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I'm writing a narrative and am having a problem structuring the order of events. Here is what I have:

Jamie had an 8 am flight so she was out of the house just after 6. Leaving me to wake up, feed and dress the girls, something we typically tag team each morning.

How can I rephrase the above to include all of the details but no create a run-on sentence?

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6 Answers 6

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Ok, lemme take a couple stabs at it.

First idea:

Jamie had a 8 am flight that morning. Usually, we'd tag-team the morning rituals with the girls -- waking them, feeding them, and dressing them together. But Jamie had to leave just after 6 to catch that flight, so it all fell to me.

Note the change from "something" to "morning rituals". I think giving it a name instead of a placeholder gives it more punch, and makes breaking it up easier too. I did the same with "something" in the option below, changing it to "chores".

For this first version, though, the key piece is splitting the times -- the 8 am flight and 6 am departure from home. I like doing that here, since what's happening is a deviation from the norm. It can bear, and arguably needs, to have that beat* spent on it expanded from the one sentence to encompassing the whole paragraph. Now, if their normal morning was her rushing off to catch a flight, then I like that sentence exactly the way you've written it.

*I may not be using the term "beat" correctly here, but I hope my meaning is clear.

Second idea:

Jamie had a 8 am flight, so she was out of the house just after 6. That left me to wake the girls up, feed them and dress them; chores we typically tag teamed each morning.

This one's much closer to what you had, and also is shorter and tighter than my first. The key change here is from "Leaving" to "That left me". "Leaving", and any other -ing word, is a continuation word, one that feels open ended, stretched out, and in progress. And that's why the whole thing (your version) comes off as a run-on sentence. Even with that period there, starting that sentence with an -ing word ties it to the previous sentence. Conversely, "That left me" is definitive, directly stated - in short, stronger.

It's worthwhile to note that -ing words frequently come off as weak. Even if unnoticed by themselves, they can still weaken a sentence. It's a good practice in your re-writes to flag each one, and attempt to replace it. I don't mean that they should never be used, but for every one that you do, have a solid reason why it's the best construction.

Of course I just used three -ing words in a row in my first version. I happen to like them there, since their subject (the girls) is not the main subject and the time is a continuum -- every morning for an indefinite period into the past and likely the future. That said, it works without them, and that alone may be reason enough to change it. So, I'll end with that first one again, but with stronger verbs:

Jamie had a 8 am flight that morning. Usually, we'd tag-team the morning rituals with the girls -- we'd wake them, feed them, and dress them together every day. But Jamie had to leave just after 6 to catch that flight, so it all fell to me.

Hm - I wasn't expecting it, but strengthening those verbs revealed that something was missing here -- that "every day".

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Typically we tag team each morning. However, Jamie had an 8 am flight, so she was out of the house just after 6. That left me to wake up, feed and dress the girls.

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I could reword this for you ten million ways, but a better answer would be that you should do it yourself.

When you need to break down a horrific run-on sentence, just separate out the different things you want to say and try reordering them in a handful of ways with different comma and period placements.

If the first five wordings don't work, make five more. You'll get it right a lot faster if you force yourself to not keep thinking of it the same way each time. Think of new words and phrases which can better express what you're trying to say. with practice, you'll catch yourself mid-run-on and efficiently reword it as you go. Just takes time.

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Punctuated as a single sentence, it's not a run-on:

Jamie had an 8 am flight so she was out of the house just after 6, leaving me to wake up, feed, and dress the girls, something we typically tag team each morning.

That series in the middle is now ambiguous, though. Who is waking up, the narrator or the girls? And singular "something" might be the wrong number, as it refers to three activities.

But it's not a run-on sentence.

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Why do you want to rephrase it? Because you read somewhere, that sentences should be short? Because someone said, you would drive off readers? Then don't do it. Think about what you want to express.

The protagonist is in an uncomfortable situation. Jamie is not there to help. So he has a little bit more stress, is in a hurry. So would he take a break between the actions and catch his breath at each period?

I wake up the girls. I feed them. Then I dress them.

Or would his actions be more breathless:

I wake up the girls, feed them, dress them.

I think you are going for the second situation. Therefore I wouldn't change your sentences. They express this well.

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Because Jamie had an 8am flight, she had to leave the house at 6am which left me to feed and dress the girls, which we normally do together.

Alternatively, I guess you could break down like this:

Because Jamie had an 8am flight, she had to leave the house at 6am, leaving me to dress and feed the girls. These are normally responsibilities shared between us.

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You know, I think both your options are grammatically correct and conveigh the information well. For fiction though, I don't care for constructions that start with "Because...". It cries out to me - 'I'm telling, I should be showing!' (Of course, all bets are off when it's dialogue.) –  Patches Mar 16 '12 at 5:10
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