Showing posts with label parts of speech. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parts of speech. Show all posts

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Nouns Need to be Concrete and Appear More than Once


Part two in this series of notes from the Highlights Foundation Workshop, Books that Rise Above, features points made by Patricia Lee Gauch and Linda Sue Park on the use of nouns.

Patricia Lee Gauch: Concrete Nouns

Patti says we want to write in profound simplicity to keep our writing unclogged, such as the opening paragraph in chapter 11 of Linda Sue Park's, A Single Shard:

         The path to the Rock of the Falling Flowers was steep, and Tree-ear leaned forward,
         sometimes on all fours, as he climbed. Just before he reached the top, he stopped by the
         side of the path and took the jiggeh off his back. He drank from the gourd and poured a
         little water on his hands to splash on his sweaty face.
         Thus refreshed, he felt ready to give his full attention to the sight of the rock.

To write with simplicity we must use concrete words; concrete nouns. In Patti's own Easy Reader Tanya series, she showcases lovely French dance terms, such as pas de chat, arabesque, and sur pointes. She points out the embellished concrete nouns and beautiful verbs in Karen Cushman's The Midwife's Apprentice: . . . the cat lay still in the dung heap, The merchant's booth . . . filled with other wares for wondering at . . . shiny brass needles, ribbons of red and lavender, copper spoons and brass knives . . ., she insulted and encouraged, pushed and poked, brewed and stewed and remedied.

Linda Sue Park: Nouns Need to Appear More than Once

Linda stresses the importance of analyzing each and every word. Every word has to work hard. Toward this end, she contends that in order to create wholeness of the world you have created, in order to buttress that world, all nouns have to appear more than once. Nouns that appear only once don't serve the story. A noun that appears in the first part of the book is not a force unless it is repeated at the end. Especially look at the nouns in the last chapter. Especially.

Repeated words refer to the subject, the container, in this excerpt from Chapter 1 of Linda's book, A Long Walk to Water, which is based on a true story, on the long, lone trek Nya must make every day in 2008 to a pond in southern Sudan to fetch water:

     Going was easy.
     Going, the big plastic container held only air. Tall for her eleven years, Nya could switch
     the handle from one hand to the other, swing the container by her side, or cradle it in both
     arms. She could even drag it behind her, bumping it against the ground . . .
     There was little weight, going . . .  

Repeated references to Nya's quest for water a year later in 2009 appear in the last chapter:

      Then [Nya's uncle] began moving the mouth of the pump.
      Nya held her bottle underneath the pump mouth. The bottle filled up quickly.
      She stepped aside to the let the next person fill a bottle. Then she drank.
      The water was delicious. It wasn't warm or muddy, like the water from the pond. It was
      cool and clear.
      Nya stopped drinking and held up the bottle . . .
      She drank a few more sips . . .
      Everyone had a bottle or a cup. They were drinking that lovely water . . .

Parting thoughts: Patti: Be specific. Use words wisely. Understand what particular means. Objects have great value, such as a woman wearing the same hat.  Linda: Be intimate. Write for personal therapy. Try writing in first person then switch it. Me: Before this workshop I edited the sentence. Now I edit every word.


Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 40 articles for children and adults, six stories for children, and is in the final editing stages of her first book, a mystery story for 7-10 year olds. Follow Linda on Facebook. 

For past posts in this series, please visit:

Part One: Two Ways to Hook and Keep Your Reader

Next month: Tent Pole Construction

In future posts: Watch for workshop presenters' biosketches. A link to the complete list of "Books that Rise Above" will appear at the end.














Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Grammatical Memory

I wanted to write a post about parts of speech, subjects, objects and all that. One of the reasons is my annoyance over misuse of pronouns, especially two cases: after prepositions, and as subjects of an implied phrase, but I quickly fell into the mire of memory. You see, I remember all this stuff, the grammar, the parts of speech, the rules of usage, because my father drummed the rules relentlessly into my head. Almost every night at dinner featured discussions about some point of grammar.

In French, the rules are simple: if the pronoun is the subject of the verb, AND it comes right before the verb, it's the subjective form.
But in English, what is a subject is a little more complicated:

Jack is taller than I.

Why? Because "I" is the subject of the implied phrase, "than I am."


It's I, or was, when I was in school.

Here are two old poem of mine. I give them to you unedited, in its original form, in spite of my itch to revise them.

This is why I remember my grammar.

If You Were Still Alive

In spite of what I know everyone says
About each successive generation

Being deficient,
Not as able,
Morally superior
Or grammatically correct

As the one before,

I am privately convinced
Of the truth of the proposition
That today's youth's knowledge
Of the English language

Is sadly lacking,

And that even those
Who should know better,

To wit,

Those writing for the local paper,
Do not know how to properly use pronouns

Or, indeed,

That English has a subjunctive,
A fact that you revealed to me
When I came home and told you
That French had a subjunctive but that

English didn't

So I just wanted to say that I still remember
All that stuff and that in spite of my

Extreme annoyance

At your continual repetition of the entire rule
And its complete explanation,
Every time I said,

"It's me"

I want you to know that every time
I hear someone misuse a pronoun
I not only mutter under my breath,
But I think of you and think,

"If you were still alive..."


You took out the garbage
and got lost outside your apartment,
unable to recognize your front door.

That night you wandered naked
down the hall. I waited for you to flinch
as you recognized me, your daughter.

You never noticed me,
instead continued to the bathroom,
where you attempted, fruitlessly, to pee.

Your pubic hair was gray. When had
you gotten so old?

Where was the father who taught
me to make scrambled eggs,
pledging me never to add milk?

Where was the father who argued
about gerunds over dinner?

In the morning I took you to
Mount Sinai hospital, where
they diagnosed prostate trouble,
admitted you.

When we took your grandsons to see you;
you barely remembered their names:
your mind, once so sharp, now rusted.

We moved you to the nursing home
near Trinity Church. When we came to visit
we would go across to the church
and pray.

I had to take care of you.

It was my time.

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