Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Back to School

I'll will be the first to admit I am totally hopeless at grammar. As a dyslexic it made no sense to me and I didn't like Miss Brown who taught it. I have always relied on my reasonably good ear to make my way. Looking back, I sometimes wonder how I received a degree in English. Somewhere along the way I mastered what I called paper-ease English and lost the natural syntax in my head. This natural syntax came from my grandfather who lived with us while I was young. He was originally from Donegal. His speech was naturally poetic, well at least to my ears.

However as I graduated back in the dark ages, 1985, I have forgotten everything. This morning I have spend hours here trying to master my tenses and exactly what is passive voice. Yes, I know I should have done this years ago but well it just didn't interest me. Now as I am wading through A Cornish House I need to understand this and more. However I haven't much time before this bl**dy thing must be sent off to New Writers' Scheme and as much as I will slap a big sticker on it saying beware not polished I do have some pride - not much but some.

So I'm finding myself making my sentences too simple because at least that way I know they are correct. This, however, leads to boring reading if all the sentences are too simple. So here's a choice for you:

Scattered around her were easels and canvases, all the requirements of her life. Well they had been her life and must be again. Bending, she opened a box and the smell of turpentine hit her. Something must have leaked. She dug into the box and found a pile of cards. She dropped them quickly and groped for anything else as the tears welled up. Her hand came to rest on a cool bronze finish. This wasn't any good. Who had packed this box? Who put his cards and the bust she had made of him with the turpentine?

or

Scattered around her were easels and canvases, all the requirements of her life. Well they had been her life and must be again. She bent and opened a box the smell of turpentine hit her. Something must have leaked. She dug into the box and found a pile of cards. She dropped them quickly and groped for anything else as tears welled up. Her hand came to rest to rest on a cool bronze finish. This wasn't any good. Who had packed this box? Who had put his cards and the bust she had made of him with the turpentine?

Confession - even as I read through the paragraph above I struggle to identify all the tenses I have used. I need to go back to school .

So are you a natural with grammar, a keen study, or do you flounder like me?

12 comments:

B.E. Sanderson said...

Interesting paragraph, Liz. Makes me want to read more. :grin: I don't think the difference is so much a tense problem as it is a clarity problem. In the first example, the sentence reads like she's opening the box at the same instant she's bending. (Or maybe it is a tense problem. English class was a long time ago.) Also, I think you might need a semicolon in the second sentence: She bent and opened a box; the smell of turpentine hit her.

If you're looking for passive problems, though, you've got one in the first sentence: Scattered around her were easels and canvases, all the requirements of her life.

A more active version would be: Easels and canvases, all the requirements of her life, were scattered around her. (Or something along those lines.)

=o)

Phillipa said...

Um. Liz. I didn't see anything wrong with either sentence. Not that I know much, but I'd try not to get too bigged down with 'correct grammar'. Let your writing flow and do some editing after, if it needs it.

Phillipa said...

Or even bogged down!!!!

Nell said...

Either sentence works but if you're looking for a more active voice instead of describing as in 'the smell of turpentine hit her', which is a bit passive as she's being hit why not try 'She bent to open the box lid, recoiling from the stench of recently spilled turpentine.' In that example she's active as she's the one doing the recoiling, it becomes more immediate. I'm not terribly good at explaining so I hope that makes sense.

liz fenwick said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Each one of you has given me a little idea or something which makes all a bit clearer......now on with the editing :-)

Steve Malley said...

Steve keep grammar simple. Complex grammar make Steve smash!

Cat Marsters/Kate Johnson said...

No one ever tried to teach me grammar. Stupid state education. I just write in first person and call the mistakes 'voice' *g*.

As for a passive sentence, I think of it as 'and then this happened, and then that happened'. Nobody's actually doing or feeling anything. If that helps. Which it probably doesn't. See above re: lack of grammatical education!

Phillipa said...

Cat

I didn't do any grammar after 14 when we did our GCSE English so I am hopeless at grammar. It wasn't a specific subject in my A levls or degree which was all literature. So I am ignorant of all the techie stuff - like you I just write, hope and call it 'voice'. I sometimes think that if your grammar is too correct and self conscious, it can destroy the spontanaiety of your writing. That's my excuse anyway.

Jan Jones said...

To me, the first para reads much better than the second. (But I'd put a comma after 'Well')

But... Say you are dyslexic on your ms when you send it in! Far better to admit to something that isn't actually your fault than to have the reader prejudiced against you because they don't think you care enough about your work to polish it.

And, er, yes, I do do grammar naturally. Sorry.

liz fenwick said...

Steve, I agree but too simple and a reader drop off and enjoy a kip :-)

Kate, I don't think they spent a great deal of time on it in schools to be honest

I will be sure to point it out Jan, and I will try not to hate you (just really jealous)!

Fiona said...

Gosh something else I've never considered. I like your sentence but I like it more with b.e's edit.

I wish there was a Dyslexics day. I could suggest something like March 21st but then I'd end up celebrating it on March 12th. * sigh*

liz fenwick said...

Too true :-)