Facts about Fiction 5

 From The Brain Rummager by Brian Barratt

 Clear and consistent expression

 There are differences between written text and spoken language. For the narrative in stories, you use more formal language. It has to be clear and understood by all readers. For dialogue (conversation) you can use the language that people use when they are speaking.

Dealing with slang

In conversation, you might say, "That film was great!" The same words could be used in dialogue in a story. But in the narrative, before you use the word "great", think about what it might mean. Here are just a few examples:

large, tall, important, exemplary, famous, wonderful.

In conversation, someone might say, "Those guys are late". In narrative, "guys" is usually not suitable. Be more specific, for example:

men, boys, people, women, girls, children.

Unnecessary repetition

This is called tautology. You might not realise you have done it. Sentences like these are incorrect:

We arrived at 7.30 p.m. in the evening.

If it is 7.30 p.m., it is obviously in the evening.

They were awake in the morning at 5 a.m.

If it is 5 a.m., it is obviously in the morning.

She added additional sugar to her tea.

If she added it, it is already additional.

I wondered if our precautions were adequate enough.

Adequate and enough mean the same thing.

Sentences that lose their way.

You can sometimes lose track of the subject of your sentence. Here are some examples of what are called hanging participles or dangling phrases.

Having worked hard on the computer all morning, the document was eventually completed.

What this sentence says is that the document worked hard on the computer all morning! It could be corrected in various ways, such as:

After working hard on the computer all morning, he eventually completed the document.

What do these really mean?

Scampering all over the place, the games were obviously enjoyed by the girls.

Like most cats, I cradled this one on my knee.

Hurrying through the wet streets, there was a sudden flash of lightning.

Unidentified subjects

Make sure that your reader knows what you mean. A good way of avoiding confusing sentences like the following is to get someone else to read your story aloud. They might notice what you have missed.

The children would not eat their vegetables so their mother put them back in the saucepan.

Did mother put the children back in the saucepan?

Mary-Lou found the book too difficult for her brain to cope with so she threw it away.

Did Mary-Lou throw her brain away?

The car turned slowly into the next street. It was an old one, painted red and crowded with teenagers.

What was old and red and crowded with teenagers: the car or the street? If you use words like "it" and "which" in a sentence or pair of sentences, make sure the reader knows exactly what you are referring to.

Have fun looking for ambiguity!

Look out for signs, labels and advertisements which can be read two ways. Examples:

Keep out of reach of children.

LOOSE STONES

TRAVEL SLOWLY

Shake before opening packet.

This door is alarmed.

Please close this door when entering.

You can pour the sauce over the pudding or the children might like to pour it over themselves.

Ears pierced while you wait.*

Ladies' swimwear greatly reduced! **

* But what happens if you can't wait?

** How brief is it now?

  Copyright 2005 Brian Barratt. This material may be copied or printed only for use by students in school classrooms.

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