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Added a post  to  , Check that sentence

Hi everybody, It's me again. I'm going to put the sentence I'd like checked in a bit of context and highlight it in italics. (NB: the father was in a country occupied by the Nazis, he was no demonstrating from safety. This should be clear from the passage, but just in case...)

"This cap was my father's protest against the Nazi occupation. If you demonstrated in the streets in nineteen thirty-nine, you were shot on sight by the SS. But they had no idea that these caps were a symbol of Masaryk and the First Republic. My father and his friends wore them as a secret sign language."

I'm thinking especially about the best material to end the sentence with. An alternative wording would be: 

"If you demonstrated in the streets in nineteen thirty-nine, the SS would shoot you on sight."

Some might object to the first version, because of the passive voice. I think that the passive voice can be useful when a subject is acted upon, and this sentence is definitely a case in point. I prefer the first version to the second, even though "shoot you on sight" is a strong ending, because "the SS" is also a strong ending, and because I think that the conditional of "would shoot you" weakens the statement.

What do you say? Any comments beyond responses to my own are also welcome. Thank you so much.

    • I like your alternative:

      "If you demonstrated in the streets in nineteen thirty-nine, the SS would shoot you on sight." Shoot on Sight is a punchy ending

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      • Thank you.

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      • This is a tricky one, Janet. Your arguments for passive voice are strong. But the bigger problem is the first half. Caron's suggestions fix this, but I think it needs to be stated explicitly.

        If you demonstrated in the streets in nineteen thirty-nine… is flabby. It has the double in dragging it down; context placement within context placement. As Caron suggests, cut to the point. In nineteen thirty-nine… On, perhaps better yet, remove the obvious. In thirty-nine… The century is implicit from the Nazi reference.

        That then allows you to construct the rest of the sentence in a stronger way.

        is it that demonstrating in the streets got you shot? Or is it being identified as a demonstrator that got you shot? I suspect the latter.

        Also, shot on sight is a cliché. it can be trimmed to shot without losing anything.

        So… In thirty-nine, overt demonstration would get you shot by the SS.

        I would also change were a symbol of to symbolised, and  completely rewrite the last sentence too, breaking the speech to wave the cap, and replacing with a simplified version along the lines of These were a secret language of resistance.

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        • Hi Rick,

          Please don't apologise. I appreciate the way you come back to a question. I see what you mean too. The fly swatting says it all. Do you remember the scene in Schindler's List when a camp inmate comes up to the SS officer Amon Goeth (R Fiennes) with some sort of info about a problem and solving it (I don't remember the particulars), and he just says, "Shoot her." That's it exactly.

          I came across the phrase "bureaucrats in uniforms" recently to describe the work of the SS and the camps especially. It doesn't do justice to the horror, but it does deflate the ideological pretensions.

          Even though it's a cliché, I'm still considering "shot on sight", because it does express the carrying-out of an order from higher up, and in journalism, it is still used in that context. A cliché becomes a cliché because it originally expressed something meaningful, and I'm not adverse to using one if it can draw upon that. Perhaps I'm in the minority, but when we're cautioned about clichés or filter words or telling vs showing, I just find it so useful to stop and think about the particular context.

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          • Following on from these comments, I think 'shot on sight' has a lot to recommend it, not least its onomatopoeic quality, especially at the end of a sentence.

            Hope this helps.

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            • Hi Libby,

              So nice to read you thinking about sound! I agree 100%. Thanks a lot.

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            • Hi Janet, 

              I know you are only asking about the sentence in italics, but I wonder if the first sentence would read better as 'Wearing this cap was my father's protest...' as the cap itself is not the protest, but the wearing of it?

              And how about ' if you demonstrated on the streets in 1939, you risked being shot on sight.' I think 'shot on sight' is a stronger end to the sentence than 'by the SS'. 

              You could then continue with 'But the SS had no idea...'


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              • Hi Janet, I think David's wording is the best amalgam of the various suggestions. It's hard to tell out of context but I also prefer his version of the cap sentence as well as 'If you demonstrated ...' etc.

                I think you need 'shot on sight', or something with the same meaning, to make it clear the SS weren't taking people and shooting them elsewhere. I agree with Rick that shot on sight is a cliche, even if it's a snappy one.

                The standard way of presenting years is in figures, so it's 1939 unless you start a sentence with the year. But starting a sentence with 'Nineteen thirty-nine was the year ...', for example, is also clunky and in that situation it would be best to re-order the sentence so that the date wasn't at the start.

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                • Hi Libby,

                  I also like David's wording, but I think Rick's suggestion about "secret language of resistance" is excellent. Secret languages of resistance are a motif in the entire story, the expression is concise, and it's a strong, snappy statement.

                  "Shoot on sight" is a cliché, but one of the things it implies is that the shooting is an order from a higher authority and not an individual initiative. As I said to Rick, I want some way of underlining the brutality of the Nazi occupation in  Czechoslovakia.

                  Narration presents a year with numerals, yes, but in dialogue, standard English practice is to spell it out, and this is dialogue.

                  Thanks a lot for your comments.

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                  • Ah, yes. I hadn't realised it was dialogue.

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                  • Hi David,

                    Nice to hear from you. How's your writing going?

                    You're right, "shot on sight" is stronger, & the SS could indeed go in the next sentence. Rick's suggestion of ""secret language of resistance" takes out "wearing", so it could start that sentence as you suggest. Great!

                    (I wish I could put the entire ms on here.)

                    Thank you so much!

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                    • You are most welcome Janet, I'm good thanks, I have been sending 'Constance' to a few competitions, and am now working on the next one in the series, 'Grace'

                      Good luck with your writing, it's a fascinating subject!

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