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In a first-person narrative, I’d like to use the following sentence:

It took me nearly a decade to write this script, and now I’d pitch it to the top producer in Hollywood.

I’m not following strict grammar rules here (for starters, I should use “It had taken me”), but I’m going for a tone that is both informal and immediate.

  • Assume this sentence appears in a novel written in first person (narrated like a memoir), so the speaker talks about something she expected to do at that specific point in time.

How could I improve this sentence with these goals in mind?

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"After spending nearly a decade on this script, I found writers.stackexchange.com." :) –  Nick Bedford Mar 15 '11 at 2:15
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6 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

You could try

It took me nearly a decade to write this script, and now I was about to pitch it to the top producer in Hollywood.

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Thanks, I like the "was about to" construction. I was thinking that "I'd" ("I would") made it shorter and sharper, but is it wrong/awkward in this context? –  Cliff Hangerson Page Mar 13 '11 at 11:31
    
The way you wrote it resulted in an imperfect parallelism of tenses. My suggestion works better because both clauses are rendered in simple past tense, even though the second expresses the idea of something about to happen at a future time. –  Robusto Mar 13 '11 at 13:07
    
I'm not entirely sure what that means, could you have a look at my question on EL&U? english.stackexchange.com/questions/16283/… –  Cliff Hangerson Page Mar 14 '11 at 13:48
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I think you could also make it more immediate and informal by getting rid of "decade" - "It took me ten years to write this script, and now..."

The length of time and the role of expectation also suggests the sentence could be made more immediate by expressing something internal, or psychological. Is the speaker expressing frustration? "It took me ten fucking years to write this damn thing, and I was ready to shove it down the throat of the first producer I saw..." Excitement? "Ten years of hard work, and I was finally rewarded with a meeting at Hollywood's top studio." Note that you're doing that anyway: getting excited about going to the "top producer" adds a shade of naivete to the speaker's voice.

The biggest confusion comes in the second part of the sentence, where the the modal "would" introduces another temporal element. "Would" indicating imperfective structure (an ongoing action, brought from the past to the present) is different from the conditional. So you could either be saying:

"It took me a decade to write this script; now, [after I finished] I would [shop it around]."

or

"It took me a decade to write this script; [conditional upon its completion], I'd pitch it to the top producer in Hollywood."

It's the "now" working with the "would" that does it. Short answer: I think it'd be more clear if the temporal perspective were firmly established by the grammar; since it's memoir, you could just stay in the past.

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Thanks, great tips, especially re decade. I'm using would as the past tense of will, not as a conditional -- is that the cause of the grammatical problem? –  Cliff Hangerson Page Mar 13 '11 at 11:37
    
Jen, sorry to get back to you so late. Yes - I guess I'd rather read it as a present tense phrase, because of the "now" that precedes it. Like "now I'm gonna shop it around" - gives the speaker a bit of purpose. Because you can use "would" in different forms it's hard to understand the sentence out of context. But that could also be the problem, that I'm not reading it as it would appear in a larger chunk of narrative. –  Jason Mar 22 '11 at 21:23
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There are probably an infinite number of ways to rewrite this sentence:

  • After spending nearly a decade working on this script, I could finally start pitching it to the top producers in Hollywood.

  • It had taken nearly a decade to perfect the script, but now it was ready to be pitched to the top producers in Hollywood.

  • I spent nearly a decade working on this script, now I can finally start pitching it to the top producers in Hollywood.

I would definitely try and eliminate using "was." Writing the sentence without using "was" tends to make it stronger and flow better.

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Thanks! These examples make the sentence longer, though; I'm looking for something short and sharp, with an informal tone (i.e. something the speaker might have said in a conversation) –  Cliff Hangerson Page Mar 13 '11 at 11:34
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Ten years of windup. Today was the pitch. I was going to throw Hollywood a curve ball like they'd never seen.

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Seems like an awful lot of metaphor to me. (Unless the script is about baseball, then it might work. =P) –  Ralph Gallagher Mar 12 '11 at 18:56
    
She wanted to improve it. It seemed time for a colorful metaphor. :) –  Lauren Ipsum Mar 12 '11 at 19:05
    
Yes, I like it, nothing wrong with metaphors! –  Cliff Hangerson Page Mar 13 '11 at 11:30
    
From what I know about baseball, batters don't like curve balls… so Hollywood was going to get something they didn't like? :-) –  ShreevatsaR Mar 15 '11 at 7:29
    
I was going with idea that the script was something unique, powerful, and game-changing. –  Lauren Ipsum Mar 15 '11 at 13:19
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I've spent a decade of my life writing this script, now it will pay off. Hollywood I'm coming. (or: Hollywood is waiting.)

Edit: past tense
I spent a decade of my life writing this script, it was time to pay off. Hollywood was waiting.

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Thanks, I like it -- but the catch is, it needs to be in past tense as the speaker makes this statement at a point in the past –  Cliff Hangerson Page Mar 13 '11 at 11:28
    
@Jen: As you wish ;) –  John Smithers Mar 13 '11 at 19:38
    
That doesn't seem to flow to me. "It was time to pay off" sounds awkward and will probably make readers stumble over it. –  Ralph Gallagher Mar 13 '11 at 22:58
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I’m not following strict grammar rules here (for starters, I should use “It had taken me”), but I’m going for a tone that is both informal and immediate.

There's absolutely nothing in the grammar of English that would compel you to use the past perfect in this example, Jen.

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