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How To Use Syntax

May 15, 2020



I thought I would give some tips on how to use syntax in your pieces, since often when I give feedback on piece that do use this tool, it sounds like I don't like the tool, even though I myself have used it in some of my pieces (e.g. "Twinkle" and "Typing")

Syntax is a tool writers use in pieces to do all kinds of things - enhance their meaning, indirectly describe their characters, change their style, and more. It involves changing the format of their piece (mostly on the small scale) to a more unconventianal format. This often means using incorrect grammar intentionally. Other times, it means repeating a word many times.

For example, a common way to use syntax is to intentionally write with grammatical errors in a first person narrative, where the narrator is a child. This makes the voice of the narrator more realistic; children often make grammatical errors. The piece is improved by syntax.

However, in some cases, syntax can harm a piece. If syntax is not used properly, it can sound like unintentional errors. Even if it is obvious that the errors are intentional, they can still seem out of place. For example, consider the following version of my narrative, A Grey Room

    once, i had interests in the world. it was such a magical place.
    i would get tired and the sun would go down. i would sleep, and when i would wake up, the sun would be back up. amazing!
    i had all of these cool things, everything.
    but then it all changed. everything.
    “wake up!” my boss calls from somewhere. of course I am already up, because I can’t ever sleep.
    i get up, go to the other side of the room to my computer, and wait for instructions.
    “find the information file on subject 1551.” i do that. “delete it.” i do that too, even though it means that subject 1551 could be killed, and no one would know. i know better than to rebel.
    “read this article by work subject 33.” work subjects are like subjects, but with a higher rank. i read the article. it looks good. “does it look good?” i press the check mark, answering yes.
    “subject 1378 says it doesn’t.” my heart skips a beat: did I make a mistake? would this be the end of my career, my life?
    “delete the information file on subject 1378.” i do that, and i am relieved, even though subject 1378 will probably be killed. i survived another day.

If you compare the original version to this version, it is clear what syntax I added. It is obvious that the lowercase is intentional, but still, it just seems out of place. It makes the narrative harder to read. It doesn't add to the narrative in any way, and that is why it should not be used here.

There are times when not using capital letters is perfectly natural. For example, consider the following haiku:

a green ocean trance
rustle of leaves in the air
fog of life spreading

It is has no capital letters, and that style makes sense with the words, topic, and genre. There are no sentences. There are only lines, which are like incomplete ideas. Even the first letter of each line is lowercase, and in some ways, this adds to the haiku. It takes off the emphasis from the split of ideas, and makes them float together instead of strictly apart.

Notice that in the example above, with no capital letters, there is also no punctuation, and it is poetry. In the other example with no capital letters, it is prose, and there is punctuation. Having no capitals typically goes better with poetry, and with pieces that don't have punctuation.

As we have seen, syntax can help and hurt pieces, but how does one know which effect syntax will have on one's piece? If you are deciding whether to use syntax in your piece, ask yourself, will the syntax have a purpose? Will it make my piece easier or harder to read? How will it change the mood, tone, and style of my piece? Do I like this change? Does the syntax go with the words/content of my piece? Consider all of these questions when adding syntax to your piece.

Did this help at all? Any questions? Any corrections? Which pieces have you used syntax in? Comment below.
I recognize that a lot of what I said in this piece is my opinion, not fact, and others may give you different advice. I hope it still helped, though.


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  • May 15, 2020 - 5:22pm (Now Viewing)

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