Tag Archives: grammar

Anatomy of a Sentence: Countingducks

Anatomy of a human being
Put on your gloves and goggles: we’re going in! (Photo credit: PureBlackLove)

Anatomy: A Greek word meaning, “Cut ’em up!” In the spirit of this delightful medical word, I am happy to introduce a new feature on my blog: Anatomy of a Sentence. From time to time I will showcase beautiful writing I run across in books, podcasts, and around the blogosphere.

Why am I doing this, you ask?

Because I want to become a better writer, and I believe dissecting lovely sentences to see what makes them tick will help me become a more thoughtful wordsmith in my own right.

I also think these fine writers deserve to be noticed and appreciated. Given that, I will be using this feature as an excuse to read more of your blogs. If you’ve posted a piece of fiction on your blog that you’re particularly proud of, don’t hesitate to leave me a link so I can enjoy it and consider featuring a sentence from it in the future. (If you are shy, you can email me a link directly using the form on my “About” page).

Today we’re looking at a sentence from a favorite blogger of mine, Countingducks. It comes from a piece of flash fiction entitled, “A Flight of Fancy Beyond the Normal:”

One of those delicate messages from the stomach department, brought to my attention from some new bod in Tastbuds, informed me that a small snack involving a couple of sausages with a polite egg or two, a hint of beans, one or two mushrooms with a small supply of toast might just avert a full-blown attack of Hunger Pangs: the worst affliction known to sedentary man.

I love this sentence for many reasons. Firstly, I love the personification of the taste bud as a polite worker, the new guy who’s been tasked with the unfortunate job of informing the boss of an impending disaster. There’s a sense of hesitance to to voice. I can practically hear the polite little cough before he launches into the full catalogue of the “small” snack. It’s an example of a masterfully executed extended metaphor.

Which brings me to my second observation. This sentence makes fine use of escalation. Starting with the “small snack”, the list gets comically longer and longer until it’s clear that the snack’s anything but minuscule. And to cap off the hilarity, the “delicate” message which begins the sentence ends on a crescendo of melodrama when these Hunger Pangs are described as the “worst affliction known to man.” It’s a double-whammy of escalation that adds layers of drama to the situation.

Masterful! Hilarious! This kind of thing brings me surging to my feet in applause.

And now to the dissecting table for a closer look at the guts:

Sentence diagram. Click to embiggen me!
Sentence diagram. Click to embiggen me!

Oh boy, diagramming this one was a headache. The subordinate clauses! The detailed little prepositional phrases! Once you cut into this sentence, the organs just spill out all over the place. You can see the unsightly scribbling where I dropped my watch inside the patient and had to dig around to find it.

But take a moment to admire the complexity of this organism that Countingducks has bestowed upon us.

At its heart, the sentence says something like this: “One informed me that a snack might avert an attack of hunger pangs.” In the diagram, you can see how for Countingducks, this basic sentence serves as a skeleton on which to hang layer upon layer of detail. I think it succeeds for the reasons I pointed out before: a sense of escalation that does more to communicate the urgency of food cravings than the basic statement would do on its own.

For me, “escalation” is the big takeaway lesson. I resolve to keep this device in mind as I’m writing this week and see if I can’t bring a little of this brilliance into my own fiction. Perhaps you’ll give it a shot as well. Experiment with adding a sense of drama (or melodrama) using this technique. And hop on over to Countingducks’s blog to read this story in full – it’s delightful!

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Guest Post: C.J. Friend

The Meddlin’ Line, by C. J. Friend

Today I am proud to feature a work of microfiction by author C.J. Friend, who sent me the following piece of flash fiction and agreed to let me share it here. Last year, C.J. Friend published his first ebook, The Meddlin’ Line, a collection of short fiction and personal favorite of mine. He is currently working on a second collection of short fiction. I greatly enjoy his work and highly recommend you check out his book!

Two Indian men, both trying to learn English, were knitting blankets together.

Running Water asked, “…if I am weaving something, but I did it yesterday, did I “weaved” the blanket or “woven” the blanket?”

Elk Horn responded, “Neither.  You would say, ‘I wove the blanket.’”

Running Water, astounded, asked, “Elk Horn, how did you acquire such great learning?”

Elk Horn said, “Remember the White Man who was alone in the military outpost and who eventually adapted to our ways?”

“Ah, yes, I do remember hearing about him…what was his name again?”

Elk Horn smiled and said…

“Tenses With Woves.”

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Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English spelling rules are wretched. It tells you something that Spelling Bees even exist. Do other languages have this problem? When I first started taking foreign language classes, I marveled at how straightforward and elegant the spelling rules seem in other languages. Spanish, Italian, German – I didn’t struggle to spell words in any of these languages once I learned the basic rules. I get the impression that the idea of a Spelling Bee would be outlandish in a culture whose spelling rules are so sensible. And this is coming from a girl who’s been in several Spelling Bees!

The problem is that English has historically borrowed both words and grammar from lots of sources. It’s a Germanic language heavily influenced by French and Latin. The word “weave”, for example, comes from Old English, which had many more verb tenses than we normally use nowadays in Contemporary English. Because of the roots of the word, it has a more complex tree of derivatives to learn than verbs of other origins in English. Thus the confusion of the second language-learners in C. J. Friend’s story above. Thank Tenses with Woves for being around to explain to them!

I have a love/hate relationship with grammar. I love the fascinating history of the English language and the rich variety of words that history gives us with which to express ourselves. I hate how complicated English is for people learning it for the first time, especially our spelling rules, which are needlessly confusing.

What’s your relationship like with grammar? Love it, or hate it?