Saturday, November 10, 2012

English in the trenches—what is a sentence, anyway?

Your proofreader has scrawled a note on your manuscript that says, "This isn't a sentence."

You look down and consider that the "sentence" in question has a capital letter at the beginning and punctuation at the end. Isn't that enough? Actually, it isn't.

When writing for young children, there are editors who are touchy about the use of complete sentences. This is because they want your writing to be a good influence on those impressionable youngsters who are still in the process of learning the English language, rather than annihilating it like the rest of us.

As you write for older children, you're allowed a little more leeway. Dialogue, in particular, sounds stilted when it's written as complete sentences. This is because no one really talks that way except for aliens from other planets who, if you've noticed, never use contractions.

So what is a sentence?

A sentence must meet two requirements.

1. It must contain a clause.
2. It must sound complete.

In case you didn't know, a clause is made up of at least a subject and a verb. Independent clauses sound complete, and therefore are sentences. Here are a few examples.

Bob threw the ball.
Mary is friendly.
Jennifer is running.

By comparison, here are some dependent clauses. You'll notice that they don't sound complete, even though they each contain a subject and a verb.

If Bob threw the ball.
When Mary is friendly.
Where Jennifer is running.

These could be fixed by attaching them to an independent clause or by rewriting them.

If Bob threw the ball, he's in big trouble.
When Mary is friendly, she doesn't eat your Cheetos.
There is a vicious bull in the field where Jennifer is running.

In short, a sentence has to have a subject and a verb, and it has to sound complete. If it doesn't sound complete, it must be fixed before the grammar police nab you.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I'll get to them in future posts.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Where Is the Phoenix?

Tangled Ashes by Michele Phoenix

 A chateau in France that is used for the Nazi Lebensborn program... A baby rescued... An American company hired in present day to rehab the chateau... A man in need of redemption... A woman who seems out of place caring for other people's children...

 The premise has so much promise and the author handles the language and transitions well. The story begins in an intriguing way with the viewpoint of a sixteen year old French girl, Marie, who works for the Nazis at the chateau to provide for her family. Gradually, she realizes what is going on especially since her friend and co-worker is caught up in it.

 Juxtaposed with the World War Two story is a modern story about an American company rehabbing the chateau to serve as a high end hotel and restaurant. The American in charge of the rehab, a man named Becker, has been sent to accomplish the job by his partner as an alternative to alcohol intervention therapy. A mysterious Frenchwoman designer irritates him, but facilitates the process of the rehab project. Another Frenchwoman, the lovely Jade, cares for the property owner/developer's children and begins to minister to Becker as well as a mysterious man who lives on the fringes of the property.

 Unfortunately, Becker never becomes likable or truly redeems himself. The bulk of the modern story is about his tortured relationships, his victim mentality and his ongoing and unsuccessful battle against alcoholism. Even Jade unravels. Then, the promised mystery from the Nazis in France during World War Two, also delivers only sadness and despair in its revelation.

 Spoiler alert.

When I reached the end of the book, I felt cheated. I had put up with all the anger and failure and depression and fear of the characters, and at the end of the book all I got was more anger and fear and depression. The World War Two story ends badly. And then, when Becker abandons Jade, who is fighting cancer, to go home and get alcohol treatment, I wanted to strangle him – and the author – for stringing me along. I know people with horrible life problems and I don't enjoy being pulled down into their misery. The book only hints at the saving grace of God, but never manifests it. The book, like Jade's church, has “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. Have nothing to do with them.” (2 Timothy 3:5)