Feed Item
Added a post  to  , Check that sentence

Hey all! I've not written on here for a while, but I'm scratching my head while writing this scene. There are two boys, and in some sentences it is ambiguous as to who I am referring to. I've simplified the sentence so that context is irrelevant:

'When Jack first started mocking John, he had protested.'

The 'he' should refer to John, but that's not clear. 'When Jack first started mocking John, John had protested.' sounds clumsy. Should I just abandon this structure and go with 'John had protested when Jack first starting mocking him.'?

Any thoughts much appreciated! As I say, I've simplified the sentence so I don't have to explain the context - I'm more interested in the CONVENTION, and general rules than Jack mocking John.

Comments
    • Hi Ben, as you suggest, you could go for 'John had protested when Jack first starting mocking him.' 

      An alternative could be 'When Jack first started mocking him, John had protested.' 

      I hope this helps a bit.


      0 0 0 0 0 0
      • Thanks Libby! I think I'll go with the former, as it fits better within the context.

        0 0 0 0 0 0
        • I think you've got your tenses mixed. The PAST PERFECT (eg had protested) indicates a past moment 'two steps back in time', a pre-past if you like. The PAST SIMPLE (eg protested) indicates an action finished in the past, usually referring to the complete action, at a specific moment in time in many cases. 

          Of the actions you have, if I've understood correctly, the mocking comes first, then the protesting by John. So it makes more sense to say:

          'John protested when Jack had first starting mocking him.'

          HOWEVER since these seem to be one action followed by the other (and Past Perfect is better limited) I would keep it simple and say:

          'John protested when Jack first starting mocking him.'

          Reversing the order as suggested makes things simpler too and puts the emphasis on the mocking which is perhaps the stronger of the two actions and more interesting for the reader to focus on.


          0 0 0 0 0 0
        • A good question, Ben. Your solution and Libby's, are both decent. This is one of those cases where there may not be a truly good answer; the best you can do is rearrange your sentences to avoid the uncertainty of shared pronouns.

          0 0 0 0 0 0
          • Thanks Rick, I've gone through the scene to rearrange these now. I thought I could get away with the ambiguity but have decided to play it safe :)

            0 0 0 0 0 0
          • You could say something along the lines of: "When Jack first began to jeer at John (or some other synonym) his mocking had drawn protest" making it clear in that way.

            0 0 0 0 0 0
            • Thanks J! This is slightly too formal for my scene with the boys, but that would certainly work otherwise. It's very clear!

              0 0 0 0 0 0
            • I say the original sentence is fine. Protest is one normal response to mockery. You can confirm this with follow up discussion or dialogue showing protest. Also do you need the "had"? Probably but worth considering.


              0 0 0 0 0 0
              • How about "When Jack first started mocking him, John had protested." ? It's not ambiguous, and slightly less pedestrian than your proposed alternative, I feel.

                This (and your own first example) puts the emphasis on John's protest, and by implication on John himself. If John is the viewpoint character, this would fit.

                Your alternative "John had protested when Jack mocked him..." puts the emphasis on the mocking, and by implication on Jack. If Jack is the viewpoint character, this would fit.

                But to be honest, there's not much in it either way. Nothing wrong with either; but you have to consider the context and the effect you want to build.

                0 0 0 0 0 0
                • Thank you for this insight, Glyn. John is the viewpoint character, and you make a good point about the emphasis here.

                  0 0 0 0 0 0
                Not logged in users can't 'Comments Post'.
                Info