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I'm writing a review for a fiction book and I'm using a lot of terminology that is specific to the book and I feel that it has to be given some context and explanation. Otherwise any reader would be left in the dark.

I have so far tried this:

Laurent and Phil had to go see the Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church, and warn him of a conspiracy to steal his hat.

I just inserted it between commas after the word I wanted to explain was used. Is that the correct way to do it? If it is are there other good techniques you can use to vary your style a bit?

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...I really wish that were a real example of something happening in your book. :D –  Standback Apr 28 '11 at 10:29
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Could I ask that you provide a couple of examples of the type of details you need to explain? In a nutshell, I think things that can be explained in a snippet you might be able to simply use the snippet instead of the book's terminology, while more complex concepts need attention which will require a fuller description, and won't be squeezed in mid-sentence. –  Standback Apr 28 '11 at 10:32
    
@Standback - I see what you mean, that would simplify things. Worth bearing in mind, thanks –  iwillreadbooks Apr 28 '11 at 10:48
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5 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I think this construction is fine, but you're right, if you overuse it you may find that your writing seems monotonous.

I would first work on cutting as much of the extraneous information as possible. Reviews aren't summaries -- they generally include a brief synopsis (leaving out the ending, of course), but especially in a book with a convoluted plot or complicated setting, I think less is more. I personally don't like it when book reviews reveal much more than the blurb on the back of the book does. So maybe you don't need as much information as you think.

If you DO need it all, I'd suggest mixing the structure up with a few sentences that are just background information, and also including a bit more information in your main clauses. eg.

The Pope is the head of the Catholic Church, and is based in a heavily defended fortress of faith, the Vatican. Satan assigns Laurent and Phil the task of stealing the Pope's jewel-encrusted ceremonial hat.

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Or perhaps even: "The Pope is the head of the Church and Lauren and Phil trembled when they were sent to see him."

I hope this example is fictitious and you don't feel you have to tell your readers about the Pope.

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For the record, this is called the appositive

http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/appositive.htm

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There are three ways to insert an aside mid-sentence like this:

  • Commas: "Laurent and Phil had to go see the Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church, and warn him..."
  • Em or En Dashes (NOT the same as a hyphen): "Laurent and Phil had to go see the Pope — the leader of the Catholic Church — and warn him..."
  • Parenthetical aside: "Laurent and Phil had to go see the Pope (the leader of the Catholic Church) and warn him..."

Some people will argue that one of these is best for a particular situation, but they are largely interchangeable, so you can usually just use the one that feels best to you.

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What you have done is fine. You can also change the order, and provide the explanation first. Example: ... had to go see the head of the Catholic Church, the Pope, and warn ...

Alternatively, you can also use hyphens. Example: ... had to go see the Pope - the head of the Catholic Church - and warn ...

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