Saturday, August 22, 2009

Question about PPPs

Okay, whether we've persuaded you or not, I think everyone agrees that in published novels, introductory present participial phrases are rather rare. So why is this? (And don't blame editors. ) What would you say PPPs do that is wrong, or what doesn't it do that's right (and I'm sorry I can't come up with a better way to say that :)?

In most of the examples you all have come up with, I respond with something that indicates that I think PPPs too often summarize something important, that should be in a sentence or two of its own.

But what else? What could be the problem with PPPs, and I mean the legal ones, not just the danglers.

Alicia

38 comments:

Laura K. Curtis said...

If you had asked me a couple of hours ago, I'd have told you I used introductory PPPs frequently for variety. So, for fun, I did a search on my current WIP for "ing." I was five pages in before I found one, which is "Without straightening, he reached out one long arm and took the pages." I'm not even sure that entirely counts.

The thing is, I do use plenty of PPPs in other places. So is your question why they're always wrong, or only why they're wrong for introductions? (I am obsessive about checking things like agreement, timing and parallelism, so those won't be wrong--the PPPs I use are technically correct but now I am worried about whether I should avoid them altogether.

Jami G. said...

Alicia,

Yes, intro PPPs are often used to summarize. And sometimes I think this summary can be a good thing if:
- You're summarizing something unimportant, for example, just to set the scene: While walking down the hallway, she heard...
- You're summarizing something that had happened earlier in scene and it's relevant again in the current circumstances, such as my example: After witnessing his powers, she now decided...

You have the difficult position of trying to make judgment calls on sentences out of context. If we'd sent you the whole paragraph, you might have come to different conclusions about whether we were summarizing too much. Or at least, I can hope that. :)

But no matter my rationalizations, you've definitely cured me of ever using them just to add variety to the openings of sentences. And that was probably your main point. :)

And I owe you many thanks for that!
Jami G.

Edittorrent said...

PPPs aren't always wrong, no. And if you stop and think now as you revise, and really work through whether this sentence conveys what you want it to convey, and it does, then I've done my job. :)

Yes, Jami, sometimes summary is appropriate, when you are using some minor action just for setting or anchoring or getting the character across the room, as you have -- "Walking down the hallway..." (I personally would have "As she walked down the hallway," but I doubt that's an improvement.) Just notice, however, how many of the sentences we came up with were NOT minor actions, but important elements, like feeling or considering or observing-- something that mattered, an ACTION that mattered or a FEELING that mattered. I would suggest that the more important this is, the more it should be given a stronger expression.

But anchoring the character with some minor action-- that's probably an appropriately minor reason for the PPP.
Alicia

Deb Salisbury said...

Eeep! I smugly went to check my WIP, and on the second page I discovered a monster! Well, a PPP that I can't figure out how to rewrite (in my current state of panic - smugness died a messy death).

Moving only his eyes, he glanced at his mother, who stood in the front row of spectators.

He is not allowed to move, at all, so moving his eyes is a minor act of defiance, but I need to mention the spectators - and that his mother is present.

Sheesh. I can see I have some editing ahead.

Jami G. said...

Deb,

It's hard to know what to suggest, since I don't know what aspects you're trying to emphasize. Would this work?:
He moved only his eyes to glance at his mother, who stood in the front row of spectators.

If that buries some important elements, you may need to split it into two sentences:
He moved only his eyes. With a glance, he found his mother standing in the front row of spectators.

Is there some significance to him seeking out his mother? Maybe add more to that aspect and change out the "found" above - "glared at", etc.

Hope this helps!
Jami G.

Edittorrent said...

Moving only his eyes, he glanced at his mother, who stood in the front row of spectators.

Yeah, Jami, I'm thinking that we need to have more emotion embedded in the main verb-- 'glanced' is a really emotion-neutral, almost casual word. What's the emotion, Deb? Glared? Sought? Studied? Scowled? Looked entreatingly at?

This is what I mean when I say-- find the meaning in the thought. Make a sentence that reflects that meaning, that conveys that meaning. Then refine it. Moving only his eyes... well, that's important as it tells how he's doing it, so keep it but work on the rest of the sentence to make sure it's got the meaning there.

Jami G. said...

Deb,

Just had another thought for you. If he can only move his eyes, then you might not be able to put descriptions like "scowled", "glared", etc. in the sentence. But maybe you could include: "He wished he could..." glare, scowl, whatever.

Jami G.

Deb Salisbury said...

The emotion is hard to pinpoint. He's only twelve, and he mostly just wants to know she's there. I'm sneaking in a little backstory.

Moving only his eyes, he glanced at his mother, who stood in the front row of spectators. This morning he had left her tent for the last time, no longer a child, not yet a man. Tonight he would enter the bachelor tent as the blade carver’s assistant, and as a warrior in his own right.

So ---
He moved only his eyes to glance at his mother, who ...
Careful to move only his eyes, he glanced at his mother, who ...

Yuck. Both versions are lifeless, and the second is suspect. I might as well simplify to "He glanced at his mother, who ..."

Kathleen MacIver said...

I think, Alicia, that one of the commenters from the other day hit the nail on the head, re: why they don't work.

We don't think in PPPs. We just don't. And since today's trend is deeper and deeper POV, they pull us out of the story!

Deb...how about some of his thoughts, right before he glances at his mother. What defiant thoughts is he thinking? Is he considering the consequences if he gets caught moving his eyes? Does he think he can get away with it, or is it a challenge, because he knows he'll get caught? If you write a sentence or two of that, then you can just say, "He glanced at his mother" and we'll know how significant it is. (At least, if I'm following you accurately on what's going on, which I might no be.)

Jami G. said...

Deb,

I actually like the "Careful..." beginning.

Careful to move only his eyes, he sought out his mother in the crowd. He found her reassuring presence in the front row of the spectators.

Jami G.

Murphy said...

Hi Deb:

I'd go with internal to external in this case.

He felt like a coward. He wasn't supposed to, but his eyes nervously darted (from whatever he was staring at) to his mother. (what does he feel?).

My full take ?

He felt like a coward. He wasn't supposed to look away but his eyes nervously darted from the ceremony taking place before him, to his mother. Seeing her his heart (sank/rejoiced). This morning he had left her tent for the last time, no longer a child, not yet a man. Tonight he would enter the bachelor tent as the blade carver’s assistant, and as a warrior in his own right.
Murphy

Murphy said...

Alicia, you ask:

But what else? What could be the problem with PPPs, and I mean the legal ones, not just the danglers

What did I get from this exercise?

Enlightened. Thank-you.

I finally understand that a PPP whether it begins or is sandwiched in the middle of a sentence/paragraph - it’s just not properly anchored. It’s a sneaky little bugger in that when you’re writing it’s very tempting and it sounds too good to be true. And in fact, it is, because it starts off in the wrong place. It’s like telling a story from the middle and working back, only to wind up at the beginning and then ending with the most important point. And that’s not good. It’s kind of like a screwed up summary in that it’s not focused. It floats, and I think sometimes that can be forgiven if what came before and what came after carried it through - but mostly? (You have to imagine me speaking with a really deep voice here) I’m beginning to despise them!

Once again, I bow to you ole Salami.:)

Thanks Alicia!

Deb Salisbury said...

Kathleen,
> ...how about some of his thoughts, right before he glances at his mother.

Hmmm. Actually, I have done a bit of that. "Moving only his eyes" might be overkill.

Jami,
> He found her reassuring presence

Ah, ha! That was what I needed to add!

Murphy,

He's not afraid - yet, though he should be. Defiant and proud at this point, the moment before disaster strikes.

So, new version:

He glanced at his mother, reassured by her presence in the front row of spectators.

Thanks everyone! You've cleared away the fog!!!

Edittorrent said...

I like the "he felt like a coward" too.
And in a more formal approach, I like the Careful one.
Also like that "reassured" one. And how about having that enforced stillness-- rigid body-- in the sentence right before-- he can feel the tension, right?

Kathleen, yes-- I see what you mean! The closer the POV, the more the narrative should echo conversation maybe? That might make it feel a lot more authentic. I wonder if that's why we see so much more of the declarative sentence now that POV is getting so much deeper in so many stories.
A

Edittorrent said...

Murph, good thought, that the PPP starts in the wrong place. Hmm. Must cogitate on that. Puts the focus on the wrong place.
A

br drager said...

"Seeing her his heart (sank/rejoiced)."

Don't think you'll want something like that. That's something like, after the missing comma is inserted,
"Seeing her, his heart sank."

Which implies his heart has eyes. :)

imo,

Laura K. Curtis said...

OK, here's a somewhat typical use of the PPP for me. It's the easiest for me to find because it's the opening of my current WIP. At the moment, I *think* it works, but I'd like to get others' views on it! I've put the PPP in bold, though it obviously isn't bold in the MS.

When Momma died, Timmy and I ran. Way I saw it, any man who’d stab a woman five times, then slit her throat and leave her lying on the floor, blood soaking into the worn carpet and running in rivulets down the ancient grout between the kitchen tiles, wouldn’t hesitate to get rid of any other little inconveniences in his life.

Comments? Anyone? Bueller?

Laura K. Curtis said...

Jami -

I might even use "He snuck a glance at his mother" or "he dared to glance at his mother" or the like, just to emphasize his act of defiance. I think that gives more impact than just "glance," which seems bland for what you're trying to get across. The reassurance is a reward for his daring.

br drager said...

"He glanced at his mother, reassured by her presence in the front row of spectators. "

Maybe that's not what you really want, I'm thinking.

My impression from reading the comments was that he glanced around, and when he finally saw his mother, then he was reassured by her presence. Which has sequential actions; that is, he was reassured after he had done the glancing.

The two things that jarred me about that sentence is that,
1.) It looks a lot like stacked predicates--with "glanced" and "reassured." Now true, after reading the whole sentence, I understand that the second phrase seems to be a modifier. But when I'm at the point of reading "reassured," I don't know that.

2.) The modifying phrase (at the end of the sentence) seems to me to be modifying the main clause, and I don't think that is what you meant for this. I think that it is after he finds her, and is looking at her, that the sight of her is what is reassuring him.

But then, I could have misunderstood your intention. :)

imo.

br drager said...

I think there is another possible danger with using a leading participial phrase (LPPP?) that writers ought to be aware of, that is, when the reader is starting to read that LPPP, the reader perhaps ought to immediately know what the subject is that is being modified.

So often, the previous sentence had left some other object or noun or subject as the thing under focus, which then is what the reader often uses as the default subject that is being modified by that LPPP. And so, there can be a jarring or problem when the reader finds out that the default subject isn't the actual subject being modified.

Man, that sounds wordy. :(

imo.

Aside: Oh, by the way, I have been really enjoying your posts on participial phrases. :)
Please keep up the great work!

br drager said...

Laura K. Curtis,

"When Momma died, Timmy and I ran. Way I saw it, any man who’d stab a woman five times, then slit her throat and leave her lying on the floor, blood soaking into the worn carpet and running in rivulets down the ancient grout between the kitchen tiles, wouldn’t hesitate to get rid of any other little inconveniences in his life."

Yup, you got good spider senses, me thinks. That last sentence does seem to be a wee bit tangled, maybe. :)

I got two quick comments off the top of my head, being made without too much thinking on my part (nothing new there).

1. I was thinking that if you were going to basically keep that last sentence, that maybe you could insert "her" so that it read ". . . on the floor, her blood soaking into the worn . . ."
(For some reason, that "her" made the reading a bit smoother for me. *shrugs*)

2. I was thinking, that for the last sentence, that the ending stuff was too far away from its beginning stuff. Maybe try splitting the sentence into two, so that the new ending sentence could be something like, (which would be after the sentence with all the gory details)
e.g.,
"Way I saw it, a man like that wouldn’t hesitate to get rid of any other little inconveniences in his life."
or
e.g.,
"A man like that wouldn’t hesitate to get rid of any other little inconveniences in his life."

Hope this helps. :)
imo.

Murphy said...

Hi Laura!

I had a thought while I was reading this. I was getting hooked up on the tenses used with this one. As in the 'The way I saw it' - paired with soaking and running. Anyone else? Call me crazy, (and you wouldn’t be the first who did, believe me:)) but I would think this would read better like:

When Momma died, Timmy and I ran. Way I see it, any man who stabs a woman five times, then slits her throat and leaves her lying on the floor, blood soaking...
To me, that just sounds better *sigh* Don’t know why...

Otherwise I would be inclined to change the ing words to ed. Transition point being floor and I’d probably insert the word (until) her blood soaked...

And about that blood. I noticed that you have: blood soaking into the worn carpet and running in rivulets down the ancient grout between the kitchen tiles. To me, I was thinking Hmmm...? When did the blood get there? Maybe instead of: into the worn carpet, what about: through the worn carpet - that way you get the hint that the carpet has been saturated or penetrated and the blood is free to run anywhere it's little corpuscles want, right?

And if I were really going to be picky - which I would be on an opening, I would take out little before inconveniences. An inconvenience to me - is an inconvenience. I do like the previous suggestion by, br drager: A man like that... to lead into your last sentence.
Just my .02

Great opening, Laura. I like it.:)
Murphy

Laura K. Curtis said...

Thanks, bd - believe it or not, I've put that "her" in and taken it out a half dozen times over time!

Thanks, Murphy - actually, she's killed on the threshold to the kitchen, so some of her blood is soaking into the carpet and more of it is in the grout. That gets explained later, but I didn't realize it was confusing, so I will have to think about it!

Dave Shaw said...

Laura K. Curtis, my thought on your example is that you're confusing me about your POV character. In my experience as a grown-up farm boy, people who say 'way I saw it' don't usually wax grandiloquent about 'rivulets' of blood. The phrases clash - is this person the sort to say 'way I saw it' and live in a house with worn carpet and ancient grout, or the educated type that would use that high-falutin' word 'rivulets'? I think if you make the character's voice consistent, you'll find your issues with this paragraph go away (or at least change - grin).

Edittorrent said...

"Way I saw it, any man who’d stab a woman five times, then slit her throat and leave her lying on the floor, blood soaking into the worn carpet and running in rivulets down the ancient grout between the kitchen tiles, wouldn’t hesitate to get rid of any other little inconveniences in his life."

Laura, good voice here, but this is a perfect example of trying to shove too much into a sentence.

Why not two sentences?

Way I saw it, this man stabbed a woman (or do you want to say my mother? too sharp?) five times, then slit her throat and leave her lying on the floor, blood soaking into the worn carpet and running in rivulets down the ancient grout between the kitchen tiles. He sure wouldn’t hesitate to get rid of any other little inconveniences in his life."

MOST of the trouble we're having comes, I think, because everyone's trying to do too much in single sentences. Why?

Alicia

Edittorrent said...

That is, br is right. :)
A

Edittorrent said...

So is Dave-- it's hard to know what the diction (Word choice) should be when you're in deep POV, esp. first-person. But I hesitated over "hesitate" too, but thought that might get by. "Rivulets" is kind of ornate for him. What's a more basic word?
A

Murphy said...

Okay, I know you asked Dave - but I have an answer and I think the words may have been what were throwing me off when I read this, too. So, maybe it wasn't the tense issue. *shrug*
But adjective queen to the rescue! hehehe
How about: running in thick streams down the ancient grout between the kitchen tiles?
Could be just streams - but you know me - the more the better!:D
Murphy

Dave Shaw said...

I think shorter, less packed sentences, with simpler words and leaner description, would be more in keeping with the kind of street-smart character who would be tough enough to find his mother like that and immediately pack up a brother and run. Just my thought, of course, informed by my own prejudices. How about a rewrite, rather than an edit?

"We found Momma in the kitchen doorway. The worn carpet in the living room was soaked with her blood, which had also run into the ancient grout between the kitchen tiles. I counted five stab wounds, and her throat was cut. Way I saw it, man who'd do that would get rid of us in a heartbeat. I grabbed Timmy and we ran."

Not good, but something to think about when you're considering your character's voice. Hope it helps!

Laura K. Curtis said...

Hmmm...is the voice problem the lack of "The" before "way"? Because if that's the issue, I'd rather change it that way than lower the tone of the other words. Basically, this character grew up poor and under-educated, now she's well-educated, but writing about her childhood.

(I find it fascinating that everyone thought the speaker was a man. It's not, it's a woman.)

Jami G. said...

Laura,

Yes, if you add in "The" before "way", that would change the tone of the sentence to match the character's current circumstances better.

Jami G.

Dave Shaw said...

Adding 'the' would help with the consistency. Still, this woman's actions sound quick and decisive, but that long, involved sentence doesn't sound that way. Maybe you have a reason for that contrast, in which case go for it.

I had wondered if the character was male or female, since there are no clues in your passage. My comments apply either way.

BTW, if you look back a ways, I posted a passage about a woman, too, and everyone took her for a man. English-speaking culture thing, I guess - most people go with the language's bias toward a male default.

Laura K. Curtis said...

Thanks, everyone!

Deb Salisbury said...

Coming back waaaay late to the discussion -

Laura,
I love "He snuck a glance at his mother" - it shows both that he knows his mother is there and that he's defiantly playing within the rules.

On yours, I agree with br. Splitting it into two sentences helped untangle it.

Thanks to everyone for your help!

Edittorrent said...

Streams, yes, that might be more "voice=y".

sylvia said...

I was going to say my usage is a lot like Laura's but I can see how splitting her sentences would help. Mine are short sentences, where X does Y, and Zing happens too.

So in the piece I'm working on right now, I immediately spotted that I'd done it twice in a row:

Teacher disappeared with the nurse, leaving the children crowded on the bright yellow plastic floor of Sigrid's room. They sat very still, staring at the old woman with eyes wide.

So, clearly the rhythm is repetitious and I'd rewrite for that alone but beyond that, what's wrong with these PPPs?

Edittorrent said...

Sylvia, trailing participial phrases aren't really that big a problem--- it's the intro ones which annoy. :)

Alicia

sylvia said...

Oh good! Then I'll just try to cut down rather than eradicating them from my life entirely. Much like my attitude to cream puffs.