Tag Archive: English Language


Using Short Sentences

Power of WordsEvery so often, I come across an author trying to use short sentences and paragraph-fragments. Sometimes this author is one of my clients, and therefore hasn’t had the benefit of a good line-editor yet, but sometimes this habit makes its way to print.

And what’s wrong with that? After all, we speak in short sentences in real life. We don’t use academic grammar that has us continuing for several lines in the same thought, sometimes separated into more manageable chunks using semicolons; no, when people speak normally, they speak in fragments, rather than continuing on and on like this sentence, as if commas were going out of style.

Well, like with any part of writing, it’s a matter of art rather than science. Contrary to particularly pedantic grammarians, there are a lot fewer rules to English than we teach in school. In fact, as I’ve described previously, a lot of those modern grammar rules came about because certain people were overly-enamored with Latin and Greek and objected to the idea that English had become streamlined. (As if lots of rules meant a language was somehow more dignified.) That includes stuff like “Bob and I” versus “Bob and me,” which not even the rules-conscious French language (well, the¬†official French language; there’s an even greater difference between academic and colloquial French than with English, which is why the French look so pained when you try to speak their language) has found a problem with.

So the problem with short sentences isn’t that there’s some rule against them. It’s that, as with any art, it’s a good idea to know what your tools are used for. Continue reading

Language is one of those things that people tend to be concerned with when writing science fiction and fantasy (mostly in fantasy), and yet how many SF&F authors are linguists? It’s quite possible that this is a natural outgrowth of trying to show a radically different culture from our own; or it might be that the godfather of fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien, the Professor himself, put so much work into his languages.

Not everyone is a philologist, though, much less one of Tolkien’s caliber. How do we use languages in fiction without sounding like we just made it all up? How can we make it up if we’re going to keep the audience from feeling lost? How can we even hope to show a language barrier if the book’s all written in English? Continue reading

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