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The Toolbox -- The Important Bits

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Peter Graham

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Passive Voice


To identify the passive voice, the first trick is to look at the verb in the sentence. If the object of the sentence is having the verb done to it, you are in the active:-

"The policeman waved his truncheon".

The policeman is the subject of this sentence - it is about him and what he is up to. "Waved" is your verb. The truncheon is the object. The truncheon is being waved, so this sentence is in the active.

If, however, what would be the subject of the sentence in the active (the policeman) ends up having the verb done to it, you are in the passive.

"The truncheon was waved by the policeman".

See how this sentence has become about the truncheon, rather than the policeman. What was the subject in the active (the policeman) has now become the object in the passive.

A slightly more complex (but slightly more accurate) explanation is to say that a sentence will only be in the passive voice if the main verb in that sentence is expressed as a past participle and if your subject is linked to the main verb by an auxiliary verb (basically, some manifestation of "to be").

This works with our passive policeman above. By way of a further example:-

"Beer is drunk by Peter."

Beer = subject, is = our auxiliary verb and drunk = past participle of "drink".

To make this sentence active, we would write:-

"Peter drinks beer."

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with using the passive voice. It actually has a big part to play - especially when the object in any givenn sentence needs to be given prominence. But like so many of the other "avoids" (head-hopping, p.ov. shifts and so on) it is all too often done badly, or done inadvertently as a side effect of poor sentence structure.

Regards,

Peter
 

Peter Graham

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Peter's Guide to the Humble Comma

Part the First

A natural break

The comma is perhaps the most mangled and misused of our punctuation marks. It has a number of uses, one of the most common of which is to denote those little pauses and breaks which are such a characteristic of the spoken word. Grammar lovers talk of clauses and subclauses and all manner of other jolly things, but for those of us who would rather eat our own ears than listen to such gibberish, I have a little shortcut which might help.

"Peter is an odd fellow isn't he? All those commas exclamation marks apostrophes and whatnot. Is he just a boring numpty or a god who walks amongst Men? His examples whilst being properly written are not always easy to follow."

Anyone will be able to see that there are missing commas in the above piece. One very good trick to try and work out where they might be placed is to imagine that this piece is being spoken aloud. Don't rush through it - just try and imagine yourself saying the words in real time. Then mark everywhere where you would pause, either to take a breath or to allow a little emphasis. Chances are that those breaks should (or could) be marked in written text with a comma.

"Peter is an odd fellow, isn't he? All those commas, exclamation marks, apostrophes and whatnot. Is he just a boring numpty, or a god who walks amongst Men? His examples, whilst being properly written, are not always easy to follow."

Semi colons and dashes can be used to exaggerate this effect, but you can probably get away with not using them at all if you are on top of commas.

Regards,

Peter

Next time: Flagging up subclauses. See ya then, commabuffs!
 

Peter Graham

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The Colon

An underused and badly misunderstood friend.

The colon has three major functions. All of these can be achieved in other ways, which is perhaps why no-one really bothers with the colon any more.

Firstly, you can use a colon to denote an imminent list:-

"Peter went to the shops to get a few odds and ends: milk, teabags, pipe cleaners, some baling twine and a 5 kilo tub of salt lick."

Secondly, you can use it instead of a full stop when the second sentence amplifies or expands upon the first:-

"Peter was a pig fancier: Old Spots were his favourite."
Thirdly, you can use it to introduce a quote:-

"As Tess of the D'Ubervilles always said: 'Oo-aar, I be a praaper whiny faaaaarm girrrl, so I be. Oi is aaalways whingein' aaan and aaan loike a baaadly stuck recorrrd. Oi is loike a wet weekend in Budmaaaath, moi lover."
Regards,

Peter
 

Peter Graham

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Peter's Guide to the Humble Comma

Part the Second

The subclause strikes back

Another use for the comma is to denote subclauses. Writers with a flair for language and a love of imagery and description should be using subclauses like they are going out of fashion which, ironically enough, they appear to be.

The subclause is any bit of a sentence which adds to the subject matter of that sentence but is not actually a key part of it. It frequently stands as an observation or an aside and is often there so as to impart a bit of detail or colour.

A subclause may be wrapped with commas - one at the start, one at the end. The idea is that if the subclause was removed entirely - in other words, if everything between the commas is taken out - the sentence should still make sense.


"Peter depowered the forward shield and flipped the hyperdrive switch."


If we add a subclause, we can have:-


"Peter depowered the forward shield, adjusted his cravat so that it was at a suitably rakish angle, and flipped the hyperdrive switch."


The cravat reference is not necessary to the main action (which is Peter doing two things - depowering the shield and then flicking a switch), but gives a bit of colour. The commas show that the cravat reference is a standalone bit of the sentence which can be removed without confusing the reader or taking away from the central action.

I have seen some extracts in Crits which would render this sentence:-


"Peter depowered the shield, adjusted his cravat, so that it was at a suitably rakish angle and flipped the hyperdrive switch."


This has to be wrong, because if you apply the "removal test" and take out everything between the commas, what is left makes no sense or, worse still (as with this example), may actually imply a different meaning entirely:-


"Peter depowered the shield so that it was at a suitably rakish angle and flipped the hyperdrive switch."


Regards,

Peter


Next time: the comma realises that it is the sundered son of the full stop. The comma refuses to turn to the Dark Side and escapes to Endor, where it encourages a troop of saccharine-sweet Stone Age teddy bears to destroy the Empire's military machine. The comma also realises that his potential squeeze is, in fact, his sister, who mercifully has just run off with a Corellian pirate.
 

ctg

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What is a synopsis?

For a start, it is not a blurb.

  • A blurb is that teaser piece of writing that appears on the back of books to entice readers to want to read them. This is a piece of marketing writing aimed at readers.
  • A synopsis is also a piece of marketing writing, but it is one aimed at introducing your novel to agents and editors. We don’t want to be “teased”. We want the facts.
A synopsis must:

  • be no longer than a page, about 500 words
  • include the main plot turning points
  • introduce the main character(s), their goals and their “problem” (which the story will “solve”)
  • include how the story is resolved i.e. how it ends
A great synopsis will:

  • read like a story in its own right
  • give a flavour of the style and pace of the story
  • show the main character(s) growth arc / emotional development
  • leave out the names of the secondary characters
  • leave out the secondary plots (unless they are essential to mention to explain the main plot)
 

Erin99

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Thanks! As for the comma, usually people leave off the comma if the clauses are closely related. For example:

I walked to the park and bought an ice cream.
Bill was a pony and [he] liked carrots.
I'm writing this and I'm not using a pen and paper.

Sentences that aren't too closely related need the extra comma. Example:

I walked to the park and bought an ice cream, and I went swimming afterwards. (You could even substitute the "and" for a "then" or "and then".)
Bill was a pony, and his owner made him pull heavy carts.
I'm writing this, and I might copy it on to paper.

Of course, some of it is down to personal preference...

The other point worth mentioning is when you need a comma for clarification. Compare these two sentences:

I ate my Easter egg and my gran did too.
I ate my Easter egg, and my gran did too.

:D Some people may argue that, upon first read through, the reader will know that the person didn't eat his gran, but I'd use the comma anyway, for clarification.
Hope that helps.
 

Ursa major

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Tense - The Basics

The tense** of the main verb in a sentence (i.e. the tense of the main verb in the main clause) tells a reader when an activity is happening. The writer can also impart a little more information, specifically whether the action is still occurring or has been completed at the time indicated by the main tense.

There are three event times (Past, Present and Future) and four aspects (Simple, Continuous, Perfect and Perfect Continuous) as follows:
I wrote (Past Simple)
I was writing (Past Continuous)
I had written (Past Perfect)
I had been writing (Past Perfect Continuous)
I write (Present Simple)
I am writing (Present Continuous)
I have written (Present Perfect)***
I have been writing (Present Perfect Continuous)
I will write (Future Simple)
I will be writing (Future Continuous)
I will have written (Future Perfect)
I will have been writing (Future Perfect Continuous)
As you can see, all of these examples use the Active Voice, not the Passive Voice (which would have example sentences such as "The book was written by me").


I would heartily recommend the Oxford Everyday Grammar. (The edition I own was written by John Seely.) This book explains the use of these different tenses. (For instances, it lists ten uses for the Simple Present, "I write", alone.)




** - To those deeply interested in grammar, there are, strictly speaking, only two tenses in English, the Past and the Present. This statement is based on the change to the verb itself, e.g. I write and I wrote. All other 'tenses' are formed using extra words - have, had, will, will have, etc. - and so do not involve specific changes to the verb itself. For those of us wanting to write, say, fiction and not text books on grammar, we need not worry this distinction.

*** - If this confuses you, you're not alone: what this is indicating that in the current time frame (the present) the action has been "completed". So you'd say to your teacher (a likely story) "I have written my essay", indicating that it is ready now. Yesterday (or on the bus this morning), you were writing the essay.
 

Ursa major

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Please note that the second note in the previous post should read as shown below. (The 60 minute editing window closed while I was still editing and I didn't want to bother an administrator about it.)

*** - If this confuses you, you're not alone: what this is indicating that in the current time frame (the Present) the action has been "completed". So you would tell your teacher, "I have written my essay", indicating that it is ready now (the now of the telling). Yesterday (or on the bus this morning), you were writing the essay.[/QUOTE]
 

Ursa major

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Tense - The Passive Voice

As you might imagine, all of the tenses mentioned as being available in the Active Voice can be used in the Passive Voice (although, as you will soon see, you may not wish to use some of them).

As this is intended fo aspiring writers, I will again use a verb that you'll recognise (;)).
I was rejected (Past Simple)
I was being rejected (Past Continuous)
I had been rejected (Past Perfect)
I had been being rejected (Past Perfect Continuous)

I am rejected (Present Simple)
I am being rejected (Present Continuous)
I have been rejected (Present Perfect)***
I have been being rejected (Present Perfect Continuous)

I will be rejected (Future Simple)
I will be being rejected (Future Continuous)
I will have been rejected (Future Perfect)
I will have been being rejected (Future Perfect Continuous)
Note, by the way, that in both the Active and Passive Voices, the future can be constructed with "I shall..." and rather than the indicated "I will...". Which of these is preferable is for another post (and, probably, another poster).
 

The Judge

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Participial clauses

The present participle is the form of a verb ending in '-ing'. The past participle is the form of a verb ending in '-ed' or '-t' (or eg '-en' for irregular verbs like break/broken).

As any writer knows, it quickly becomes boring to keep using the past simple when a character is engaged in a list of things eg 'He walked to the door. He opened it. He looked outside. He stepped onto the patio.' Therefore we often try to vary the list, to help it read more smoothly, by opening with the verb and creating a participial clause eg 'Walking to the door...' or 'Bred on the farm...'

But such clauses have to be used with caution. The three problems that beset them are, in descending order of importance:

1. Dangling participle
Where the subject of the participle and the subject of the sentence don't agree eg 'Driving home, the light traffic told me it wasn't rush hour after all.' The subject of the main part of the sentence is the traffic, but I'm the subject of the participle since I'm the one doing the driving, not the traffic. This should read 'Driving home, I realised from the light traffic it wasn't...'

2. Non-continuing participle
Where the present participle describes something which is over and done with before the next part of the sentence is begun, so the use of the continuous '-ing' is inappropriate -- this is apparently a big problem for writers of SFF fiction eg 'Running up the stairs, I went into the bedroom.' This should be 'Having run up the stairs, I went into...' No problem is encountered provided the actions are simultaneous eg 'Running up the stairs, I whistled the National Anthem.'

3. Irrelevant participle
Where the participle describes something which has no (apparent) connection with the rest of the sentence eg 'Being a first-class athlete, I was born in Leicester.' This simply looks amateurish.

Use of participial clauses can add vigour to writing, and help it read more smoothly, but like any stylisitic device it can become boring if overused.

J
 

The Judge

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PARTS OF SPEECH

This is only a very basic guide to four of the parts of speech: nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs. At the risk of having Pyan wrap his tentacles around my throat, I don't know that anyone needs to know what they are in English, let alone Latin, in order to write fluently, but I do think that understanding a little about them can be advantageous.

Thanks to the fluidity of the English language, the four easily morph into one another: a noun can become a verb; a verb can become an adjective or a noun. But what they are is shown by what they do.

A noun is a thing eg 'Earth'. In this context people are things, as are concepts, so 'person' is a noun as is ‘misery’ and 'rain'. If 'the' or 'a/an' can go in front of it, then it's probably a noun.
An adjective describes a thing in some way eg 'beautiful'.
A verb is what the thing is doing eg 'walking'. The verb comprises the whole of 'to walk' and its tenses and aspects (see Ursa’s post above) eg 'I walk', 'he walked', 'they will walk'.
An adverb describes how the thing is doing it eg 'quickly'. Usually recognised by '-ly' at the end.

So “The green adjective grass noun grows verb quickly adverb in this lousy adjective weather noun.”

'Grass' is a thing so is a noun; 'green' describes the thing so is an adjective; 'grows' is what the thing does, so is a verb; 'quickly' is how the verb does it so is an adverb.

To take a word at random:
Noun: laugh ; also laughter
Adjective: laughable (? also laughing in eg ‘no laughing matter’)
Verb: to laugh
Adverb: laughably** and laughingly
** Note: an adverb can also modify an adjective, which is presumably where ‘laughably’ comes in, eg “She was laughably pretentious”, since I can’t for the moment think of a verb to which it can be applied with any intelligibility, certainly not in an adverb’s standard position (immediately before the verb itself). Anyone got any thoughts on something like “He was skating laughably” (apart from the fact it sounds awful)?

The way that one part of speech can change into another can be seen in ‘access’. The use of it solely as a noun eg “He gained access to the house” has been supplemented in recent years with its use as a verb eg “He accessed the property through the window” – though tellingly because this latter usage is still relatively new, it is not universally accepted as good English.

J

PS Pyan - how about starting a Latin Toolbox for those of us who never progressed beyond amo, amas, amat (?a second, a lot, a carpet...)
 

Peter Graham

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Capital Letters and Dialogue Tags

In response to a couple of specific questions asked by one poster about usage of capital letters.

Basic usage of capital letters is as follows:-

1. To denote the first word of a new sentence. Easy. Sentences are brought to an end by a full stop, an exclamation mark or a question mark, so whatever follows needs a capital letter. But see the Beartrap below.....

2. To denote a proper noun - the official name of something. Her Majesties Revenue and Customs. West Yorkshire. The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Court of Appeal. Note how the little link words (the, of, etc) usually don't carry the capital letter. The acronym for an organisation (for example, HMRC for Her Majesties Revenue and Customs) often helps in this regard - capitalise the bits that appear in the acronym.

However, mash-ups and colloquial renditions of official names don't carry capitals - the appeal court, the tax office etc.

3. To denote someone's name or assumed name. Peter Graham. Chris Penycate.

4. To denote an official title. Lord Lieutenant of Cumbria. Duke of Lancaster. Her Honour Judge The Judge.


The Beartrap.

Rule 1 must be modified when dealing with dialogue. The basic rule is that any punctuation mark within dialogue (in other words, something which comes before the speech marks) will only denote the end of a sentence if the dialogue is not then attributed to a character.

So:-

"Sink me! It's a great crested grebe!" Said Peter.

"Sink me! It's a great crested grebe!" said Peter.
The second example is the correct one. Although part of the sentence is expressed as dialogue, the sentence proper doesn't end until after the dialogue tag (the "said Peter").

Where there is no dialogue tag, you should use a full stop after the speech marks to denote the end of the sentence. However, this often doesn't happen*, but where it is obvious that the writer has moved on to a new sentence, most readers will assume that the sentence has come to an end with the ending of the dialogue.

So:-

"Sink me! It's a great crested grebe!". Breathless with excitement, Peter scrabbled for his .22 and his bell jar.
is the best way to do it. But what you might see is

"Sink me! It's a great crested grebe!" Breathless with excitement, Peter scrabbled for his .22 and his bell jar.
The dialogue is not part of the subsequent action, so you are looking at two sentences.

What you shouldn't do is:-

"Sink me! It's a great crested grebe!" breathless with excitement, Peter scrabbled for his .22 and his bell jar.
Regards

Peter

* I might be wrong here, but strictly speaking I seem to recall that this is the correct usage. If not, no doubt someone can clarify.
 

Ursa major

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The only time I've seen a full stop (or question mark) after a quote is where what is quoted is not really dialogue.

They call her "the hostess with the mostest".

Don't they call her "the hostess with the mostest"?
Over the other side of "The Pond", the full stop or question mark is, I believe, usually placed before the closing quotation mark.
 

The Judge

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Some while ago in a thread on sentence construction I noted that the phrase "despite him wearing boots" should properly be "despite his wearing boots" if it were to be grammatically correct, though I didn't know the reason why. And if anyone else knew the reason they didn't volunteer it.

Well, I know have the answer. It is because the "wearing" is a gerund -- which is when the present participle of a verb (ie the -ing) acts as a noun or as part of a noun phrase (while also, confusingly, remaining a verb**). In that event it has to take a possessive noun or pronoun ie "his".

A possessive noun + gerund: She refused to agree to Fred's going abroad to study. -- ie Fred's not Fred

A possessive pronoun + gerund: I take it from your being here that lunch is over -- ie your not you.


But although this is grammatically correct, whether you use it is another matter -- in omniscient narrator it would be right to use it, but not in dialogue unless the speaker is an educated person and/or a pedant.



** I said I had the answer, not that I understood it...
 

Toby Frost

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I don't know whether this is the right place for it, but here goes. Grumpy old man hat engaged.

There are a few threads at the moment in which grammar comes up as something that needs to be thought about and improved. I don't want to have a go at anyone in particular, since this is really just a general thought. However I can't put it any stronger than this: To be a proper writer, you have to write properly.

There really isn't any way out of this. If you want to see work in print - and/or want people to read it - the grammar and technical stuff has to be as good as possible, by which I mean very good at least. Publishers won't be happy to copy-edit a work which is full of mistakes, but the issue probably won't arise since they won't take it on to begin with. If you want people to buy a story professionally - for money - it has to be professional.

Writing is fun, and writing well is both fun and hard work. Obviously, if everything was perfect there would be no point in discussing it here. But I feel that beyond a really rough stage it is important to get the technical stuff right. Not only does it make the story look more professional and more pleasant to read, but I think that getting it right from as early as possible is a good habit to get into.

So that's why this thread is a Good Thing.

Right, rant hat off. No doubt this post is full of errors too - just don't tell me.
 

chrispenycate

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Semicolons are relatively easy. (Particularly if we ignore the "list" ones, which, for the time being I think we can afford to.)

A sentence should be a complete, integrated idea; a verb, or active "doing" word, a subject which is doing it, and more frequently than not, an object which is being done to. So "You ran" or "You caught the ball". It should have a full stop (period) before and after it, indicating the change to a different concept. So far, so good, but sometimes one wants to associate or a comparison. In which case, you don't do what I've just done, and separate them with a comma; a comma is a minimum pause, a snatched breath, not a full-scale separation. So you use a conlunction, an "and, or, but, which, while…" Or you use a semicolon. (Oh, there are still othe methods, like reducing the verb to a non-transient form ("two different concepts, either making a contrast…") or do a comma'd list terminating in a conjunction.

So the semicolon is completely inessential; there are always ways of not using it. When I spray red ink over a critique the word "semicolon" frequently means "You've got two sentences here separated by commas, which need a more definite divorce, be it by a conjunction or a heavier piece of punctuation", rather than an absolute order for a dot-comma.

Still, a semicolon is quite an elegant solution, if not overused. "She was a virgin; this situation did not seem likely to continue long" could take a "but", or replace the "this" with a "which", or the "did not seem likely" with "not seeming likely"; all the results would be grammatically correct, but give different moods to the same situation, and I quite like the original.

The dash is less rigid. Generally, in the case of someone who (like myself) shows a tendency to deviate from the strait and narrow, it replaces a set of parentheses (brackets) separating off a block of text from the main stream. As such, it can be eliminated with verbal discipline. Like the semicolon, it can always be avoided, if there is doubt – and this includes any lack of confidence in the results, not only questions of whether it is the correct solution – in its utility. However, there are two lengths of dash and it's not the best documented of punctuations – often it finds itself separating two almost-sentences, or closing a line of dialogue that doesn't quite fini–

As the rules for the dash are less stringent than for most forms of punctuation, overuse is considered lazy. Still, it is an extra tool in the box, and can by handy at times – Just not too often.
 

Peter Graham

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The Golden Rule of Writing

Over the years, a number of threads have been posted asking questions which suggest that the poster believes that there may be certain rules or conventions which govern how one deals with a particular issue - for example, is it OK to kill off a main character? A couple of recent threads have brought this issue back to the fore.

The stock answer is usually "there are no rules - do whatever the story requires." This is clearly utterly sound advice of the first water.

However, I would like to add a little caveat which I hope might help new writers. There is difference between what the story requires and what the author can deliver. Some writers produce very character-driven stories, but don't appear to be much good at characterisation. Others attempt humour when they aren't funny.

The late, great guitar furtler Isaac Guillory once said "if you don't exceed your limitations, no-one will know you have any".

I would therefore propose Graham's First Law of Scribbling:-

There is one rule - do whatever the story requires provided that what the story requires is within your abilities as a writer to deliver.

Regards,

Peter
 

Ashcroft

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As requested,

Understanding Run-On Sentences (and Comma Splices)

A 'run-on sentence' is a sentence which involves two or more independent clauses that aren't joined by appropriate conjunctions or punctuation. I'll try my best to break those concepts down in an easy to understand fashion.

Independent Clause

An independent clause is basically a sentence that makes sense on its own. In its simplest form, an independent clause will contain at least one noun (a 'thing') followed by at least one verb (an 'action'). In lah-dee-dah posh grammar speak these are referred to as a 'subject' (the thing the sentence is about, and the thing that's 'doing' the verb) and a 'predicate' (the bit of the sentence that modifies the thing the sentence is about) respectively. A quick test of whether something's a dependent/subordinate or independent clause is to separate it from your longer, potentially run-on, sentence and see if it makes sense on its own. For instance:

"The fire engine was red and was used to douse the blaze."

What parts of the above example might be a clause? Well, it can't be the 'and' because 'and' is a conjunction (a word used specifically to join two clauses or words). This means it's got to be the stuff around the 'and', so these are our two clauses:

"The fire engine was red"
"was used to douse the blaze."

So which of these two sentences is the independent clause? Are they both independent clauses? To find out, we apply our noun+verb (subject-predicate) rule:

"The fire engine was red": Has both a subject noun (fire engine) and a verb (was). We can tell that the noun in this case is the subject of the verb because it's doing the verb i.e. it's being red.
"was used to douse the blaze.": Has two verbs (was used, to douse) and one object noun (the blaze). We can tell the noun in this case is the object of the verb because it's affected by the verb i.e. it's receiving a dousing.*

We can now see that the first sentence makes sense on its own. It's not very informative, but it does make sense; the subject of the sentence (the doer in the sentence which should be introduced prior to the verb, or it results in passive voice**) is being modified by the verb. Conversely, our second sentence doesn't have a subject at all; it has an object (the blaze) which is being affected (doused) by an unknown subject (? was used). We can see now that our second sentence doesn't make sense at all without reference to the first sentence, so our second sentence isn't an independent clause: it is a subordinate clause (a clause which helps to provide more information about the independent clause, but can't stand on its own).

Joining Independent Clauses

So how, and why, might we join two independent clauses? We might want to join two independent clauses when we want to relate two separate, but interdependent, concepts to one another. For instance, consider the following sentence:

"It was a balmy summer's night, the clouds dreamily crawled across the sky."

This is a comma splice (a run-on sentence), so called because we've taken two independent clauses and just shoved them together with no appropriate conjunction. If we examine the sentence above, we can see there are two independent clauses with one on each side of the comma:

"It was a balmy summer's night" subject pronoun (It) + verb (was)
"the clouds dreamily crawled across the sky." subject noun (the clouds) + verb (crawled)

A comma can't be used to join two independent clauses; that's simply not its function. Commas can be used in a vast number of ways, but cramming together independent clauses isn't one of them. Many ways in which a comma can be used are described here (but it's by no means a full list).

So what can we do? We want to link the ideas in both independent clauses, but we don't want to seem like a lazy writer! We have a couple of ways of turning our run-on sentence into a bona fide sentence:

1) Use a semicolon

Semicolons are the brooding, misunderstood punctuation. They're used for a number of reasons, but chief amongst them are uses that link two thematically linked independent clauses and uses that link the items in a complex list (a list whose members contain commas). Solution:

"It was a balmy summer's night; the clouds dreamily crawled across the sky."

Here's where we've got to be careful not to overuse semicolons: semicolons can't directly follow one another as punctuation. For instance, if we were to add a third independent clause:

"It was a balmy summer's night, the clouds dreamily crawled across the sky, the fairground ride's lilting lullaby filled the crowd with excitement."

Then it wouldn't be acceptable to just add a third sequential semicolon:

"It was a balmy summer's night; the clouds dreamily crawled across the sky; the fairground ride's lilting lullaby filled the crowd with excitement."

Instead we'd have to find another piece of punctuation or a conjunction!

Really, the criteria for the use of a semicolon should be a slightly more direct relationship between the two independent clauses, but I couldn't think of a particularly good example.

2) Use a conjunction preceded by a comma

A conjunction is a FANBOYS word:

For
And
Nor
But
Or
Yet
So

It is used to link two things together, and that includes independent clauses! When we link two independent clauses together with a conjunction, it is proper to precede the conjunction with a comma as so:

"It was a balmy summer's night, and the clouds dreamily crawled across the sky."

As with the semicolon, we shouldn't keep this string of conjoined independent clauses going with a comma and conjunction (it's not strictly wrong, but it just sounds awful): eventually we're going to need some different punctuation like...

3) Make them separate sentences

It's also perfectly acceptable to just use a standard fullstop to turn them into two separate sentences. After all, they're both independent clauses and can stand on their own merits:

"It was a balmy summer's night. The clouds dreamily crawled across the sky."

*For those of you who need further explanation about the concept of subjects and objects of a verb, here's an addendum (if you need to clear up your understanding of nouns and pronouns then head to the final point***):

Subjects and Objects

The subject of a verb will typically be introduced before the verb (unless the writer is using the passive voice), and the object will typically be introduced after the verb.

The subject can be thought of as the 'doer' of the verb: the noun in a sentence that's carrying the verb out. For instance:

"He ran"

Is a simple independent clause in which the pronoun (He) is the one doing the verb (ran). Note that, as this uses active voice**, the subject is appearing in the clause before the verb. In an active voice sentence, this is a pretty handy way of telling who the subject of the verb is: it's the noun that comes first! However, in this example it's pretty obvious which noun is the subject because there's only the one noun! Consider the following:

"He ran the application"

Here we've got two nouns ('He' and 'the application'), so we've got to decide which is the subject of the verb and which is the object. Who's the doer? Well, 'He' is the doer because he's the one that's affecting 'the application', namely by causing it to run. 'the application' is the object because it's being affected by him, namely it's being caused to run.


**For those of you who'd like to learn more about active and passive voice

Active vs Passive Voice

Active voice occurs when the subject of a transitive verb (a verb with a direct object) appears before the verb and the object after the verb; passive voice is vice versa. For instance:

"Charlie fired upon the stranger" - Active voice
"The stranger was fired upon by Charlie" - Passive voice

Active voice gives a sense of urgency to the clause and shifts the focus of the clause onto the protagonist. Passive voice places the focus of the clause on the verb's object. At this point, it's worth noting that some editors and professors consider passive voice a serious grammatical editor regardless of the use. This stance is actually incorrect when used in the following ways (it's a form of hypercorrection):

1) When you want to emphasise the object

"Marcus was struck by the stupidity of the comment" -Passive voice

Here we're choosing to use passive voice because the part of the clause which actually interests us is the effect the verb (and its subject) are having upon our protagonist, Marcus. We're not interested in the comment, we're interested in its effect upon Marcus, so we're actively choosing to put the object (Marcus) in the place where one would normally expect the subject to be.

"The stupidity of the comment struck Marcus" - Active voice

Here we end up focussing on the comment, but we're interested in what's going on with Marcus!

2) When you want to de-emphasis an unknown or unclear subject

"Jake was annoyed by his colleagues" -Passive voice

Here we've got a clear idea of who Jake is, but we don't have a clear idea of who his colleagues are, so we de-emphasis them by sticking them in the object position. It's not so much that we're trying to shift focus onto Jake, but rather that we're trying to shift focus away from the subject; a verb whose subject is quickly raised and then ditched might seem a little jarring.

"His colleagues annoyed Jake" - Active voice

Here we end up bringing focus to Jake's colleagues. That's going to be a little odd if this is the only time we ever hear about them.

3) When the subject is irrelevant to the reader

"Michael was taught grammar" - Passive voice

Here we don't need to know who actually taught Michael grammar because it just isn't relevant to the reader, so we choose to leave the subject of the verb out of the clause and shift Michael up to the subject position.

"Mister Jones taught Michael grammar" - Active voice

Here we end up introducing unnecessary information, namely that Michael's grammar teacher was Mister Jones. The reader doesn't need to know anything about who taught Michael grammar, so throwing in this reference just to clear up the passive voice only ends up distracting from the actual plot.


*** Here the differences and uses of nouns and pronouns will be covered:

Nouns and Pronouns

To quickly clear up some terminology, a noun is a word that can act as a subject or an object of a verb. Nouns typically refer to places, things, people or concepts. A pronoun is a word that stands in a noun's stead in a sentence, so that we don't have to continuously retype a noun. Consider:

"Claire had a pair of shoes"

Here, both 'Claire' and 'shoes' are nouns. They're the subject and object respectively of the verb 'had', and they both refer to 'a thing'. We can stick pronouns in their place and the sentence still makes sense:

"She had a pair of those"

Here the pronoun 'She' replaces 'Claire' and 'those' replaces 'shoes'. If we'd previously declared nouns which could obviously be represented by those pronouns, then we'd be justified in using pronouns instead of just retyping the nouns over and over again. So why might we use a pronoun instead of a noun, given the chances for a pronoun-laden sentence to become confusing? Simply put, because an over abundance of nouns can sound horrid:

"Claire had a pair of shoes, and Claire loved her shoes. Claire's shoes were a bright red with pretty little bows glued to the tongues, and Claire's shoes shone with polish."

Uses no pronouns, but we end up hearing 'Claire' and 'shoes' continuously. If we were to declare 'Claire' and 'shoes' and then start using pronouns, we'd get a much better flow:

"Claire had a pair of shoes, and she loved them. They were a bright red with pretty little bows glued to the tongues, and they shone with polish."

Remember, though: Always make sure you've clearly declared your nouns before you start replacing them with pronouns, and if you've got more than one noun in place that could be represented by a given pronoun then make sure you're clearly differentiating between each use!
 

chrispenycate

resident pedantissimo
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Your spellchecker won't help you.

When I'm not hammering commas into all interstices, or complaining about them in splices, or the occasional possessive apostrophe, I spend a fair – no, actually a completely unfair – amount of my critiques time bullying homophones. I should probably have left this article to the bear, who specialises in them (generating them, that is, rather than correcting them) but since he doesn't seem to have seen fit…

The English language developed from a marriage between two indo-european roots, already polluted with Celtic and Scandinavian influences, one Germanic and one Latin based, and spent the next nine hundred years steal – adopting extra words from any other languages it came in contact with, or, when all else failed, inventing new ones.

Which explains why it is the most flexible, diverse and synonym-rich means of communication on the planet, but also why its spelling is frequently somewhat illogical, and the fact that a number of sets of words, coming from different origins by convergent evolution, can sound exactly the same while having completely different meanings.

Which is fine when they're {there, their} spelt the same; but this is not always the case.

I'm not going to attempt to point out all of them; the list at http://www.bifroest.demon.co.uk/misc/homophones-list.html has over four hundred and forty groups (and misses "canon–cannon", which leaves me wondering if I have been pronouncing one of them incorrectly for years, or should be checking for other oversights, or citing othersites), most of them pairs/pears/pares, but some triples and quadruples, but draw attention to the more common reoffenders. I suspect anyone who chooses to use the word "caul", for example, is not going to get it confused with "call".

Probably the most common (and illogical enough to be accepted as an example of English grammar) is the possessive "its" that lacks the apostrophe, "it's" being reserved for contractions (usually "it is", but occasionally "it has"). "Whose/who's" is the same case, but less frequently used. Then "your/you're" (we won't bother about "yore" or "yaw" right now), which at least one long-term Chronite has not yet mastered (or possibly doesn't know where the ' key is [difficult if you keep changing keyboards]) Everybody's missed a "to/two/too" at some time, and I own up to having posted a "hear" for a "here"; your fingers know the word exists, your eyes and spell checker say it's spelled wright; and, of course, it is. Its just knot thee write whirred. two bee shore. (Hmm, they didn't get "shore/sure/Shaw", either, nor "whirred"),

For some reason "peek", a sly glance, and "peak" the top bit of a mountain get frequently confused, as do "through" and "threw" (how did those end up sounding the same?).

Not all of the problems are genuine homophones, of course; sometimes they don't even sound the same. Using "then" for "than", for example, or "where" (in which location, homophones wear and ware) for "were" (past tense plural of the verb "to be – yes, I know, but technically "you" are plural and "thou" art singular – which nobody would spell "whirr"). Or the use of of "of" instead of "have" when decontracting "would've".

We are politely tolerant to Hope as she bakes flower (or doesn't bawl) (it's all right, I asked permission to take the mick) but I wonder if any of us really understand what it must be like not having that little flash of "that's not right" light up behind our eyebawls? (well, possibly not all like me, where it can dazzle out a fair percentage of reading). And we all do it, anyway. Hey, word processor developers, how about a "this is in my homophones directory, highlight and click on it and you get dictionary function telling you what the word means" as is in my Kindle? A whole lot more use to writers than some of your grammar rules and the like.

Postscript:- "Chute/shoot", and what are they doing with "cymbol" for "cymbal"? "Passed" and "past" give regular problems, "pray/prey", and I've seen "warred" written as "ward". No, this list I've come up with is not adequate.
 

Peter Graham

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 10, 2007
Messages
1,616
THE GOLDEN RULE: IT'S ALL ABOUT THE STORYTELLING

There are no rules as to:-

1. Length of novel

2. Fitting a particular genre

3. The number of subplots you can have

4. The number of characters you can have

5. Needing a prologue in fantasy

6. Pretty much anything else

The only thing that matters is that you can tell a good story in an entertaining and clear way. You can headhop, info dump, tell not show and do anything else you please, provided you are still telling a good story in an entertaining and clear way.

Many writers find it much more difficult to achieve this aim if they are headhopping etc, but there are no bans, no rules and no hidden ceremonies in which the Secrets of Writing are revealed to cloaked cabals of bearded men and women with wooden bangles.

It's all about the story.

Regards,

Peter
 
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