Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Parallel Distraction

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1909,
The Louvre.

Recently on a critique site, I read an excerpt that sent me to review Miss Bustlewhistle's Ye Olde Grammar Booke.

Because, smack in the middle of a nice piece of prose, as I was being carried along like a blushing damosel in the arms of a stalwart hero, the writer stumbled over a series sequence.

And dumped me on the cold, hard ground.

At first, I couldn't put a name to what caused him to fall flat on his grammatical face. One forgets the specific terms for these things. So I went turning over rocks.

Reviews of the rules are useful reminders.

His parallel structure had collapsed like a bad knee joint.

Similar elements in a series need to be kept consistent -- whether they are verb forms, nouns, prepositional phrases, clauses or whatever.

One should not write: She brushed back her hair, smoothed her eyebrows and her lipstick was checked.
Rather: She brushed back her hair, smoothed her eyebrows and checked her lipstick.

The same parallel principle applies to pairs:

Not: He was an expert driver and could also repair cars.
Rather: He was an expert driver and an adequate mechanic.

Watch your step.

Smooth Stuff:
Jeff has a new short story posted on his blog.
I held my breath through most of it.

Lush Stuff:
Written also has an exercise excerpt up.
See her Nov/25 entry. Rich visuals.


Julie said...

Thankyou. Just what I needed to hear.

It's one thing to write something in an intuitive blur and another having it come into sharp focus under one's nose.

I like writing longer sentences in the mix, and have been tying myself in knots with the more awkward past tenses mixed in with the above. Relished CG's snippet.

Jaye Wells said...

A comedian named Kevin James does a very funny routine on people who don't have phone number rhythm. Instead of 555 pause 26 pause 34, they might say 5552 pause 63 pause 4.

Similar idea here and yet another reason to read aloud.

Robyn said...

The reading equivalent of emphasis on the wrong syllable, eh?

Bernita said...

Always happy when a post is useful, Julie.


Reading bad parallelism aloud probably would catch the awkward construction, Jaye.

Bernita said...

Bad grammar has the same effect, Robyn!

JLB said...

Hi Bernita - just passing through and wishing you a wonderful winter!

Jeff said...

"She brushed back her hair, smoothed her eyebrows and her lipstick was checked."
My first thought was, who checked her lipstick?
I agree with you that errors such as these can be jarring to the reader.
Stephen King once said grammer does not always have to be dressed up in a suit and tie, but there are certain basic rules that every writer should follow. If I'm not mistaken, he was referring to Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style."

Thank you for adding a link to my latest short story, Bernita. You made me smile. :)

ORION said...

Ohhhh you nailed one of my pet peeves...very good.
Especially grating for me are the:

"The dog lifted his head from his basket with amber eyes."

This sentence is actually IN a best selling highly rated recent literary novel.
Have you SEEN a basket with eyes?

Bernita said...

~waving at Jade as she disappears around the bend~
Nice to see you!

Jeff, you're welcome. I enjoyed it.

The dreaded dangling/misplaced modifier, Pat.
Something I have to watch for in my stuff. Continually.

Charles Gramlich said...

Parallel construction is one of those things that I think is usually picked up through reading. I see some new writers who just don't see the problem with constructions that aren't parallel, and inevitably I find that they aren't serious readers.

Bernita said...

You're right, Charles. Best recognized and learned by example.

spyscribbler said...

Great point! I didn't know the rule, but I've noticed I have to edit that mistake out of my prose sometimes.

Church Lady said...

I second Orion.
I have two or three grammatical pet peeves. This is one of them. I will lose total confidence in a writer if I see this. I know my reaction is a bit dramatic, but puhlease. That kind of sentence just sounds stupid! :-)

Bernita said...

Instinctive grammatical sense, Natasha.

Chris, danglers can happen as often out of sloppy revision, as out of ignorance - just like incorrect verb agreement. A writer tacks on a descriptive phrase to liven a sentence and enlarge the picture and forgets to put it in the right place.
Can produce some real screamers.

Demon Hunter said...

Thanks for pointing that out, Bernita. I'll definitely have yo watch that in my writing. Great post, as always...

Travis Erwin said...

Grammar is my kryptonite. I'm sure I have made that mistake and many more. One of these days when I sell a novel one of my old English teachers is gonna say, "You're kidding, right?"

SzélsőFa said...

Wikipedia hosts some similar gems to the interested reader like this one: A horse raced past the barn fell.

When I find a similar mistake in my writing I remove it with great enthusiasm :) - trouble is I don't always find them.

Bernita said...

Thank you, my Demon. These things can slip in when we're not paying attention.

Travis, one of your old English teachers is much more apt to be pleased as all get out and bore all his students with a proud "I taught him, you know."

It's like swatting mosquitoes, Szelsofa.
We all have our blind spots when it comes to grammar.

Shauna Roberts said...

As a copyeditor, probably my number one pet peeve is nonparallel constructions.

In my experience, professional writers are almost as prone to them as nonprofessional writers are.

Nonparallel constructions are so common in everyday speech that editors miss them and they make them into print surprisingly often (but not in copy I edit!). I don't think most people can catch them by ear, but need to analyze the sentence.

Bernita said...

That does not surprise me, Shauna.
I received a very good,very solid, grounding in grammar - yet am appalled at the careless errors I find on revision of my stuff.

Julie said...

CG - Charles Gramlich. (From earlier today). One link picked up a excerpt of his.

Intruiging post. I wonder how much common usage is influencing perception of the rules.

Gabriele C. said...

I should get me some Grammar Booke one of these days. Bernita's post made me realise I have Latin, Old Norse, Russian and German grammars, but no English one. Or Swedish, for that matter.

Sam said...

My editor usually catches one or two of those pesky mistakes in my manuscripts. It's true that when writing compound sentences, or sentences with lists, it's easy to switch from one tense to another if you're thinking the story in your head, pause, and then re-start it.
When it's a grammatical mistake, it's easier to catch than when it's pairs. I've stumbled across a few of them lately. It does pull you out of a story.
This writing business is hard!

Bernita said...

I hope you enjoyed Written's snippit as well, Julie.
I think common usage eventually changes the rules.

I haven't noticed any particularly egregious errors in your English prose, Gabriele - but then I am usually too entranced by the stories to care.
I have French, Spanish, Latin and OE, and for some unknown reason, a Russian one.

I find it pays to refresh one's memory with a grammar review, Sam. One can slip so easily into careless habits by internet imprint.