couple potential rewrites depending on whether you want to enhance description or reduce word count. For more scene immersion, perhaps something like:

    Drastan stepped out onto the shadow-cloaked streets of Toledo, his eyes instinctually sweeping the alleys as they adjusted to the night.

    To adjust flow and word count with style, more like:

    By the time Drastan stepped outside, night had cast her languorous, scheming shadows over Toledo’s winding streets.

     

    Wren’s eyes widened.

    My question for this one is whether or not I can write it for the current PoV character. So if Wren is the PoV character in limited third person, does it make sense to write that sentence?

    In limited third person, you can describe everything your chosen POV character can see or assume, including their own actions, behavior, thoughts and feelings. So yes, if Wren is the POV character, his/her own actions can be described as long as they can sense or make an assumption. For example, Wren can reasonably interpret that a man narrowing his eyes and gritting his teeth might be doing so in anger, and maybe even infer what they’re angry at based on the context of the situation.

     

    Drastan glared at them, and then turned and strode away. My question for this one is the word ‘then.’ Should it be used in instances like this, or should it be eschewed always or at least whenever possible?

    In this case, it’s up to you whether to use ‘and’ or ‘then’, or both. The use of ‘And’ implies that the two sets of actions, ‘glaring’, and ‘turning and striding away’, are occurring simultaneously. The use of ‘then’ implies that there is a chronological sequence to these actions – Drastan glares, then turns and strides away. You don’t need both ‘and’ & ‘then’, use one or the other.

     

    “What do you see?” Drastan hissed, growing impatient.

    This is a question of telling vs showing for me. Is the phrase ‘growing impatient’ feel like pure telling, or is it something that you would write while still trying to feel close to the character’s head?

    ‘Growing impatient’ is very much telling. ‘Hissed’ already does adequate service for conveying Drastan’s impatience and agitation, and ‘growing impatient’ doesn’t add much descriptively. If you feel that ‘Drastan hissed’ leaves the line too bare / short, you have a couple options. You can either (A) append some other action or body language of his that indicates his agitation and impatience, or (B) delve directly into Drastan’s thoughts with a bit of narrator reading from his brain. Examples follow:

    (A) “What do you see?” Drastan hissed, gritting his teeth while his companion hemmed and hawed. 

    (B) “What do you see?” Drastan hissed. Why couldn’t he just spit it out? Delay got people killed – most importantly, himself.

     

    Drastan placed a hand on the cool stone of the elegant building, and glared at Fadrique’s back.

    The comma is unnecessary as the sentence is currently structured; ‘and glared’ fulfils the same function of the comma  in joining two separate clauses. Otherwise, you could write the sentence as:

    Drastan placed a hand on the cool stone of the elegant building, glaring at Fadrique’s back.

     

    Drastan was by his side in a flash, a long knife gripped in his hand.

    No, I try to keep my use of ‘with’ under control. It’s not a bad word, but less is generally better, especially when you abuse commas and semi-colons as much as I do. In fact you could shorten this sentence even more:

    Drastan was at his side in a flash, long knife ready in hand.

     

    Drastan was about to tell Fadrique that he was wasting their time

    Not strictly, no. ‘That’ makes the sentence somewhat more formally correct, but no reasonable reader is going to be confused if you omit it and it will add a little urgency to the sentence.

     

    Crackling torches that rose a full head above Drastan lined the stone paths, illuminating its lavish contents.

    Yes, as the sentence is currently constructed. It does sound a bit clumsy around the ‘that’, so here’s a potential rewrite:

    Torches lined the stone paths, standing a full head over his own; crackling flames cast an orange glaze over the [compound’s] lavish contents.

    (I don’t know what the ‘its’ refers to, as ‘paths’ is plural, and thus the appropriate possessive to use would be ‘their’ if it is referring to the paths’ contents.)

     

    I will continue my answering in a part two, as this post is already crazy long.

    Non nobis Domine, sed nomini, Tuo da gloriam.

    #150633
    Brian Stansell
    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    Hi, Noah (@noah-cochran),

    Here is a possible re-write for the first entry.  I think you should keep the concept, however, add a little more depth and reasoning to what Drastan may be thinking.  The line can read flat and does not seem to have much purpose other than observational data in its original casting.

    Original text:

    Alfonso and his chancery paid the mercenary captains, and the captains paid the mercenaries, but Drastan often got the feeling that their captains took even more than their greater share already demanded.

    Drastan was disgusted.  Alfonso and his chancery were short-sighted fools. Their army consisted of nothing more than mercenaries–hired thugs.  Bah!  He spat. He knew better than to trust their kind.  Experience had taught him to put neither trust nor blade into the hands of greedy men. He ground his teeth. Such blades and brawn were loyal only up until the coin ran out and the purse strings closed. He suspected the captains took the biggest cuts for themselves.  It was the way of such men.  Wars were costly ventures that depleted the treasuries of many a kingdom.  Only an army of warriors loyal to king and country lasted until the final battle.  The mercenaries were usually the first to run.  And the first to put a knife in your back if they happen to suspect doing so would garner them a heavier purse for such treachery.

    Does that help?

    Brian Stansell (aka O'Brian of the Surface World)
    I was born in war.
    Fighting from my first breath.

    #150634
    The Inkspiller
    @the-inkspiller

    Part two! Here we go!

    The young woman’s mouth worked for a moment, and then she nodded.

    So I have to amend my previous statement on ‘and’ & ‘then’; the main case for using them together would be to add the sensation of a tangible pause in between the two conjoined actions. However, that can be achieved by other means, such as by a semi-colon or by additional description.

    (A) The young woman’s mouth worked wordlessly for a moment; her words lost to silence, she nodded at last.

    (B) The young woman’s mouth worked for a moment in seeming thought; apparently satisfied by her conclusion, she nodded.

     

    Drastan rubbed his head as she began gathering the knives and sword.

    Would you replace ‘began gathering’ with ‘gathered?’ I.e, are words like ‘began’ and ‘start’ ever okay to use?

    #1: Yes, I would, either ‘gathered’ or ‘gathered up’. ‘Began’, ‘start’, and gerunds/present participles (e.g., ‘gathering’) aren’t completely forbidden, but should only be used when its important to indicate that the action is in progress – often so that it can be interrupted by another action.  In this case, if nothing stops her from gathering the knives and sword, then it is better to just use the past tense.

     

    “Yes. I’m having a hard time piecing together who in the world is after us. The fact that all three of us were attacked–” Drastan swallowed as an image of Kelren’s pierced chest flashed through his mind. “–it clearly shows that whoever wants us dead has something to do with last night’s murder.”

    For some reason, I’m having a hard time finding how to properly punctuate a break in dialouge with m dashes. How should the above be written?

    Well, without even knowing who is speaking, I felt able to understand what you were saying. I hesitate to advise any particular change here.

     

    Then the wave hit.

    That was when the door swung open.

    Above are two examples of almost speaking as if the character is telling you what happened, not as if it is happening to the character. Would you ever write a sentence like that for third person limited?

    Absolutely, I do it all the time, that’s one of the greatest strengths of third person limited – you get to see the world through their eyes and get their thoughts and feelings on the situation, not just a dry after action report. An example from my own work:

    Then someone began to snore. 

    It wasn’t Alois, or Erhard would have pelted him with a shoe. No, it was coming from the room below, through a pair of floorboards that hadn’t been properly tarred. At first Erhard tried to adapt, searching for a pattern in the snore to roll with its noisy tides, but this mouth breather would sometimes croak like a bullfrog for a full minute; then he would fall silent as death for what seemed like an hour before reviving with a hoarse sonata like the aria of an asthmatic goose.

    With third-person limited, you can potentially expand the scope of the character’s POV to even affect your narration and description, allowing each POV to present their own take on a situation. Your shining white knight might cause your narrative voice to take everything more seriously and dramatically with flowery prose, while writing from the perspective of a cunning gutter rat might present a grittier tone and less than charitable descriptions.

     

    She felt no panic, no anxiety, nothing. But that didn’t mean she had surrendered self-preservation.

    Two questions here. In the first sentence, is that too much telling for emotion? In the second sentence, would you ever use the phrase ‘but that didn’t mean?’

    #1: No, that’s okay, though the first sentence could stand to include more physical description alongside the telling. I’ll put an example below.

    She felt no panic nor anxiety, not even so much as a quavering heartbeat to signal terror.

    #2: No ‘but’s at the beginning of sentences. You could join the two sentences with a semi-colon if you really want a ‘but’ there, but then you don’t really need the ‘but’ thanks to the semi-colon. I would still change the second sentence, it just sounds vaguely… rhythmically unsatisfying, if that makes any sense.

    She felt no panic nor anxiety, not even so much as a quavering heartbeat to signal terror. Even so, she had not yet surrendered self-preservation; her body might be ready to lay down and die, but she wasn’t.

     

    Ignoring the sensation of vulnerability that lying on the ground while talking gave to her, she said,

    How would you write the above?

    Laying out on the ground, she felt like a side of meat left out on the butcher’s counter before a line of hungry dogs. Nevertheless, she swallowed the bile of fear and spoke.

    “[Insert dialogue]” (she said is optional here)

    Aren’t metaphors and similes great?

     

    With a skipping step that matched the flute notes filling the air, Wren entered the inn’s main hall.

    Would you use the bolded ‘that’ above?

    It’s not terrible; the sentence functions. Without knowing the context of this line, this is how I’d rewrite it:

    Flute notes drifted out from the main hall of the inn like temple incense. Wren’s feet followed the piper’s melody, carrying her skipping into the main hall.

     

    I hope that these answers have been more a help than a hindrance. Let me know if you have other questions or editorial needs, or if I can clarify anything I didn’t answer clearly or helpfully!

    Non nobis Domine, sed nomini, Tuo da gloriam.

    #150643
    Joelle Stone
    @joelle-stone

    Alfonso and his chancery paid the mercenary captains, and the captains paid the mercenaries, but Drastan often got the feeling that their captains took even more than their greater share already demanded.

    I think it’s good. 🙂

    Darkness cloaked the world in shadows by the time Drastan had entered the streets of Toledo.

    Maybe The world was cloaked in shadows by the time Drastan entered the streets of Toledo.

    For the one about Wren, yep, sounds fine!

    Drastan glared at them, and then turned and strode away.

    Yeaaaah… it’s usually best to avoid using “then”. Maybe try Drastan glared at them before turning and striding away. Or Glaring, Drastan turned and strode away. If it’s a single instance, using “then” isn’t going to kill your prose. 😉

    This is a question of telling vs showing for me. Is the phrase ‘growing impatient’ feel like pure telling, or is it something that you would write while still trying to feel close to the character’s head?

    Depends on the pacing of the scene. If it’s a fast-paced action sequence, you don’t have time for long, flowery descriptions alluding to his impatience. If it’s a slower, more cautious-type scene, you can use body language (tapping his foot, eyes restlessly roaming the streets, shifting from foot to foot, etc.) to indicate his impatience. Not an expert on this at all, though, so take that advice with a grain of salt. 😉

    Drastan placed a hand on the cool stone of the elegant building, and glared at Fadrique’s back.

    KILL THE COMMAAAAAA!!!!! *coughs* Ahem. Yes, it can go. Or try, Drastan placed a hand on the cool stone of the elegant building, glaring at Fadrique’s back.

    Would you say ‘with a long knife gripped in his hand?’

    Yep. 🙂

    Is the bolded ‘that’ needed?

    Technically, yes. Practically, no. 🙂

    Crackling torches that rose a full head above Drastan lined the stone paths, illuminating its lavish contents.

    Is the bolded ‘that’ needed?

    In this instance, “that” changes the usage of “rose”. I can’t really explain it, but try reading it out loud with the that and without it and I think you’ll catch on to my meaning. Personally, I’d take it out, but that’s just me. 🙂

    The young woman’s mouth worked for a moment, and then she nodded.

    Do you need “the young woman”? Could you just use “her”? I’ll use her, but replace that if you need to. Her mouth worked for a moment before she nodded. Or, Her mouth worked for a moment as she thought. Finally, after what seemed to be ages, she nodded. <– That one is a bit more flowery. Not sure of the pacing of this scene, so I don’t know if it’d fit or not. 😉

    Would you replace ‘began gathering’ with ‘gathered?’ I.e, are words like ‘began’ and ‘start’ ever okay to use?

    Eh, I’d usually try to avoid them, but once again, it’s not going to kill your prose if you use them once or twice. You don’t really need it in this sentence, tho. 😉

    “Yes. I’m having a hard time piecing together who in the world is after us. The fact that all three of us were attacked–” Drastan swallowed as an image of Kelren’s pierced chest flashed through his mind. “–it clearly shows that whoever wants us dead has something to do with last night’s murder.”

    Ahh, this is a hard one. I’ve seen it written in books with the em dashes outside of the quotation marks: “…three of us were attacked” –Drastan swallowed as an image of Kelren’s pierced chest flashed through his mind– “it clearly shows that…” Also seen them completely disregarded, like this: “…three of us were attacked,” Drastan swallowed as an image of Kelren’s pierced chest flashed through his mind, “it clearly shows that…” *shrugs* Not sure of the “correct” usage here.

    Would you ever write a sentence like that for third person limited?

    Yurp. ‘Specially ’cause they seem to be for more action-packed, fast-paced scenes where you want punchy sentences. 🙂

    In the first sentence, is that too much telling for emotion? In the second sentence, would you ever use the phrase ‘but that didn’t mean?’

    Looks good to me for both cases! *thumbs up*

    Ignoring the sensation of vulnerability that lying on the ground while talking gave to her, she said,

    Exactly like that. XD

    Would you use the bolded ‘that’ above?

    Yep, I would. 🙂

    Thanks for the tag! Best of luck. 😀

    #150645
    Noah Cochran
    @noah-cochran

    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    I understand the spirit of your example (expound more to make the telling more interesting), so I will keep that in mind, but the example itself doesn’t work at all–mostly due to the fact that Drastan himself is a mercenary. xD


    @joelle-stone

    Thanks for the response!

    Yeaaaah… it’s usually best to avoid using “then”. Maybe try Drastan glared at them before turning and striding away. Or Glaring, Drastan turned and strode away. If it’s a single instance, using “then” isn’t going to kill your prose.

    I was very much leaning that way, and you’re example is excellent. It’s hard to decide sometimes, due to the fact that I read ‘then’ in published, popular books relatively often.

    KILL THE COMMAAAAAA!!!!! *coughs* Ahem. Yes, it can go. Or try, Drastan placed a hand on the cool stone of the elegant building, glaring at Fadrique’s back.

    Alrighty, I figured as much. 🙂


    @the-inkspiller

    Thanks so much for all the advice! I will being taking several notes on it.

    I did want to comment on a couple things:

    First off, in your re-writes of my examples, I noticed you used several semicolons. Though I do use them, I personally find them to break flow somewhat, and I’ve heard other authors say they should be used sparingly. Thoughts?

    Secondly, I think I kinda disagree when it comes to starting a sentence with conjunctions (‘but’ & ‘and’). Though stringent grammar rules demand that you not, and I have had an English lover tell me not to, many, many well known authors do, and I find that it lets you break up sentences easier (as long as they are not used too often). Thoughts?

    editorial needs

    Well if you ever had time prose critique one of my chapters, I’d appreciate the assistance. 🙂 I find that having someone line-edit a chapter helps me improve my prose.

    Aren’t metaphors and similes great?

    Yep, I love ’em, especially similes. Though overusing them will drastically slow down pace.

    #150646
    The Inkspiller
    @the-inkspiller

    @noah-cochran

    It’s important to find your the right fit for your writing style! Not everything I say or give to you as advice is going to necessarily work with your vision, it’s simply my judgment based off the experience of what has worked for me for the stories I’ve tried to tell.

    1. Semicolons

    It’s true, I have been several times convicted for criminal abuse of the semicolon. I like using them as a more extended pause than an m dash, but more suspenseful than a period. It’s personal taste, but I use them to break up what would otherwise be a marathon of a sentence or two awkward dumplings sat in separate bathroom stalls.

    2. Conjunctions

    I did present it as a hard rule, but only because many beginners (without the unintentional presumption that you are one) make the mistake of abusing them. ‘But’ & ‘and’ can be competently used to start sentences with – in fact, I do so myself in my own works. Nonetheless I try to use them only as dramatic punctuation, rather than to regularly combine sentences across a period. For example, in the phrases you just posted:

     

    Then the wave hit.

    That was when the door swung open.

    ‘Then’ is a conjunction as well, if a sequential one, and ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘then’ can be successfully used for dramatic effect, echoing how you might narrate the scene in speech, like an oral storyteller.

     

    3. Critique

    Hit me with a doc link and I’ll try to take a look at it within the next couple weeks. I have more time than usual thanks to focusing on just my degree over the summer instead of trying to work and study full time at once, so I can take a gander! Do you want me to purely focus on line edits or approach your chapter with a mind to storytelling as well?

     

    Glad to be of service!

    Non nobis Domine, sed nomini, Tuo da gloriam.

    #150647
    Noah Cochran
    @noah-cochran

    @the-inkspiller

    but I use them to break up what would otherwise be a marathon of a sentence or two awkward dumplings sat in separate bathroom stalls.

    Yep, that’s when I use them too, but I do find that just separating the sentences by starting the latter one with a conjunction is something authors do relatively often (instead of a semicolon that is).

    Nonetheless I try to use them only as dramatic punctuation, rather than to regularly combine sentences across a period.

    Interesting, I don’t think I’ve heard of them being used for this specific reason (other than the ‘then X’ example).

    Hit me with a doc link and I’ll try to take a look at it within the next couple weeks. I have more time than usual thanks to focusing on just my degree over the summer instead of trying to work and study full time at once, so I can take a gander! Do you want me to purely focus on line edits or approach your chapter with a mind to storytelling as well?

    Thanks! I’ll get you doc link and answer that question momentarily.

    #150648
    Joelle Stone
    @joelle-stone

    @noah-cochran,

    *grins*

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