Monday, August 29, 2011

Odd sentence edit

I wrote this sentence and it felt wrong for what I meant:

She stayed, but her reply was reluctant. 

What I meant was that -she stayed-.  She was reluctant, but still she stayed.  I know it's a little odd, but for xome reason, I felt the above made it sound like the reluctant reply was the most important thing, but in my head, what was important was that while she didn't really want to, she stayed.

Minor point, but it just felt wrong, and I realized it was because "but" makes these both independent clauses (each could be a sentence in its own right), and thus of equal syntactic "weight." One is not more important than another; neither is the primary thought.

But in my head, the important thing was... she stayed. And so I kind of let myself feel how that should be worded-- let instinct and sound-sense take over, and changed it to this:

She stayed, though her reply was reluctant. 

 So much of this, lol, is instinctual.  And when I stopped and analyzed why, I realized that "but" and "though" mean the same thing (presenting a contrast of some sort to the first clause), but "but" makes the second an independent (equal) clause, while "though" reduces it to a dependent (lesser) clause.  And that means the second is of lesser syntactic weight, so the reader will subconsciously understand it to be of lesser importance, and the "she stayed" is the important thing.

Now the question becomes, why do I put the main action/clause first in the sentence? When would I put the "though" first?"
Though her reply was reluctant, she stayed.

Hmm. Usually I think when "though" comes first, I say "although." (I don't know why. Sounds better.)

I think probably I'd put the dependent clause first when it sounded better (like if the rhythm was better when mixed with the adjacent sentences).  That is, I don't feel a great deal of difference in the change in sentence order, nothing like the change from "but" to "though."

I know, I know. Picky. But nuance matters in sentences. Readers can pick up consciously or subconsciously such subtle changes in meaning. How important is this to you as a writer? Is that sort of pinpoint meaning accuracy something you spend time on? And have you any examples of that sort of subtle shift in meaning I can borrow for a workshop I'm doing on sentences? :)



Adrian said...

The revision is definitely an improvement, but (!) the thing I found most odd was the use of reply. For me, reply is strongly associated with a verbal response: something spoken or written. I found it hard to associate the word with a non-verbal action, especially one so passive as staying.

Although I understood the original sentence, I found it so disorienting that I had to re-read it to make sure I hadn't misread it.

At that point, I figured the rest of the post was going to be about how to rewrite the sentence without the word reply.

I guess I read to the beat of a different drummer.

Joan Leacott said...

My example: Her feet were in agony, but she was too tired to kick off her shoes.

This sentence could use the same rearrangement you did to yours. She was too tired to kick off her shoes though her feet were in agony.

Now that I see the revision, it still strikes me as wimpy. I'd get rid of the but/though all together. She was too tired to bend over and rescue her feet from the merciless shoes.

This seems a more direct way of stating how tired the poor gal really is.

As you say, it's all in the nuances. Thanks for making me think.

Edittorrent said...

Adrian, I know, reply is weird, but that is what is happening in the passage-- he says something-- it's sort of confrontational,and she replies. and here, that she stays even though he says something confrontational is kind of important. (Remember, I write romance. Dialogue can be, or should be, action also.)

I should have used a different word just to keep it from being confusing. In context, it makes sense, but taken out of context, it does sound odd, and weirdly static.

Joan, yes, all in the nuance. I wonder if we can train ourselves to "feel" the nuance.

Edittorrent said...

Adrian, help me here. I want to use this sentence model in a class I'm teaching, to show the meaning change when something is 'diminished" or "demoted' from an independent ("but") clause to a dependent ("though") clause.

Can you think of a more active pairing than I have? like:

She (verb), but/though her (noun) was (adjective).
She (verb), but/though she (verb).

Muddy brain here (hay fever halcyon).
Maybe "She walked out, but/though her withdrawal was temporary."

Hmm. Still quite static.

She choked, but/though her nausea was shortlived.

She vomited, but/though... no, let's not go there.

She resumed her seat, but/though her posture was tense.

Why am I so PASSIVE????

Help! Is it that the construction I'm looking for just doesn't call for much action?