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I wrote the following:

Under the shelter of the inn, a barbecue was taking place, red coal glowing in the dark and tiny sparks fluttering around from time to time.

or should I change it to:

Under the shelter of the inn, a barbecue was taking place. The red coal glowed in the dark and tiny sparks fluttered around from time to time.

I know I can do this:

She was walking by the shore, her hair fluttering in the wind.

But I'm not very sure about the first example.

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It is not ungrammatical to use two absolute phrases connected by a conjunction (like "and"). Sentence length may become a problem, but in this case it seems to have an appropriately slow pace, like a warm, lazy evening. –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 15 '13 at 11:50
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Who ever told you that your first example was wrong? It absolutely is not wrong, and is in many ways better than your second example. –  JSBձոգչ Jun 15 '13 at 19:03
    
Your first example verges on being a beautiful sentence. Keep going, Alex, you're getting better. –  Aerovistae Jun 21 '13 at 3:16
    
@Aerovistae Thanks, man. I improved mainly because you guys and this site. By the way, here's the full text in case you wanna read it: alexandrochen.quora.com/… –  Alexandro Chen Jun 21 '13 at 5:54
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6 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It is not ungrammatical to use two absolute phrases connected by a conjunction (like "and"). Long sentences can be more difficult to read and tend to slow the pace of the narrative, but in this case a slower pace is appropriate, like a warm, lazy evening.

Taking jwpat7's suggestion about the tense of the main verb and the use of the plural "coals", I offer the following alternative:

Under the shelter of the inn, a barbecue welcomed the warm evening, red coals glowing in the dark and occasional tiny sparks fluttering into the air.

(Although this alternative is unlikely to fit the particular context of your writing, you are free to use any part of it without attribution.)

"welcomed the warm evening" might be too flowery (and "warm evening" might be redundant with previous or later text), but "welcomed" enhances the feel of safety brought by "shelter of the inn" and adds a small (likely appropriate) feel of community and "warm evening" seems to increase the relaxed feeling. Moving "from time to time" from the end of the sentence (and changing it to "occasional") allows "fluttering into the air" to be at the end; having the somewhat whimsical "fluttering" and breath sound of "air" at the end of the sentence (with its pause) seems to add a calm, relaxed feeling ("ah"), which also seems to fit the setting of a safe, relaxed environment. "into the air" is a relatively small change in meaning/tone from "around"; "around" emphasizes some degree of persistence while "into the air" seems to express more of a temporary rising.

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You scheming upvoters of my comment have forced me to post it (with extension) as an answer. –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 15 '13 at 19:37
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I prefer the first of the two examples; the second seems choppy. It would read slightly better with “Red coals” in place of “The red coal”. (That is, coal should be plural in both examples, and there should be no article before it.) I might or might not add with or its to the first:

Under the shelter of the inn, a barbecue took place, with red coals glowing in the dark and tiny sparks fluttering about.
Under the shelter of the inn, a barbecue takes place; red coals glow in the dark, sparks flutter from time to time.

I suggest avoiding the past continuous tense (like “was taking place”) in narrative, and using either simple past (“took place”) or present (“takes place”). Past continuous seems stilted, verbose, misleading.

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Context is important, and this question is hard to answer. But I'll try.

Sentence length is something that creates a rhythm in the text. For example, let's think of a situation where you have successively longer sentences, coming one after the other, and the reader has to parse them. Next, a short sentence appears.

My point is that whether you go with a longer, flowing sentence or two shorter ones is entirely dependent on the context. While I actually prefer combining these two sentences, I think your specific example of a unified sentence is a little clumsy. But perhaps it fits brilliantly with the text surrounding it; we don't know.

So if you want easy-to-parse description, something the reader will breeze through, go with the two short sentences. If you want a more flowing, immersive, artistic paragraph, go with the single sentence.

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There is absolutely nothing wrong with the first sentence. In fact, I think it's stylistically preferable to the second, though that's just how I see it. The first seems to evoke an image, while the second seems just to state facts dispassionately - to me, anyway. I think it's because in the first sentence, the glowing red coals and the sparks are connected with the barbeque, rather than being introduced later on.

EDIT: I don't think I have made much sense. I'm not saying, of course, that you run everything into one sentence, or that you should write sentences like yours all the time. What I immediately felt upon reading your sentences was what I've said above. I might feel differently, if every sentence you wrote was like that. It would feel like the same style was being overused. Simple sentences are effective, too, and I can think of situations in which you might prefer the second style to the first (though not perhaps given these sentences in particular): for instance, simple and short sentences can be used when you're dealing with a tense situation, and you want every moment that passes to feel significant to the reader. This isn't the only situation, and you may not always want to do this in this sort of situation.

The point is, this isn't ungrammatical, and you should keep it.

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Everyone got stuck on the length of the sentences, which is completely irrelevant here, in my opinion. It's neither an overly long nor a confusing sentence. The question was about grammar.

I see nothing wrong with the grammar here, but if you're worried with the "and", have you though of splitting it this way:

Under the shelter of the inn, a barbecue was taking place, red coal glowing in the dark and tiny sparks fluttering around from time to time.

into:

Under the shelter of the inn, a barbecue was taking place, red coal glowing in the dark. Tiny sparks fluttered around from time to time.

You still keep the flow of the sentence, you don't make it look choppy as jwpat7 noticed, you got rid of the "and" that was bothering you, and you have a combination of a long and a short sentence, which adds to the overall dynamic of the text (which of course depends on the rest of the text, but it's something to pay attention to).

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Well, nobody will put you to jail for that. Your editor will probably correct it anyways, before the book gets published.

But is there any particular reason why you want to connect two sentences? For your readers it will be more difficult to read, as instead of two short sentences which they are able to catch in one look of the eye, they get a longer one, which hardly make a whole.

Remember that most of the people don't read books word after word, whispering each of them silently. That's only what we, writers, tend to do. This way such a trick won't give you anything, maybe except for problems. ;)

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Thanks for the feedback. So I guess the second example reads better? –  Alexandro Chen Jun 15 '13 at 11:51
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Yes, it reads better for me as a reader. But the first one is also fine. Just don't break the crossline, which probably is in different place for every sentence. –  Darek Wędrychowski Jun 15 '13 at 12:23
    
What does “don't break the crossline” mean? –  jwpat7 Jun 16 '13 at 14:33
    
I disagree. Sentence variation has purpose. For start, alternating sentence length (short-long-short-long) makes writing more dynamic than all long sentences, or all short. All short sentences convey action, they're fast, energetic, should be used in action scenes. All long sentences convey calmness or laziness (and should not be used in action scenes). Run-on sentences, if used right, can convey tiredness or confusion of the character. Right sentence length sets the right mood. Since the mood in the example is serene, long sentence works better. Also, long sentences does not equal confusing. –  Tannalein Jun 19 '13 at 2:45
    
"Don't break the crossline" basically is tend to mean "nie przekraczaj granicy". Perhaps "don't cross the boundaries" would be better translation. –  Darek Wędrychowski Jun 19 '13 at 5:04
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