Saturday, August 22, 2009

Some PPP examples donated by brave commenters

Jami G said: Okay, I found this sentence that has an opening *ing phrase. My first stupid question is: Is this a PPP? It seems like it is, but it "feels" different than the others I've been trying to fix. My second question is (assuming it is a PPP): How could I fix this without ruining the rhythm or impact of the sentence?

Hating how he’d made her feel, she hoped her knees wouldn’t buckle and betray her weakness.


Yes, you're right, it's a PPP. "Hating" is the participle. Why does it feel different? Well, "hating" is a static verb, about a feeling, not action, and feeling verbs usually aren't great in PPPs (which are about ACTION, and there's no action in a feeling). Also, remember what Theresa said about temporary -- PPPs are about moments, not conditions. In that moment, that very moment that Action 1 is taking place, Action 2 is taking place-- that's the purpose of the PPP. Does she only hate the way he makes her feel in the very same moment she's hoping her knees wouldn't buckle? Or does she hate this for a longer time than that?

This also feels like a cause/effect thread. He makes her feel X. She hates it. Because she feels this way, and because she hates it, she's afraid her knees might buckle, betraying her weakness.

Notice that I put the participle at the end there, as I see the simultaneity as being Knees buckling will betray her weakness. That is, up to that, the action (emotional action?) seems sequential.

This doesn't all have to be in one sentence. I am learning I like shorter sentences than many do-- that doesn't mean I'm right, but I'd probably put that in two sentences. Why? Hmm. Because I think her hating the way he makes her feel is the important thing, so why relegate it to a phrase? But a SVO would be really clunky:

(THIS IS BAD!) Hating the way he made her feel (long subject, clunky!) made (verb) her fear that her knees would buckle and betray her weakness (long object-- what did this make?)

So that's terrible. :)

How about:
She hated the way he made her feel. Now that he was looking at her (whatever way, whatever made her feel that way-- anyway, I'd put something in there from HIM), she hoped her knees wouldn't buckle and betray her weakness.

Why not betraying as I suggested above? I think because it wouldn't be clear what the phrase modified. Let's look at the poss-es:

...she hoped her knees wouldn't buckle, betraying her weakness.

What would betray her weakness? She and her hoping? Or her knees buckling? "Betraying" is at the end of the sentence, so it probably modifies "the buckling of her knees," but because that noun "buckling" doesn't actually appear, rather the verb "wouldn't buckle", and participles are adjectives and modify nouns, not verbs.... sigh. I think I'd just punt and do it with an "and" and a multiple verb (buckle and betray, though really, it's the knees buckling, not the knees themselves, that betray her... this is HARD!! Jami, you're so MEAN to make me have to think on a weekend!!).

Anyway, a participle shouldn't modify a noun that isn't really there-- the reader shouldn't have to invent a noun for the participle to work off (knees buckling, buckling of the knees), so my initial impulse to have a trailing participle doesn't stand up to analysis. :) You're right-- "And" works better to join those two things.

But do think about what's most important here-- the longer term hate, or the momentary hope? The more important element should be in a main clause if possible. If both are important, do two independent clauses-- a compound sentence, or two sentences. You are telling the reader what's important by the choices you make.



Murphy says:
Okay, I did tell you that when I start thinking - it’s never good, right?:D

So um, here’s a goodie:

Moving quickly to steady her feet on the floor, while at the same time making sure that those faltering steps increased the distance between them, she nervously kept an eye on his doubled over profile.

Hmmm, my reasoning behind writing this sentence this way? Well, for starters, this is the third paragraph in a block of an action scene. When you read it back collectively it flows - but I do have to admit that if I took it out of that context I would want to rewrite it like:

She moved quickly to steady her feet on the floor. She was careful to use these faltering steps to her advantage and increase the distance between them while she nervously kept an eye on his doubled over profile.

I have no better excuse other than to say - the action is fluid even though the positioning of the characters has changed - so I did want to get the shift in the physical changes in the scene without disrupting the forward motion of the action. Crap. I do these things without thinking about them - is this wrong? I mean do you always edit these out? It’s not like I can’t do so myself, but in the few - (there were only two beginning ppps in five chapter of my current WIP) so it isn’t like I dump them in with flagrant abandon or anything – it’s just that sometimes it seems to work with the rhythm.

Signed Murphy, who can’t seem to stay off the hot seat!;)

Well, a friend of mine used to talk about "Dolly Parton sentences"-- top-heavy. :) That's when the introductory elements are a lot "heavier" or longer than the main clause. I think there's a purpose for that, a "feel" for that-- comic effect, for one (the anticlimax of the main clause can be humorous), and also maybe to convey a peltering, frantic action.

But you are burying the main clause, and how important the main clause is in that context, I don't know. But by the time we get to the main clause (which is usually the most important action), we've gotten tangled up. Here's how I'd edit, and keep in mind I don't have the context, and also that I go with a trailing adjective phrase (careful), but for some reason, I felt like all the action in one sentence, and the conclusion in another for emphasis maybe:

She moved quickly to steady her feet on the floor, careful to use these faltering steps to her advantage and increase the distance between them. All the while, she nervously kept an eye on his doubled(hyphen here, btw-- compound adjective before a noun)over profile.

I was going with a simple "She" opening in the last sentence, but I think you're right that "while" is important as there IS simultaneity. It's just the sentence gets too complicated (for me) when you have three major elements/actions in one. So the physical action in one, and the perceptive (noticing) action in the last. A sentence by itself will mean, of course, that THAT is the essential thing in the paragraph. Don't know if it is.

(Also, I don't get that "doubled-over profile". I guess to me "profile" is facial, and if his face is doubled over, well, that sounds scary. Do you mean his body is doubled over? I don't have any wise thoughts about this, but "doubled-over profile" makes me think of Mr. Rubber Face -- I saw him in a bawdy show in Dawson City, Yukon, many years ago, and had nightmares for years about this man who could make his mouth retract so much his nose almost touched his chin. :)

With long sentences, I try to read aloud, and if I can't get all the words out in one breath, I try to trim or break. The reader kind of instinctively might feel a sentence is too long if she senses she couldn't say it in one breath. (Faulkner would disagree, of course. :)

I wonder if "rhythm and flow" matter less to me than meaning, or if I'm just relying on intuition to get that right in the end? I don't know. I always have thought that rhythm is really important to me. I think I think (that's kind of cute-- thinking I think :) that meaning leads to rhythm, and if you get the meaning right, the rhythm will come.

Alicia

25 comments:

Leona said...

Wow, Jami, that was a tough one. At least you're not in the hot seat with Murphy (insert impudent grin here)!

My husband is finally (after ten years of nagging) starting college. I think I'm going to try and get him to read this blog. It tells things better than any English teacher I ever had.

Thank you for this. I will get brave and get on the hotseat one time or another.

Jami G. said...

Alicia,

I feel no pity for making you think... :) What do you think you and Teresa have been doing to all of us for the last two days!!! *ahem* Sorry, just had to get that off my chest. :)

You said: I think her hating the way he makes her feel is the important thing, so why relegate it to a phrase?
Yes, you've completely nailed why that one was harder for me to fix. And just before I read this, I'd actually come to the same conclusion: Two sentences. One for the hating aspect and one for the effect.

You should feel proud to know that you both have convinced me to get rid of all my intro PPPs. Err... Except I do have another question. Yesterday, Jordan made the excellent point that since people don't really speak in PPPs, they don't sound natural in writing (either in dialogue or character voice narration). However, I think I may have found an example where people do speak with an intro PPP. When I change it, it sounds more clunky and formal.
Considering everything that had happened, she supposed blah,blah,blah
I don't know about other people, but I actually say "Considering..." at the beginning of sentences sometimes. If I "fix" it to "When she considered...", it sounds more formal. What's your take on this example?

Thanks!
Jami G.

Iapetus999 said...

I have a small nit with the first example. I prefer that characters own their own feelings. It also doesn't tell me what she feels.
So instead of "Hating how he'd made her feel"
I prefer
"Hating how small and vulnerable she felt, she hoped..."
And then to fix the PPP
"She hated how small and vulnerable she felt around him, so she hoped her knees wouldn't buckle and betray her weakness"
or maybe I'm getting the emotion wrong:
"She hated how feeble and clingy she felt around him, so she hoped her knees wouldn't buckle and betray her weakness"
Just my thoughts.

Murphy said...

Sure Leona - don’t worry I'm not going to hold my breath.:) Although I do have an amazing capacity to be able to do that for a long stretch. Hence (Alicia's observation of: if you can get it out in one breath when reading your work aloud) that translates for me to be about 27 words per sentence...that would be after I trimmed all my adjectives btw. (Hehehe)

And Alicia? Leaving well enough alone in the previous post comments wasn't good enough for ya, huh? You had to bring it front and center just in case someone missed it. That was very thoughtful of you - I thank you, as I’m sure Jami does as well. Geez, nothing like taking the redheaded stepchildren out to the woodshed. Well, at least I have company this time. *waves* Jami!
Profile, eh? I never really thought about it - but now that I am, I'm thinking, okay, you have a point - profile is usually a word that is connected with features - but it's not exclusively used for that...but I must say, the very attractive visual - which you generously felt the need to share - has cured me! Mr. Rubber Face?! I spewed my coffee all over my keyboard – again, I thank you. :)
Murphy

Jami G. said...

Leona and Iapetus,

Thanks for the support. I feel like I'm pulling every single sentence of my WIP apart again as I analyze it. (Mantra playing in my head: It'll be better in the end, it'll be better in the end...)

Iapetus, Yes, the sentences before that example describe her initial reactions, both physical and emotional. This sentence was the last one in the paragraph and is leading into her trying to gather herself together for a rebuttal.

I actually stuck with one sentence and currently have it as: She hated how he’d made her feel and desperately hoped her knees wouldn’t buckle and betray her weakness. But who knows how many other hundreds of times I'll play around with it. :)

Thanks!
Jami G.
(*waves back to Murphy* No, I'm not red-headed, but after many years, I've decided to feel proud of my "honorary" title of "Problem Child". LOL!)

Babs said...

Sometimes the comments are as interesting as the posts! I love this blog.

Murphy, you are too much!:) Always worth a giggle. Thanks. I'm going to count my sentences.

Jordan said...

Murph—silhouette, maybe?

Speaking of long sentences, I'm critiquing a work right now . . . Well, let's just say that 50-word sentences aren't uncommon. I daren't say more.

Jordan said...

Oh, and Jami—yeah, that one does seem like something people do actually use/think.

Jami G. said...

Problem Child (TM) here again...

Okay, here's another circumstance that's throwing me. This may be a situation where it's just grammatically incorrect, even though it doesn't sound wrong. PPPs are supposed to be about simultaneous action, but what happens when you add an "after" to the beginning of the phrase. Is it still a PPP? Just to be safe, I've been trying to change these to a past-tense verb - "After she walked..." instead of "After walking..." or - the horrors - just plain "Walking..." But I found one where it seems like the meaning changes if I make it into a past-tense verb:
After witnessing his powers over the pilot, she trusted he had the ability to accomplish this feat.
In this case, the act she's referring to happened in the past, hence the after, so I'd have to change it to:
After she'd witnessed...
But that completely changes the meaning of the sentence, maybe because there's an implied "now" in the main clause. Any thoughts?

Thanks!
Jami G.

Murphy said...

Hi Jordan!

Can I get my soul mate's number? 50? Really? Well, truthfully, I’m not surprised. It can be done. Hey, I can do it - if I leave all my adjectives in place.:D But I don’t do that anymore. Instead, I think of something A said when she was looking at one of my rather convoluted specimens. It went something like: Why use up all these good words when one says it all and then you can use the rest somewhere else? She did point out that the power of each word lost its punch as it fell further down the line of my list. So now I’m frugal with my words...and it’s killing me! Talk about suffering for one’s art.;) The withdrawal from this is bleeding into my everyday life. Yesterday when I offered my husband a nectarine I found myself asking: “How would you like a ripe, chilled, juicy, plump and super-sweet nectarine for a snack?” Sheesh! I guess I gotta get them in there somewhere, right?
Silhouette? Yup, that’s exactly what I changed it to. I wasn’t planning on bringing it up though, just incase Alicia had another mind-bending visual for me.;)
Murphy

Jami G. said...

So I'm looking at a whole bunch of sentences that begin with "after", "while", etc. and have *ing verbs following. Does the time indication change the phrase into a adverbial (?) modifier? Is it still a PPP? Is it still bad and should be avoided? :) Or is this an acceptable way to "fix" PPPs?

I'm wondering if I need to change all of these to add in the noun subject (which I think would make them more dependent clauses, rather than just modifying phrases) and change the verb to *ed.
While she walked down the hallway, she...
vs.
While walking down the hallway, she...

Thanks!
Jami G.

Jordan said...

Jami—Yes, it changes it to an adverbial. I thought that all sounded familiar, and I checked—Theresa actually posted about changing participles into adverbials last month. 'Member this one:

http://edittorrent.blogspot.com/2009/07/last-piece-of-theory-on-present.html

Jordan said...

Murphy. L. O. L.

Jami G. said...

Jordan,

Thank you! I knew I'd heard that word (adverbial) somewhere. God knows it wasn't from when I was in school. :)

Okay, so Teresa used an *ing word in one of her examples there after "while". Does this mean that usage of an *ing verb in a comma-separated intro phrase is acceptable? Assuming that it makes sense for modifying the verb in the main clause, that is.

I'm trying to nail down a mental list of the acceptable ways to "fix" those dreaded PPPs.

Thanks!
Jami G.

Murphy said...

Holy crapatoli Jami! You're relentless, aren't you? :)

Adrian said...

This is all great. Seeing actual examples always helps to drive home the lesson.

What surprised me, though, was the confusion about the "doubled-over profile". It made perfect sense to me and left me with a great image. I never realized most people associate profile specifically with a face. I've always thought of it as a side-view (especially in silhouette) of any kind of object.

Perhaps my technical background has distorted this word for me. It's almost jargon in engineering and architecture.

[checking dictionaries]

There seems to be some disagreement. Many dictionaries do explicitly associate the word with the side of a face, almost to the exclusion of uses like "the aerodynamic profile of the car". But others (like Wiktionary) offer the more general meaning as well.

This writing biz is gonna be mighty difficult if you have to double check the connotation of every word you think you know.

Edittorrent said...

After witnessing his powers over the pilot, she trusted he had the ability to accomplish this feat.

Well, I'd probably go with "witnessing" because it's likely to be more than one moment-- that is, past tense (witnessed) doesn't have that longer-term feel to it. Whatever he did to the pilot probably took more than a moment.

So what would you say to this:
Witnessing how he handled the pilot, she concluded that this was a man she could trust.

Now let's not deal with the too many people problem (is the man she could trust the pilot or the pilot handler, etc.). But this would be saying that AS SHE WITNESSED-- that is, she is witnessing it and while she is witnessing it she's concluding she can trust him. What do you think?

Alicia

Edittorrent said...

Murph, foregrounding is a privilege. Just ask Joan. :)
Alicia

Edittorrent said...

While she walked down the hallway, she...
vs.
While walking down the hallway, she...



I would almost always go with the first. "While" is a subordinating (adverbial) conjunction-- you don't need to know that, but I need to think that to know why I'd do this-- and should open a dependent clause (with subject and verb-- She walked). Bypassing that clause formation to go with a participial phrase is always going to sound wrong to me. But it might not seem wrong to anyone else. It just sounds clumsy to me, sort of secondhand, I don't know.
Alicia

Edittorrent said...

Adrian, think of how hard it is for those who write for submission to another country (like a Brit submitting to a US pub). They have to not only know all the connotations in their own dialect (if we can actually think of British English as a dialect), but in another too. And it's going to be near impossible to know the connotations in another culture.

I guess this is why it's always good to have a native speaker read it over (yeah, I know-- British are native English speakers :).

A

Jami G. said...

Alicia,

I know this is going to get me one of those answers that will give me a headache, but yes, I'm really going to ask this question...
How is your example - Witnessing how he handled the pilot, she concluded that this was a man she could trust. - not a PPP? Is it because of how/what it's modifying? Or because of the word "concluded"? Or is it because it's an additive modifier? I feel like I have some understanding just beyond my reach, and it's driving me crazy. :) I have plenty of phrases that seem like this one in my WIP, and I've been thinking that I need to change them all to "When/As she witnessed..." If I don't need to do that, I'd like to know (and understand how to tell the difference!).

As for the specific example, no, the witnessing action happened previous to this scene. I wasn't using the "After" in this case to do a summary of action prior to the main clause, but rather a reference to something that happened before and explained how/why she'd reached her decision. This is why if I added the noun "she", I'd have to go with "she'd".

Thanks!
Jami G.

Edittorrent said...

How is your example - Witnessing how he handled the pilot, she concluded that this was a man she could trust. - not a PPP?

Well, it is. I'm not saying the PPP is always wrong. To me, it's just a signal that I should make sure I can't do better. And if it's the best I can do, I go with it. I was just using that as an example to explicate that one point.

But as I said, to me, that construction is a signal that I'm probably summarizing too much. I would go back to the sentence and think -- if it would be stronger or more meaningful or more vivid if I showed both actions actually happening, show 1) him handle the pilot, 2) her watching him (how? with sidelong glances, or avidly, or?), and 3) her concluding he's trustworthy. If it's important-- if her coming to trust him is important-- I'd take it slower. I'd actually narrate the event from his action, to her observation, to her reaction.

As I said, I'm not good at summary. :)

But to answer your question, yes, that's a PPP, and it's legal, and in some contexts, it might be the best way to convey this.

And I'll have to foreground the question so I can post the commenters' answers! :)
Alicia

Jami G. said...

Thanks Alicia!

I thought I was suddenly confused on when a *ing word wouldn't be a PPP. And yes, the "witnessing" action does happen in scene, it's just an earlier scene that she's reflecting on now to reach this new conclusion.

Thanks!
Jami G.

Edittorrent said...

A PPP is a present participial PHRASE, so there's more than just an -ing word involved. That might be what makes it more obvious, I guess. More words. Okay, that sounds dumb.
A

Leona said...

Jami AKA Problem Child Club Member:

"After witnessing his powers over the pilot, she trusted he had the ability to accomplish this feat."

This is wordy, but working with the "Down with PPPs" mentality LOL, something to chew over,

Since she had witnessed his powers over the pilot in past events, she trusted his ability to accomplish this difficult feat.

Murphy, I frequently have to make sure I've swallowed whatever food or beverage I've been consuming before reading your comments. I'm tired of cleaning my keyboard and monitor :) However, I'm not tired of reading your quips, so I found a fix.

And thanks, lapetus 999. I feel the same way. I like it when characters own their feelings. I feel it draws the reader deeper in.