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Single Word of Dialogue

Ross at Play
Updated:

While editing a story I came across a sentence like this:

I shook my head and said 'No'.

I can think of at least five possible ways to punctuate that:
A. I shook my head and said, "No."
B. I shook my head and said, 'No'.
C. I shook my head and said 'No'.
D. I shook my head and said no.
E. I shook my head and said no.

It's surely not wrong to use A, treating a single word as ordinary dialogue, but it uses a lot of punctuation marks for one short word.

I cannot find it now, but I'm almost certain I've seen a recommendation in CMOS that E is okay.

I'm not sure which Americans would prefer, but I think most of those writing in BrE would prefer C instead of B.

Before I'd considered the possibility of italics, the one I preferred was the author's first choice, C. I wrote a comment advising them that they were free to choose whatever style they wanted, so long as it was obviously what was meant the first time it was used and they were consistent in always using that style.

Then I came across another sentence which was like this:

She handed me the phone and I said "Hello?"

It's not explicit, but I commented that the context was sufficient for readers will have no doubt that the MC spoke into the phone.

I objected to the author's inconsistency, saying they must either use single quote marks again or a comma after 'said' to treat the word as dialogue.

The question mark as part of the speech changes things. E no longer seems acceptable as it results in either a question mark followed by a full stop, or ambiguity over whether the question belongs with the spoken word or is showing the entire sentence is a question.

My current thinking is I'd prefer both No and Hello? in italics with an initial uppercase, i.e.
I shook my head and said No.
She handed me the phone and I said Hello?

I cannot see readers misinterpreting those and it doesn't need any additional punctuation marks.

What do others think?

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

E is fine if it's not dialogue. If it's dialogue, it's none of the above in AmE. It would be a variant of A because we put the punctuation inside the quotation marks in most cases.

I shook my head and said, "No."

As to the second one, that's clearly dialogue and would be:

She handed me the phone and I said, "Hello?"

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

[For A, Americans] put the punctuation inside the quotation marks.

DOH! I guess that makes me the front-runner for today's Homer Simpson award.

I'll revise my initial post accordingly.

As to the second one, that's clearly dialogue

I can see your point. For Americans (or perhaps, according to CMOS), it's either dialogue or an ordinary word, so punctuate both in their usual way.

Thanks.

Zen Master

It may simply be one of my quirks, but I want punctuation to have meaning. Somebody went to all the trouble of typing that character, and it MEANS SOMETHING. Taken in reverse, if a punctuation mark adds nothing, it shouldn't be there in the first place.
Because of that, I reject the OP's A and B. The sentences don't need both comma and quotes. The quote marks mean something and should stay, so the comma should go. What is a comma used for? It is used to separate items in a list and it is used to indicate a pause in speech. Neither of these is present. The comma has no meaning and should not be there.
Next, D is completely dependent upon the writer, the writer's computer, the provider (in this case SOL), the reader's computer, and the reader him/her/itself all agreeing on how italics should be coded, presented, and viewed. Oh, and interpreted, too. I'd like to point out that SOL isn't re-entrant; if you copy that line and paste it into something for SOL to display, it won't be in italics. The italics, and therefore any meaning, will be lost. Because of this, I would deprecate use of italics to indicate speech.
E is out simply because the reader has to figure out on his own that part of the sentence is speech. It is not easily read by people with poor reading comprehension.
All we are left with is C. Actually, I would prefer the unshown choice F -and you'll see it in my writing- with double-quotes for speech. Making that definition allows me to use single single quotes to indicate a word itself, not the word's meaning. I don't want to talk about snow here, I don't like it. I want to talk about the word 'snow' itself. How can you do that, if you use single quotes for speech?

awnlee jawking

If it's direct speech it should be punctuated accordingly, otherwise it should be punctuated as reported speech.

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
StarFleet Carl

@Ross at Play

I can see your point. For Americans (or perhaps, according to CMOS), it's either dialogue or an ordinary word, so punctuate both in their usual way.


I agree with Switch on this for both cases. Those are how I have seen them used here and how I was taught to do it. (Doesn't mean I always do it that way, but that's on me.)

Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

If it's direct speech it should be punctuated accordingly, otherwise it should be punctuated as reported speech.

Does that mean you would do what Switch says?
* 'no' using my option E
* 'Hello?' using my option A

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Ross at Play
Updated:

If AJ, a Brit, says yes to my question, I'm prepared to declare the OP is done and dusted with unanimous agreement and it's time to bring on the clowns.

Thanks, everybody.

EDIT TO ADD: Not quite unanimous. Sorry, Zen Master, my bad.

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

* 'no' using my option E


I don't think there's sufficient context to make a decision.

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

I don't think there's sufficient context to make a decision.

Okay. I'll take that as meaning the only two options available are A and E. I would agree with that.

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

it's either dialogue or an ordinary word,


The reason i said the second one was clearly dialogue was because of the question mark. The person wasn't telling someone they said hello. They were answering the phone with a "questioned hello."

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Zen Master

Drumroll, please. Clown #1 is walking onto the stage.

@Zen Master said:

What is a comma used for? It is used to separate items in a list and it is used to indicate a pause in speech.

If I thought there was any doubt about this I would phrase this as an opinion. Instead I state as a fact: commas are NOT 'used to indicate a pause in speech'; they are used to assist readers' interpretation of the text. Readers do not need to be told when a small pause is needed in something they're reading. They naturally figure that out for themselves. What they need are warnings that what's coming next is not a continuation of what they've just read and they'll what it is.

Granted, there is a close correlation between correctly placed commas and pauses in speech, but the only times pauses in speech become relevant to where commas are placed is when the use of one is optional for the purposes of readers' interpretations.

Specifying when commas should, or may, be used is very difficult. This is the best I can manage, which I offer without any claims that it is either complete or entirely accurate.

The purposes commas serve in prose (see * Note) are:

*1. Mandatory to separate elements of lists (some variations exist depending on whether serial commas are being used)

*2. Required in some situations between multiple modifiers before a noun (primarily when swapping the order of a pair does not alter how natural the order sounds)

*3. Very rarely, placed between the same word being used twice in succession to reassure readers that is intentional, not a typo

*4. In many various situations, mandatory in strict formal writing but sometimes optional for informal writing, when the reader requires a warning that there is something different in the way the following words must be interpreted compared to those before

*5. There is one situation which might be considered an anomaly to the way #4 usually works. It is that commas at the end of dialogue are placed before the end quote mark (some variations exist for whether the same style is used for quotes as well as dialogue)

EDIT TO ADD. *6. Before 'tag questions' tacked onto the end of a sentence

* Note – By 'prose' I mean text in paragraphs, not anything like block quotes or formatted lists which have their own specific requirements.

Logically, commas are always used in pairs for the situations in #4 when readers must be warned that a different interpretation will be needed for text coming up. One mark the exit from the main body of a sentence and another marks the return. The commas at either end are often replaced with other punctuation marks (those showing either pauses or the end of sentences) or the beginning of sentences. These commas may often be replaced by dashes or parentheses too.

This is a list of things, probably incomplete, which require some form of marker, often commas, for both the exit from and return to the main body of a sentence:
* dialogoe
* forms of address within dialogue
* exclamations
* introductory phrases or clauses which delay mention of the main subject of a sentence
* asides and comments slotted into text
* non-restrictive appositives providing additional information about a noun
* gerund phrases providing additional information about the action of a sentence

While it's not easy to determine when and how it happens, I've found punctuation and choosing suitable structures for sentences much easier once I started keeping in mind that I somehow needed to return to the main body of the sentence once I set off on any of these types of diversions. Strangely, the result has been that I am using less commas!? I'm a former computer programmer. I think in steps, I mostly speak in steps, and my natural inclination is to use a comma whenever I would start a new line coding a COBOL program. But that's not right. Especially dependent clauses, which are in reality continuing on a main idea, do not require the reader to be told they must pause, they'll figure that out for themselves if a natural pause exists, so get out of their way and allow them to continue reading!

Switch Blayde

@Zen Master

What is a comma used for? It is used to separate items in a list and it is used to indicate a pause in speech. Neither of these is present.


A comma is used for many other things than the two you listed. Here's a quick guide to commas from Purdue University's Online Writing Lab:
https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/punctuation/commas/index.html

I don't like the way it's written, but my guess is #10 addresses what was posted here:

10. Use a comma to shift between the main discourse and a quotation.


If you really want to get into the nuts and bolts of commas, they have a more detailed explanation here: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/punctuation/commas/extended_rules_for_commas.html

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

Thanks for posting those references. I have a few comments.

Rule #1. Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.
Example. The game was over, but the crowd refused to leave.

I've seen other references which list 'as' as a coordinating conjunction. But be careful as it has other uses too.
I think this rule is not considered mandatory for informal writing. I usually don't bother when the independent clauses are short enough, such as in my sentence above beginning 'But be careful'.

Rule #2. Use commas after introductory a) clauses, b) phrases, or c) words that come before the main clause.

Again, not mandatory for informal writing, but to omit the comma I usually want the introduction to be quite short and that the sentence could be spoken aloud without a noticeable pause.

Rule #15. Don't put a comma after the main clause when a dependent (subordinate) clause follows it (except for cases of extreme contrast).

I note the exception to this rule with some satisfaction. Despite knowing they're not needed, I find it almost impossible to not use a comma before 'but'. This suggests I've been getting it right. I knew it all along. :-)

awnlee jawking

@Zen Master

What is a comma used for? It is used to separate items in a list and it is used to indicate a pause in speech.


As well as delimiting prose into logically parsable units, punctuation is there to guide people on how to read the prose aloud in a similar way to how musical notation guides performers.

Some creative writing teachers advocate reading your work aloud and noting where you pause. If there isn't a comma or similar there, add a comma. On the other hand, if there's a comma where you don't pause, take it out.

Considering the purpose of punctuation, it shouldn't be surprising that such an approach results in comma placement very similar to a strict grammatical approach.

AJ

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

if there's a comma where you don't pause, take it out.


Sometimes I'm not sure if it's needed. Then I read the sentence. If I have any doubt the reader will have trouble understanding (interpreting) what I wrote, I add the comma.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

IMO that's a very sensible approach.

Do you read your stories aloud as a last check? Actually, the consensus at my Writers' Group is that the story should be given to a third party to read aloud from cold. That shows up a lot of punctuation and ambiguity issues that might otherwise be missed. Unfortunately not everyone has such a willing drudge :(

AJ

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

Do you read your stories aloud as a last check?


Not really. I sometimes read a sentence out loud if I'm stumped, but hardly ever. People say you should read dialogue out loud. I think that would work if you listened to other people reading it.

Ross at Play

How good is text-to-speech software these days?

Does anyone know of any free sites they consider worth recommending?

PotomacBob

@Ross at Play

Mrs. Higginbotham was never wrong. She taught 6th grade English (in America) and she would have insisted that the correct answer is A.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

It's surely not wrong to use A, treating a single word as ordinary dialogue, but it uses a lot of punctuation marks for one short word.

How about:

I shook my head. "No."

The problem is there's really no essential reason for joining the two sentences into one compound sentence. You could also try:

"No," he said, shaking his head.

That uses a normal character attribution, and is much better than the awkward description-comma-dialogue construction.

She handed me the phone and I said "Hello?"

Choke, gag!
Really? That breaks the standard "a new paragraph for each subject"/"a new sentence for each subject" guideline, as the subject "She" hands the MC the phone, who then speaks. It's better as:

She handed me the phone.

"Hello?"


When you gain nothing by breaking the rules, there's really no justification for breaking them. So just stick to standard grammar rules for dialogue, at least with these examples.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

She handed me the phone.
"Hello?"

I don't agree it is mandatory to start a new paragraph just for a new speaker to say something very short.

However, I agree your solution is clear and better.

"No," he said, shaking his head.

I'll look at the context, but I expect I will recommend your solution to the author.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


She handed me the phone and I said "Hello?"

Choke, gag!

Really? That breaks the standard "a new paragraph for each subject"


Nothing wrong with that. In fact, you can have multiple dialogues in the same sentence (which means the same paragraph).

She stared at me and said, "No, you can't," before I even asked, "Can I watch TV?"

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

She stared at me and said, "No, you can't" before I even asked, "Can I watch TV?"

No, I can't do it! I can't be enough of a pest to ask for a comma there. :-)

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

No, I can't do it! I can't be enough of a pest to ask for a comma there. :-)


I put the comma in. :)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

However, I agree your solution is clear and better.

"No," he said, shaking his head.

I'll look at the context, but I expect I will recommend your solution to the author.

The point is, the standard conventions are standards because they work! It's fine to 'bend the rules' if you're trying making a point, or trying something unorthodox, but these examples are just newbie authors not understanding basic sentence composition.

There are multiple ways of handling short, one-word responses. There's absolutely no need to keep reinventing the wheel when what we have gets us to where we want to go.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Nothing wrong with that. In fact, you can have multiple dialogues in the same sentence (which means the same paragraph).

She stared at me and said, "No, you can't," before I even asked, "Can I watch TV?"

I'll admit, I've done it myself, but again, when I include multiple speakers in the same paragraph, I'm trying to do something unusual, so I understand the purpose of the standards and I accept the risk, but am trying to do something different.

In your example, there's simply nothing to be gained by joining the sentences. If the sentence is dialogue, which is sounds like without context, I'd remove the extra quotes and use single quotes (as the speaker would be referencing the responses they received). I'd then write that as:

"She stared at me and said 'No, you can't', before I could even ask 'Can I watch TV?'"

That's a conversational responses, even if it's a 1st-person narrator, rather than 'two separate people speaking in the same sentence at the same time'.

Taking your example as a 1st-person narrator, I'd write it as:

She stared at me and said 'No, you can't', before I could even ask 'Can I watch TV?'

I'd drop the external double quotes, since it's the narration, but I'd still include the referential single quotes (for us U.S. authors) to show the narrator is relating how she responded to what was said, rather than those people actually speaking.

Again, without these standard conventions, readers won't be able to make heads or tails of what you're trying to express. The conventions aren't there to limit authors, but to allow readers to follow what's happening in the story. If each author makes up their own standards, then readers will have no clue what's going on.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I put the comma in. :)

No, you put the comma in after getting caught with your grammar pants down, but you misplaced it. Even assuming you're using the American convention of including commas within the quotes, the "No, you can't" is a verbatim quote, so you'd need to move the comma (before the following "before") outside of the quote to show it's for the following clause and not part of what the person said.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

"She stared at me and said 'No, you can't', before I could even ask 'Can I watch TV?'"
That's a conversational responses, even if it's a 1st-person narrator, rather than 'two separate people speaking in the same sentence at the same time'.


I was thinking of a 1st-person narrator when I came up with that example. So the "She stared at me and said" is in the narrative so it wouldn't be in quotes. Therefore, the two dialogues would be in double quotes.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

"No, you can't" is a verbatim quote, so you'd need to move the comma (before the following "before") outside of the quote to show it's for the following clause and not part of what the person said.


I don't think so. Look at this sentence:

She stared at me and said no before I could even ask.

There's no comma before "before."

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I don't think so. Look at this sentence:

She stared at me and said no before I could even ask.

There's no comma before "before."

You're right, in that example, it's unneeded. But in the original usage, the double quotes meant the statements were verbatim quotes, so you needed extra punctuation to separate what was 'said' by others from the observation made by the narrator.

But my original point was that I'd either put it into conversational form (without quotes), or break it into two separate lines/paragraphs to keep to the 'each new speaker gets a new paragraph' guideline.

But again, that's my nit to pick, as I see your usage in fairly widespread usage throughout SOL.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde
She stared at me and said no before I could even ask.
There's no comma before "before."


You're right, in that example, it's unneeded.

No, not 'unneeded'. It would be wrong.
The entire 'before I could even ask' is an adverbial phrase which should not be separated from the verb it modifies, 'said'.

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

The entire 'before I could even ask' is an adverbial phrase


Are you sure?

Since it contains a subject and a verb, IMO it's probably an adverbial clause.

AJ

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

Since it contains a subject and a verb, IMO it's probably an adverbial clause.

Maybe it's just an adverbial whatchamacallit?

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Crumbly Writer

Maybe it's just an adverbial whatchamacallit?


That's a good idea.

So much, grammatically speaking, has had its name changed since I was at school that I'm constantly having to look things up. Calling everything 'whatchamacallit' would be a great way of knocking grammarians down a peg or two when they insinuate you can't be a writer without learning all the jargon ;)

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
richardshagrin

The Marx Brothers did an analysis of a contract and concluded there ain't no sanity clause.

Adverbial claws are sharp and can cut you.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

Calling everything 'whatchamacallit' would be a great way of knocking grammarians down a peg or two when they insinuate you can't be a writer without learning all the jargon ;)

As usual, it's best to construct the story to the best of your ability, so it's captivating and readers can't put it down, despite any obvious flaws, and then let your editors correct any obvious grammatical flaws afterwards. Authors need to focus on the underlying story, rather than how each sentence is constructed.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

Since it contains a subject and a verb, IMO it's probably an adverbial clause.

Yes, it is, IMO. I don't recall coming across the expression 'adverbial clause' before, but a quick internet search revealed such things exist.

The point I was trying to make was that the group of words functions within the complete sentence as if was an adverb.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Authors need to focus on the underlying story, rather than how each sentence is constructed.

IT"S NOT A THIS 'RATHER THAN' THAT THING!

It's actually not that difficult to learn how to construct effective sentences as you are writing first drafts, so that your words say precisely what you mean, not merely close enough for most readers to guess correctly. Your revisions then become faster and the end result better once you reach that point.

I serious suggest to newer authors that if they want to become a faster writer, try devoting some of your efforts to becoming a better writer.

And I distinguish here between 'writer' and 'author'. Obviously, your main focus must be on learning to tell a good story. Nobody wants to read well-written crap.

richardshagrin

@Ross at Play

a faster writer

Skip meals, then you are fasting.

"Nobody wants to read well-written crap."
Water Sports and Scat stories exist, even on this site. Somebody must read them.

Replies:   joyR  Crumbly Writer
joyR

@richardshagrin

Water Sports


Stop taking the piss..!! (English vernacular)

I'm still trying to process the 'whatchamacallit', 'thingamabob' and 'oojamaflip' as they relate to nouns, verbs and adjectives.

Grammar likes it, Grampa, not so much.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

Authors need to focus on the underlying story, rather than how each sentence is constructed.

IT"S NOT A THIS 'RATHER THAN' THAT THING!

I wasn't suggesting that author's avoid learning how to write decent sentences, or that they shouldn't learn how to tighten their grammar or syntax, only that, when push comes to shove, I'd rather let my already knowledgeable editors 'sweat out the small stuff' (like what constitutes and adverbial phase vs. an adverbial clause), rather than my spending five months in a generic 'English language basics' class at the local community college.

It just didn't seem focusing on what to call each syntactical piece was worth the time I could spend improving my overall writing. (but again, that's more of a 'practical use of going back to school' vs. 'I'd rather not learn how to write' argument.)

Replies:   PotomacBob  Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

@richardshagrin

"Nobody wants to read well-written crap."
Water Sports and Scat stories exist, even on this site. Somebody must read them.

Sorry, but "well-written crap" doesn't refer to scat stories (wrong object in the sentence/phrase). Instead, "well-written crap" would be a Buddhist monk taking months to write a detailed koan on his dried feces. 'D

PotomacBob

@Ross at Play

I serious suggest to newer authors that if they want to become a faster writer, try devoting some of your efforts to becoming a better writer.

And just how, exactly, does one do that? And what if the "experts" (such as those on this forum) disagree about what is and what is not "better" writing?

PotomacBob

@Crumbly Writer

adverbial phase vs. an adverbial clause


Didn't you mean faze and claws?

Switch Blayde

@PotomacBob

what is and what is not "better" writing?


I think they are talking about sentence structure, as in grammar

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

rather than my spending five months in a generic 'English language basics' class at the local community college.

We agree THAT would be very poor use of a budding author's time.

If I urged them to do one thing, it would be being curious about why their editors suggest the changes they do. If they don't understand why a suggestion was made, they should ask. If the technical explanation obliges them to learn some new term, they should research it.

In my experience, it's almost a truism about learning anything that a theoretical understanding when taught by someone else is usually not enough to start using it appropriately. However, it doesn't hurt to have heard relevant ideas before. What's usually needed to integrate an idea so that they'll spot appropriate times in the future to use it is when it first dawns on them, "Ah! That was a time I should have done that thing I've heard recommended so often before!" ... Or maybe I'm just a slow learner. :-)

So I think avoiding technical explanations is a bad idea, but realistically, newer authors should accept that they'll hear many things many times before the penny finally drops and they begin using them in practice.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ross at Play

@PotomacBob

And just how, exactly, does one do that? And what if the "experts" (such as those on this forum) disagree about what is and what is not "better" writing?

As Switch noted, my comments were restricted to sentence structure, grammar, etc.

That's what I meant by: "And I distinguish here between 'writer' and 'author'."

I acknowledge storytelling is paramount, but I do not think efforts to learn how to write anything well are wasted. I consider that a sound investment of time by a newer author - with the later payoff being they'll become more productive as well as producing better quality stories in the future.

It's not really that hard to learn how to write well-structured and grammatically correct sentences with your first drafts. Naturally, as all good writers of any type should, they should then consider whether something non-standard makes the sentence better. If not, I stick with the grammatically correct version.

I'm not suggesting anything new or radical here. In fact, nothing more than 'learn the rules before you break them'! My real point here is that your process will become faster if you know and understand the "rules" well enough to apply them at the time you are banging out first drafts.

Replies:   PotomacBob
Ernest Bywater

@PotomacBob

what if the "experts" (such as those on this forum) disagree about what is and what is not "better" writing?


What is better writing will depend as much on what is the intended audience and the intended topic as anything else. The absolute best writing for a military after action reports is terrible writing for a fiction story. The best writing for an academic scientific report is a rubbish still for a romance story. You'll never get people agreeing on what is better writing.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
PotomacBob

@Ross at Play


That's what I meant by: "And I distinguish here between 'writer' and 'author'."


Let me guess. A "writer" is someone who takes given facts, is capable of writing grammatically correct sentences and put together those facts in some reasonably understandable fashion.
An "author" can do everything a writer can do, but also has to dream up the "facts" that make a story, has to be able to write believable dialogue, has to be able to create interesting characters (especially protagonists and villains) and has to be able to piece it all together in a way that creates an interesting story while also worrying about things like continuity, idiolect, Goldilocks-size chapters, writer's block and decide whether to control the story or let the fictional characters control the story. Did I miss the point entirely? and what did I leave out?

Ross at Play
Updated:

@PotomacBob

Let me guess.

Let me give a straight answer ...

I suppose I really meant 'author of fiction' when I used the word 'author'.

I see the skills of being a good writer, capable of writing good non-fiction, as a relatively small subset of those for being a good author of fiction.

I see many posts here which twist the obvious fact that the story matters most into suggestions that the words don't really matter. I think such attitudes would seriously limit someone's capacity to develop their skills as an author of fiction.

awnlee jawking
Updated:

@PotomacBob

An "author" can do everything a writer can do, but also has to dream up the "facts" that make a story


That creativity is something of an opposite to the aptitudes required to rote-learn all the rules of grammar and writing. How often do literary professors utilise their profundity of knowledge to produce page-turner bestsellers!

AJ

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

The entire 'before I could even ask' is an adverbial phrase which should not be separated from the verb it modifies, 'said'.


Except:

The Wanlock launched a fireball at Christobelita before the ump signalled the start, before I could shout a warning and before Christobelita could raise her shield.

List commas trump adverbial clauses! ;)

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play
The entire 'before I could even ask' is an adverbial phrase which should not be separated from the verb it modifies, 'said'.
@Awnlee Jawking
Except:
The Wanlock launched a fireball at Christobelita before the ump signalled the start, before I could shout a warning[,] and before Christobelita could raise her shield.
List commas trump adverbial clauses! ;)

The way I see that, and I offer no further justification, is that the list commas [I changed your text to the Serial Comma style] separate the three adverbial clauses beginning with 'before' from each other. To me, that doesn't logically separate any of them from the verb they all modify, 'launched'.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

I changed your text to the Serial Comma style


Heathen!

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

Heathen!

I would not normally do that. I have no problems with others using the other style. In this case, I simply wanted the three adverbial clauses I mentioned to be visibly separated.

But if I had not placed my adjustment to your text in square brackets, that would have a transgression worthy of calling in the Spanish Inquisition!

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

The entire 'before I could even ask' is an adverbial phrase which should not be separated from the verb it modifies, 'said'.


Just to be uber-pernickety, that 'rule' isn't correct when the adverbial clause precedes the verb it modifies:

Before I could even ask, she said, "No."

1) In Brit English, the comma is optional and a matter of taste, I believe.
2) I converted the 'no' to direct speech. I'd like to see exactly what CMOS says on the subject, if you have the time and inclination to track it down.

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

Did I say there was an absolute rule? Or did I say a sentence was an example of one where the principle of avoiding separating adverbs from the verbs they modify should be applied? You're very fond of stating that all 'rules' have exceptions when there are good reasons for doing so. I don't think finding examples of such exceptions is particularly clever. I have more enjoyable ways of wasting my time than continuing to play this game of yours.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@PotomacBob

And just how, exactly, does one do that? And what if the "experts" (such as those on this forum) disagree about what is and what is not "better" writing?

Those arguments routinely appear, most often with the same authors arguing each side. I tend to favor the 'accepted literary guidelines' simply because they've proven reliable for so long, but will also quickly dump any literary technique which doesn't appear to work well (i.e. I focus on effectiveness in writing rather than either form or simplicity), while many argue the 'I don't do that' position, and will often dig in their heels.

I'm not dictating how others write their stories, merely pointing out (endlessly) that some techniques are more effective than others in certain circumstances. So it pays to at least learn the technique, even if you flatly reject it, as it simply adds that tool to you quiver, so you can pull it out when needed and know it's drawbacks when doing so.

That's why I'm so focused on discussing technique, while most SOL authors aren't worried about it, as they're simply telling their stories and aren't concerned with making them 'fancy' or 'acceptable' to literary experts.

But again, my repeating those claims isn't going to convince anyone who isn't already interested.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

If I urged them to do one thing, it would be being curious about why their editors suggest the changes they do. If they don't understand why a suggestion was made, they should ask. If the technical explanation obliges them to learn some new term, they should research it.

I completely agree. In fact, whenever my editors keep insisting on something, I ask them to explain why. My point wasn't that you shouldn't understand and use the correct form, merely that it isn't as important for the author to understand the underlying grammatical and syntactical definitions and the underlying concepts, as long as they've learned how to recognize what's a proper sentence and what isn't. (Thus my hesitancy about signing up for an English 'overview' course where I'd be stuck learning the very things I'm least interested in, what to call what I inherently do.) The explanations for why certain words form clauses isn't as important as writing sentences that make sense on a consistent basis. Those 'trivial details' is why authors rely so heavily on their more knowledgeable editors!

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

You'll never get people agreeing on what is better writing.

You see this most often in discussions of 'showing vs. telling'. Many authors argue that these discussions are a complete waste of time, but will freely acknowledge that, when done well, it produces a much better story. There are also those who argue about efficiency, as while 'showing' makes for strong writing, it takes a LOT more time, effort and space, and if you're simply establishing a point, you don't need to belabor it by making it 'finely crafted'.

In those cases, it isn't whether 'showing' produces better descriptions, but more about when it's worth investing the time into non-essential story segments. Many argue that 'better writing' consist in not wasting the readers time, and I certainly can't argue with that. Instead, I merely argue with knowing WHEN using it will pay off.

Crumbly Writer

@PotomacBob

Goldilocks-size chapters

Right there, you're clearly missing the point. As my writing has evolved over 17+ books, I cringe when looking back at my earlier work. My earliest pieces were HUGE, with long chapters which seemed to never end. But as I learned to recognize what works in a story, and what's mostly nonessential, I've cut my chapter sizes tremendously. And having done that, there is a price associated with it, so learning the most effective techniques is a continually evolving process, but in the end, the stories are easier to read, the writing is more consistent, and you simply don't waste the readers' time on trivial details as much. (After all, no one here is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination.)

@Ross at Play

I see many posts here which twist the obvious fact that the story matters most into suggestions that the words don't really matter. I think such attitudes would seriously limit someone's capacity to develop their skills as an author of fiction.

The key here, is that the longer an author writes, and the more feedback he receives, he learns which techniques are more or less effective, and adjusts his writing over time.

One pitfall is that new authors will often say 'so and so does this', forgetting that (at least on SOL) longer stories normally score MUCH higher than smaller stories, so a chapter that someone cranks out in a 100+ chapter story isn't going to be as finely crafted as one where the author is trying to keep to the plot essentials, but the longer ongoing story will almost always have higher scores.

In many cases, it boils down to who you pattern yourself after. If you want huge numbers of fans, you write one way. If you want loyal dedicated fans, you write another, and your writing also changes for each different story (most often by genre and setting). There IS no single way of writing anything! Some of the most successful recent non-fiction is when authors 'fictionalize' history by writing it as fiction, including entirely fictional dialogue which never took place. Even there, what it takes to write effectively changes with the circumstances, and often knowing, but breaking the underlying guidelines pays off handsomely in the right settings.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

Spanish Inquisition!

The Spanish have their own Grammatical Inquisition established? Wow, that completely flew over (or under) my radar! 'D

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

Did I say there was an absolute rule? Or did I say a sentence was an example of one where the principle of avoiding separating adverbs from the verbs they modify should be applied? You're very fond of stating that all 'rules' have exceptions when there are good reasons for doing so.

Once again, the key in understanding rules, is also knowing when to flaunt them, while also recognizing the potential cost when doing so. But nothing says you have to blindly accept any literary guideline under penalty of law!

The best authors fault the standard guidelines with consistency, those less adept stick to a single style of writing, and never vary it, regardless of setting or context.

Neither approach is 'wrong', one simply gives you more options and a better understanding of how to use them.

But like Ross, this discussion has ceased being fruitful, now we're arguing semantics rather than issues, so I'm outta here. There are better ways to be unproductive!

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Those 'trivial details' is why authors rely so heavily on their more knowledgeable editors!

Isn't there a saying about that?
Those who can, teach; those who can't, write. :-)

Replies:   joyR
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

The Spanish have their own Grammatical Inquisition established? Wow, that completely flew over (or under) my radar! 'D

In case you missed my reference, I'm sure AJ did not, the 'Spanish Inquisition' is a catchphrase from Monty Python.

joyR
Updated:

@Ross at Play

Isn't there a saying about that?
Those who can, teach; those who can't, write. :-)


No, it's;

"Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."

The real smart asses write from experience and teach with enthusiasm.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@joyR

No, it's;
"Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."

Not if you're making a joke.

Replies:   joyR
joyR

@Ross at Play

The real smart asses write from experience and teach with enthusiasm.


Damn, it's hard to offer a compliment around here.

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