Total Pageviews

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ask the Book Doctor about Sentences that Deserve Restructuring


 
Q: I'm writing a short story, and I need help with a sentence. Are any of the following versions I wrote okay?

1. That resulted in a fall in which she fractured her pelvis.

2. That resulted in a fall in which her pelvis was fractured.

3. That resulted in a fall that fractured her pelvis.

Here is the sentence that comes before the other sentence, in case you need to see that one too: She hesitantly took the pills, but they made her very dizzy.
 
A: I'm glad you sent the prior sentence, because my answer will not be as straightforward as you may have hoped. The word "that," when used as a pronoun, should refer to a noun, rather than a concept, so all the examples are incorrect. The full statement would be more understandable if the preceding sentence were linked with one of the example sentences, but the result would be awkward, such as this compound sentence: She hesitantly took the pills, but they made her very dizzy, which resulted in a fall in which she fractured her pelvis. Okay, obviously that sentence is not only cumbersome, but it also contains two uses of "which," and repetition is not recommended in creative writing. Obviously it's time to look for a more creative approach, but before we do so, let me point out that example number two, "her pelvis was fractured," is passive, and strong writers avoid using passive voice.  

Instead of trying to find the right words for the same sentence structure, recast the entire statement in a clearer, more creative way. Consider, for example, the following rewrite:

She hesitantly took the pills, but she grew dizzy, fell, and fractured her pelvis.

The rewrite uses active voice and is clear, direct, and tight. You may think of an even better way to recast the two sentences, but they definitely need restructuring.


Q: Understanding that a pronoun refers to the noun before the pronoun, I want the pronoun "their" to refer to "doctor," not "specialist," in the following sentence:

Has your doctor suggested you see the specialist who comes into their office? 

I tried rewording the sentence, but I run into the same issue. Any suggestions?

A: One problem is that "their" is a plural pronoun, whereas "doctor" and "specialist" are both singular nouns, so my response will not have "their" in it. I would also break it into two sentences. Here's how I would reword the passage for clarity:

Sometimes specialists come into a second doctor's office to see the second doctor's patients. Has your doctor suggested you see such a specialist?

Q: Is there a question mark after the following sentence? "If you did, will you let me know, because I will be waiting to hear from you."

A: Because the sentence is both a statement and a question, it is a good sentence to recast, rather than attempt to fix with punctuation. Recast it to something like this, and there's no problem: "If you did, please let me know, because I will be waiting to hear from you." Here's another alternative: "If you did, will you let me know? I'll be waiting to hear from you."

Q: If I wanted to use the plural of "yes" in a book title, how should it look? "Yeses" looks likes a foreign word. HELP!

A: Your question about the plural of "yes" is a prime example of a time when it's better to rewrite the sentence than to use odd words. Instead of this sentence: "All the yeses added up to one hundred," consider this one: "The yes votes added up to one hundred." Recast the book title and see if "yes" can stand alone without making it plural.

Q: Where do you stand on split infinitives or ending sentences with prepositions?

A: Editors have relaxed their stand on those issues, because the “rules” were leftovers from Latin and do not always apply to English. As a source, I point to Winston Churchill. Supposedly an editor had clumsily rearranged one of Churchill’s sentences to avoid ending it with a preposition, and the prime minister scribbled the following note in reply: “That is the sort of editing up with which I will not put.”

I would be remiss, however, if I did not point out that strong writers recast awkward sentences to avoid split infinitives or ending sentences with a preposition. Doing so almost always improves the writing style.

To read more questions and answers, order the book Ask the Book Doctor: How to Beat the Competition and Sell Your Writing at http://zebraeditor.com/book_ask_the_book_doctor.shtml.

 Bobbie Christmas, book editor and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.

 

No comments: