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View Full Version : DESPERATE HELP NEEDED--plural vs singular



gp101
03-15-2007, 11:01 AM
Here are the sentences giving me heartburn:

"Guts, blood, and sex. That's what people read. That's what caused.."

Okay... so I have a list of three items in the first sentence. So the 2nd and 3rd sentences should begin with "Those were the things that.." instead of "That's what..." in order to be grammatically correct, right? Because "That's" stands for "That is", it would be grammatically incorrect to leave the sentences as I now have them.

But can I leave those sentences as they are for stylistic purposes because they read quicker (less clunky) and are more in tune with the voice of the writing? Will agents or publishers look at that passage and not read further because they'll think I have no clue about grammar?

Note: this is the opening of the story and, therefore, will comprise the first impression anyone gets of my writing.

Thanks in advance to any of you grammarians with advice.

Flay
03-15-2007, 11:28 AM
The singular is fine. After all, people (other than stone-age oracles, I suppose) don't actually read those things; they read about them. "Guts, blood, and sex" defines a genre or style. "Those are/were" would just sound strange there.

(Note: utter newbie here. Feel free to disregard.)

Mandy-Jane
03-15-2007, 11:33 AM
I agree with Flay. I also think that 'guts, blood and sex' in the way you're using them, could almost be regarded as one group of things, therefore the singular.

Medievalist
03-15-2007, 11:59 AM
Singular; the guts, blood, and sex are all in the thing, whatever it is; they are a unit.

ErylRavenwell
03-15-2007, 12:13 PM
Normally plural, but the tone is indicative of three inseparable elements grouped as a unit. So singular.

Sandi LeFaucheur
03-15-2007, 01:49 PM
Yup. What they said.

Jamesaritchie
03-15-2007, 06:07 PM
I'd definitely go plural. These three things may be a unit, though I certainly don't see them as such in any way, but the singular sounds God-awful here.

maestrowork
03-15-2007, 07:57 PM
I think either way is fine. If you use "that," "guts, blood, and sex" is a single unit of what you're talking about. If you use "those," you're addressing each individually.

However, the following should be plural:

We crave guts, blood, and sex, which are the key elements in todays pop culture.

Pat~
03-15-2007, 08:01 PM
How about "This is the fare of the reading public" or some such sentence that defines your subject as a singular entity...

pdr
03-15-2007, 08:05 PM
to ask whose voice it is at the beginning of the story?

Is it your MC and if so how do they speak? Would they use the singular or the plural?

Is it your writer's voice? How do you want to be perceived?

Will Lavender
03-15-2007, 08:14 PM
I'd definitely go plural. These three things may be a unit, though I certainly don't see them as such in any way, but the singular sounds God-awful here.

Actually, I think the opposite is true.

The plural -- "Those are the things..." -- sounds stuffy to me. In the quoted passage, it seems like the author is going for a sort of informality.

I'd go with the singular, as an above poster said, and treat "guts, blood, and sex" as a singular unit.

Or, you know, you could rearrange the sentence. You might change it to something like, "Guts, blood, and sex. People want to read about that stuff..."

Or something like that.

Birol
03-15-2007, 08:41 PM
In this case, I think it is less about the grammar -- and I see sound arguments can and have been made for both the singular and the plural -- and more about the tone of the piece. You're going for conversational, so you want it to be conversational.

You've heard the axiom, "You can't break the rules until you know the rules"? You know the rules. Now's the time to break them.

Jersey Chick
03-16-2007, 12:41 AM
Is this someone speaking? If so, then it's fine the way it is - the rules are a little more relaxed in dialogue. I think it reads better the way it's written.

gp101
03-16-2007, 01:52 AM
You've heard the axiom, "You can't break the rules until you know the rules"? You know the rules. Now's the time to break them.

I agree about breaking rules when you need to (not sure if I'm actually breaking one here, BTW). But I'm troubled about breaking anything at the start of the story. Would be nice to show them I know the rules before I break them.. I'm paranoid about that stuff.

Thanks for the response.

Medievalist
03-16-2007, 01:56 AM
Keep in mind too that dialog, whether spoken or internal, is colloquial. Most of us are less than grammatical in our casual speech.

gp101
03-16-2007, 02:09 AM
to ask whose voice it is at the beginning of the story?

Is it your MC and if so how do they speak? Would they use the singular or the plural?

Is it your writer's voice? How do you want to be perceived?

That opening paragraph is about five sentences long and kind of paints the picture for the scene. It's a very loose omni (I don't get in anybody's head) but just make a few observations. Paragraph two introduces the MC and snaps into his POV. I want the first paragraph to mimic his voice--educated, but very relaxed and wise-ass. I kind of went for the "long shot" or "establishing shot" (as in the opening of a movie, for example), then go in for the "close-up" in paragraph two.

The MC would make it singular, no doubt about it. But since the first paragraph is more an omni observation, I was concerned with just how grammatical I needed to be, especially since it opens up the story. This is the only spot in the novel I use anything close to an omni voice, so I think I will leave it as is after reading the various responses, especially Medeival's... though, because James is (or has been??) an editor and feels the singular is awful, I'm still a bit nervous about using it.

Thanks all for your comments. You really helped. I'll keep checking to see if anyone comes up with anything more definitive for either argument. This was the last bit of editing I've had to do (after a year of re-writes), and I've re-worked the opening literally dozens of times. It's going out in the mail at the beginning of April, hence my last-minute plea. Thanks again.

Thump
03-16-2007, 02:10 AM
"That's " reads well, if you don't think about it too much you don't even realize there may be a grammar issue. 99% of readers will probably never notice, that's really all that matters :D

gp101
03-16-2007, 02:15 AM
"That's " reads well, if you don't think about it too much you don't even realize there may be a grammar issue. 99% of readers will probably never notice, that's really all that matters :D

Agreed. But since my first two readers will be the agent and the editor, I'm nervous. Thanks for the response.

Sandi LeFaucheur
03-16-2007, 02:30 AM
I vote for the singular, because "guts, blood, and sex" sounds like an informal name for a genre, whereas you wouldn't say "Guts. That's what people read." Or "Blood. That's what people read." You might say "Sex. That's what people read". They really need to be lumped together as an entity.

loquax
03-16-2007, 06:17 AM
IMO

If you want the guts, blood and sex to mean exactly that, then go plural. If you want it to encompass other stuff, like drugs and video games, use the singular. e.g.

"guts, blood and sex", they're the stains I have to remove from my boxers every week

v.s

"guts, blood and sex," that's the new culture for the 21st Century toddler. (also smoking and petty thievery, but the name of the overall culture is "guts, blood and sex")