Is something wrong with these sentences?

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modernmillie

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I just started the beta process for my novel (historical fiction), and I got back a helpful edit from a respected and talented writer friend.

But I'm confused about one thing. She repeatedly noted that I had too many split infinitives. She said editors really hate that and would chuck out my manuscript if I had too many. But I don't think these are split infinitives. I googled, but I can't figure out what she means - maybe dangling modifiers ... or inverted sentences, which aren't necessarily wrong but might be unpopular with editors?

My beta reader says it's especially bad to have a sentence like this at the beginning if a chapter or paragraph, but then I often write them this way to aid transitions. And apparently I'm addicted because I have SEVERAL in my first four chapters. So what do you think? What's going on with my sentences?

"With trembling fingers, I pinned my apron to the bodice of my gray work dress."

"While I was laid low with the fever,
Mrs. Gardner was the one who tended me."

"In her pretty flowered dress, Mrs. Gardner’s daughter looked like she fit in this place better than I did."

"At night, the ward was pitch black."

"At the window, I was careful to stand with my shoulder against the frame, so I would be hidden from view."

"From the shadows, I could see down a moonlit street, lined with small brick shops."

Thank you!
 

Anne Lyle

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No, they're not split infinitives - a split infinitive is like the famous Star Trek line "to boldly go where no man has gone before" (adverb "boldly" between the two halves of the infinitive "to go"). It's a "rule" adopted (erroneously, IMHO) from Latin, and should be ignored.

I'm not sure what the right term is, but I think the problem is that by putting the modifying clause first, you are weakening your sentences and making your prose sound hesitant. Compare:

"At the window, I was careful to stand with my shoulder against the frame..."

with

"I was careful to stand with my shoulder against the window frame..."

It's tempting to switch sentences around like this to vary the rhythm, but do it too often and it stands out as a stylistic "tic".
 
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Chris P

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Agreeing with Anne, and I am horrible for it, both split infinitives and starting sentences with prepositional phrases offset with commas.

To me, your sentences slow down the reading as we have to wait to find out who's doing the doing and what they are doing. We are told how (with trembling fingers), when (While I was laid low), where (In her pretty flowered dress) before we know who or what. This doesn't mean don't do it ever, just when you do do it do it deliberately.
 

qwerty

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The problem as I see it is that you overuse the whatever it is called and it becomes tedious.
"While I was laid low with the fever, Mrs. Gardner was the one who tended me."
What is wrong with simply saying: Mrs. Gardner was the one who tended me while I was laid low with fever?
And, instead of "At night, the ward was pitch black." Why not say the ward was pitch black at night?
What I'm saying here is that your phraseology is stylistic, and that can become a bit sort of tedious.
 

blacbird

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Nothing wrong grammatically, but several of them are a bit flabby with superfluous words and could stand editorial improvement, e.g.:

"While I was laid low with the fever,
Mrs. Gardner was the one who tended me."

"At night, the ward was pitch black." (pitch black is a weak descriptive cliché; I suggest finding a less shopworn image)

"At the window, I was careful to stand stood, with my shoulder against the window frame, so I would be hidden from view."

"From the shadows, I could see saw down a moonlit street, lined with small brick shops." (and if you've already established that your character is in the shadows, you won't need the introductory clause. The same can be said for every one of these introductory clauses.)


caw
 
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Snick

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I agree with Anne. The infinitives are not split, but you might want to rearrange the sentences.
 

Cyia

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Brillig in the slithy toves...


Too much passive voice. "was laid low...", "was the one..."
Use active voice.

Those aren't passive sentences. Was + verb doesn't automatically make something passive, and "was" on its own certainly doesn't.

Passive is "The ball was thrown by Bob." rather than "Bob threw the ball."

"I was laid low with the fever." is correct - much moreso than trying to make "The fever laid me low." sound like normal speech.
 

IceCreamEmpress

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The thing she was thinking of (and that it really is important to avoid) is "dangling participles," not "split infinitives."

However, she was still wrong. The examples you give here are participial phrases, but not dangling participles--they're all correctly coordinated with the subject of the sentences.

A dangling participle is something like this: "Walking down the street, a sprinkler got me soaking wet." It's "dangling" because the subject of the sentence has been omitted--the sprinkler isn't walking down the street! That sentence would be correctly written as "While I was walking down the street, a sprinkler got me soaking wet," or better "A sprinkler drenched me with water as I walked down the street" or whatever.

Okay, so you're not making any grammatical or syntactical errors. Now, let's move on to the stylistic question. Without seeing the manuscript, I don't know if you open sentences with a participial phrase too often. (I have had clients who opened every sentence with a participle, and let me tell you it gets old awfully quickly!) But it's something to look at and reflect upon.
 

modernmillie

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Thank you, everyone! You've all given great advice!

I agree that the sentences in question aren't necessarily the best they could be, but I'm glad to know that they aren't technically incorrect. That way, I can feel free to leave in a few constructed this way, if I reeeeeally need them to help with a transition, but reword the rest.

I've already changed most of them in my manuscript. Also, thanks for pointing out "pitch black" - it's amazing how something so cliche can just sneak past you time after time when it's your own work! I've since come up with a nice simile to replace it. Thanks!
 

Jamesaritchie

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They aren't split infinitives, but your writer friend is right about editors not liking such sentences. The structure is tedious, at best.

Unnecessary commas and clauses are sometimes indicative of tedious structure. Instead of writing While I was laid low with the fever, Mrs. Gardner was the one who tended me." try Mrs. Gardner was the one who treated me when I was laid low with the fever.


Every sentence is about someone or some thing. If you get this someone or some thing as close to the beginning of the sentence as possible, you eliminate poor structure.


It's also best to get away from filtering whenever possible. I did this, I saw this, I felt this, etc., are the bane of poor first person. While sometimes necessary, most such filtering can be eliminated. The reader knows it's the character who is seeing, feeling, hearing, etc., so you don't have to repeatedly tell them he's the one doing this.

Instead of From the shadows, I could see down a moonlit street, lined with small brick shops." try The moonlit street was lined with small brick shops.
 

modernmillie

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Thanks, James! Good points! I'm working on taking out all the "I saw" and "I felt" and "I watched" stuff as I go, but I think after this round of edits, I'm going to have to do a whole pass looking strictly for that kind of thing.
 

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