Check Like the Prose: Vol. II

By bugmaniacbob. Art by bugmaniacbob.
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So, then, you've had your amuse-bouche of the legendary Grammar-Prose team, and you're hungry for more, eh? You may have found yourself laughing at the notion that anyone could slip up on the silly little grammar mistakes mentioned in the previous article, or sneered at the patronising little description of a full stop. Perhaps you have memorised Smogon's grammar standards, and have a reputation for absolute writing precision at your respective educational institution. Surely, surely you are of a higher calibre altogether?

Well, maybe. But there is another half that we have yet to discuss; another sphere, another universe, with different rules, rhyme and reason altogether. I speak, of course, of that word that English scholars speak of in hushed voices—the terrifying spectre of prose. "How hard can it be?" I hear you cry. Alas, for all that you have learned of grammar, prose is a very fickle beast. There are very few, if any, hard-and-fast rules, and checking it is a very subjective business; all the time there are a great many other considerations that have to be taken into account. With grammar, there will almost always be a "right" way of saying something. Such a thing does not exist for prose—at least, not usually...

Well, if you're scared, then don't be. There are plenty of dunderheads out there who couldn't write a decent piece of literature to save their immortal souls, but they manage just fine. They're extremely boring people, but they're probably happy. But for those of us with higher aspirations in life, let's begin with the basics. The Oxford English Dictionary defines prose as: "written or spoken language in its ordinary form, without metrical structure". Which is all very well, but a tad on the uninformative side for our purposes. So, to paraphrase Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "Prose; the right words in the right order. Poetry; the best words in the best order".

The Right Words

One big thing to look out for when prose checking is when the analysis writer has unfortunately used a word which, while grammatically correct in its context, does not convey the meaning that they were trying to express. For example, take the following sentence:

"Scyther is ignominiously better than Scizor."

Of course, with your not inconsiderable talent, you will immediately spot the cardinal error in this sentence—the word "ignominiously". Being the clever little chicken that you are, you will know that "ignominious" means "of or deserving of disgrace". However, Scyther being "disgracefully" better than Scizor is not grammatically incorrect. You could shove this sentence under the oversized nose of the strictest grammar checker in the world and they'd be unable to fault you. But clearly, this was not what the author intended to say. So, here you will put a little correction suggesting something along the lines of "clearly" or "blatantly", or simply make a note of it so that the author is aware of their mistake.

Often, these mistakes are simply accidental. The best of us will sometimes pick a word without thinking twice, or use one in a way that makes the meaning obscure. The difficulty, however, is that not all cases are as clear-cut as the one above, and are often very difficult to pick up, much less correct. For example, take the following passage, cunningly disguised by yours truly:

"Though Squiggle's flaws are several, its arguably most dangerous and defining attribute is its ability to overwhelm the opposition. Excellent type coverage is difficult to ignore on something as naturally powerful as Squiggle, which sports the second highest Super Squiggle stat in OU. Squiggle's special attacking prowess is further enhanced by Squiggle Power, which, by granting it an immunity to non-Squiggle moves, makes Squiggle one of the most dangerous Squiggle Orb or Squiggle Band abusers in OU. Perhaps what makes Squiggle so fearful is that it can abuse this power effectively with its base 120 Squiggle Smash, which surpasses most of the unboosted metagame where slower threats lurk (think Squiggle bait). A Pokemon with this much offensive potential is certainly one to consider on your team, and, furthermore, one to be wary of."

Did you spot the error? This was from a passage of an analysis that was on-site, having gone through two grammar-prose checks and a moderator proofread. As has already been said, spotting words that are just wrong can often be a difficult task, not because the error is beyond the checker, but because it is so easy to overlook if one's mind is focused on grammar. For sake of reference, the incorrect word here is "fearful". Squiggle is not afraid of the opponent; it should be the other way around. "Fearsome" is the correct word to use. If you spotted that, then congratulations. You've successfully identified the single simplest error that there is in prose checking. Jolly good show. Pat yourself on the head and award yourself a medal. Your mother must be so proud.

The Right Order

Now it gets trickier. While it's easy enough to tell when a word just shouldn't be in the passage, it can be trickier to identify words put in an order that isn't correct. Let's start off with a very obviously wrong sentence:

"Face bloody your shut"

This may well be correct in Latin, but not in English, sunshine. The basic order of any sentence in English is as follows:

(Article) – (Subject Adjective) – Subject Noun – (Adverb) – Verb – (Article) – (Object Adjective) – Object Noun

Hence: "(The) (hungry) man (hungrily) ate (the) (delicious) cheesecake."

This is basic English, but we'll go over it for the benefit of those who don't know what I'm going on about.

Article: Can be either indefinite (a / an) or definite (the). The definite article is used when talking about a specific noun, and the indefinite is used when talking vaguely, or about the noun in general. This should come before any noun, unless it is a proper noun (names, places, Pokemon, etc).

Noun: Denotes a thing or object you happen to be talking about. As a general rule of thumb, if you can say it out loud and make another person say "where?" then it's a noun. The most important nouns in a sentence are subject and object nouns—the subject is doing whatever the action of the verb happens to be, and the direct object is on the receiving end of said action. The indirect object is a noun that acts as a recipient or vector for the direct object (such as "I gave Jimmy a bruise") and usually comes before the direct object (unless a preposition is involved (ie. "I gave a bruise to Jimmy")). A possessive noun acts as the owner of another noun ("I gave a bruise to Jimmy's mother"), and can go before ("Jimmy's") or after ("of Jimmy") the noun it owns. A local noun indicates movement about a location ("I went to the house"), with the aid of a preposition, not to be confused with an indirect object. There are more, but these are the only ones that you should be coming across in analysis writing.

Pronoun: Defines a noun by its person, gender, and number alone, and can be substituted for said noun, thus enabling them to be used to indicate the author and reader, or else the speaker and listener. If you didn't understand a word I just said, then they're words like "I" or "you". Generally interchangeable with nouns in a sentence, and typically used to avoid repetition, but the rules for when and where to use them are somewhat difficult to describe, and need to be learned through experience.

Adjective: Describes a noun. Should always come directly before the noun it describes, except under certain circumstances (such as "the fields are green").

Verb: Denotes the action of a sentence. Can be active or passive, can have many different tenses depending on its time of occurrence and the length of the period it occurred over, and can even change depending on the likelihood of its occurrence. Also occurs in the form of commands, general statements without subject nouns, and many more things too numerous to list here.

Adverb: Describes the verb. As a general rule, it should come before the verb it describes, or after the direct object of the verb, unless there is no object to the verb, in which case either before or after the verb is fine, depending of course on context. Well, maybe that's not very clear... for example, you could say "I attacked the fiend vociferously" or "I vociferously attacked the fiend, but you cannot say "I attacked vociferously the fiend". On the other hand, you can say "I attacked vociferously" or "I vociferously attacked". Easy.

Preposition: Used in its simplest forms to link together the various different nouns to one another in terms of direction, position, or temporal significance ("I came to the dance", "I came next to the dance", "I came during the dance", respectively).

Conjunction: A little word that links together two sentences to make one big, happy, super-sentence. Such words are easy to slot into a sentence—remove the full stop, stick in the middle, and voilà. The only difficulty here is that sometimes the two sentences oppose one another, and sometimes they corroborate with one another, so you have to be careful which one you use (thus "I am weedy and can break a stoat's neck" makes less sense than "I am weedy but can break a stoat's neck").

Hence, our sentence above should read "Shut your bloody face". Goodness, you don't say, I hear you cry. Whatever kind of knowledge will ye great eternal genius bless us with next? Well, to answer your question, you sarcastic little whippet, this is the fundamental base upon which prose checking is founded. If you don't know the ins and outs of sentence structure, you aren't going to get very far, and you might as well go back to testing yourself on Smogon's Grammar Standards on your cold, rainy nights alone, while we of the higher orders frolic about with our expert command of English and our thoroughly irritating pedantry. So make sure you know this stuff.

Well, that's more or less the basics covered. Ready to go a little deeper?

Considerations on Checking an Analysis

Well, here's the big whopper, as it were. How exactly does one go about checking an analysis for prose? Well, first of all, let's lay out our considerations in full.

  1. It has to be professional.

    These analyses are a reference point for more or less the entire English-speaking competitive Pokemon battling world. Which may not sound like the toughest crowd imaginable, but it's as good a time as any to practise refining a document for real life work. Make sure that the information is clear and unassuming—if there's a significant degree in the author's writing of being patronising or snarky or immature (there's a lot of this floating around), then it's a pretty good bet that it warrants taking out. Of course, you have to weigh this alongside the other considerations, so be careful. Similarly, you should also make sure that an appropriate level of detail is included, and that vague statements are properly qualified.
  2. It has to retain some degree of humanity.

    A robot did not write these analyses. While it would be easy as pie and very simple to churn out analyses by the dozen with as much personality as the average bank statement, this is not the stuff that great prose is made from. Add a little joke, some witty wordplay, and it all becomes that much more interesting to read. Reading an analysis is supposed to be recreational as well as informative. Because of this, when checking an analysis, if you see something that isn't quite professional enough, don't just auto-correct it. There's a difference between being mature and being boring. It's hard to explain, but you'll know a well-written piece of work when you see one. It just takes plenty of practice to achieve the right balance.
  3. The writing style must be preserved.

    Remember, you aren't the author of this analysis. While the author reserves the right to accept or reject any changes you make, that doesn't give you the right to make it difficult for them to incorporate your changes. This is a problem a great many grammar checkers have—namely, using a long word or worse, a colloquialism that looks absolutely out of place with the rest of the text. This can easily lead to the change being ignored, which is bad if you have indeed spotted an error. Similarly, a few little careless comments here and there, even if they do not conform to the accepted professional tone of analyses, shouldn't be immediately taken out, especially if they match the author's tone.
  4. It has to be readable.

    Similarly to the above, while your writing may be as amusing as watching a politician fall down a manhole, if you've written a massive great wall of text, there aren't many people who are going to want to read it all. Prose checkers have two responsibilities here—firstly, in making sure that the paragraphs are split such that they encompass their topics entirely before moving on to the next, and splitting up or combining overly long or short sentences, respectively, and secondly, in cutting out unnecessary fluff from the analysis. These two tasks are typically the main areas of prose editing done on analyses, and very possibly the most difficult.

That's a lot of stuff to keep in mind, I'll grant. Perhaps you're thinking that this is all a bit much for checking a Pokemon analysis. Perhaps you're thinking that this will only result in a less desirable mash-up of various antagonistic requirements. Or perhaps you're not thinking at all. Well, just take my word for it. Prose checking isn't easy and it certainly isn't straightforward. Ultimately you have to respect the author when you're working, but you also have to have confidence in your own abilities.

How to Begin

Usually, the best way to begin checking for prose errors is to read the writing aloud. This way, if something sounds wrong, you'll pick up on it immediately. Ultimately, 99% of prose errors will fall under the category of "sounds wrong", so this is a pretty good way of picking up on most of the stuff you want to get. However, if you happen to be in a library or similar public place, you'll have to make do with plain old reading.

Some Tips

Some Suppositions that Do Not Always Hold True

Latina lingua est
Sicut mortui mortuum posse
Antiquae Britannos necavit
Et nunc me necat

A Note on Suggested Changes

Prose edits are ultimately going to be subjective. No matter how cast-iron your thought process is, you're going to be in a lot of trouble attempting to justify just about every prose change you make. Hence why there are so many grammar edits to every prose edit. As has already been stated, it is quite common for new checkers to ravage every analysis they see with their foul blue-and-red markers. Well, there's being helpful and there's being prudent, as they say. Generally speaking, yes, more is better than less. Since these checks are subjective anyway, and the author has a right to reject any changes that they see fit to, well, there's no bad side to making suggestions.

However, you can be a bit more political about the whole game. Nobody wants to read through a massive list of unqualified aspersions on their literary ability, so if there are any borderline cases, maybe making a small note of it in brackets to attract the author's attention rather than smearing it with correcting fluid is a better way to go about obtaining a change. Hence:

"Scyther is sweet at tearing through the opponent's team"

Bad: "Change it to "The Mantis is exceedingly efficacious in the marmalisation of the opponents' forces.""
Good: "Just my opinion, but maybe you'd want to use a more professional word than "sweet". Of course, it's up to you."

Similarly, if there's a word that you disagree with, but you understand perfectly well what it means and it works in the context it is used in, you do have the option to just let it slide. The world won't stop turning just because you didn't make enough edits on somebody's Slugma analysis. Remember, it's all about achieving the highest quality possible, not about making the most number of edits possible. I promise the GP team will respect you far more for being conservative but correct than for being enthusiastic but erratic.

Final Word

Well, young fledgling, you appear to have successfully completed your first task of reading this article.

Either that, or you have simply skipped straight to the bottom, in which case I kindly invite you to pull your lazy great head back to the top of the page and read this thing. As for those of you who have actually bothered to read this, I hereby deem you worthy of learning the ultimate secrets of the fabled Grammar-Prose team. Please feel free to scroll down and bask in the majesty of lessons from the ancient past, which will turn your legs to jelly and your stomach to lead, while your head swells to encompass the entirety of your living flesh...

I jest. But in all seriousness, perhaps you are not so confident in your abilities now. Or perhaps you entirely disagree with everything I've said in this article. And that is perfectly fine. As has been stated many times before in many different ages, English is not an intuitive language. Neither is it easy to learn it through simply following rules. So, checking the nuances and subtleties of the language is a difficult job indeed. But like all difficult jobs, with sufficient practice it can seem trivial.

You don't have to be perfect. Nobody on the Grammar-Prose team is perfect. But for the love of God, never ever mention the word "concision".

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