Archive for October, 2015
Over the past several years, I’ve read a few manuscripts from friends and fellow authors (published as well as unpublished) in a situation where I’ve been asked to comment on the writing and give feedback. Some have been good, some not so good. Of the manuscripts I’ve read, two general mistakes seem to be more common than others. I’m referring specifically to the incorrect use of “lie” vs. “lay,” and the use of an unclear antecedent for a pronoun. I’m going to concentrate on the former in this post, and leave the latter for another day.
It’s entirely possible my comments here about “lie” vs. “lay” won’t be any different than a lot of others you may have read, because trying to describe the difference between them comes down to their basic definition. Perhaps, though, by sheer constant repetition writers will come to learn the difference between the two. So here’s my take on the distinction.
The verb “to lie” (ignoring it’s use in telling a fib) is intransitive. That is, it does not require a direct object to complete the action. (Remember all those direct objects you learned in high school English?) A transitive verb does. The “trans-” part means a going across, or movement. Like transport, or translation, or something similar. In other words, the action of the verb is being carried across. That means a transitive verb implies some sort of action is being carried out, and the direct object completes that action. So, “to lie,” being intransitive, doesn’t have that object. An intransitive verb is complete by itself. “I lie on the bed,” is present tense. “I lay on the bed,” past tense. In these cases, “the bed” is the object of the preposition “on”, and not a direct object. It doesn’t matter what I lie on, the action is complete in itself. I’m simply lying there. The past participle of “lie” is “lain.” For example, “By tomorrow at 4PM, I will have lain on the bed.” That’s future perfect.
The verb “to lay,” on the other hand, is transitive. It requires a direct object to complete the action. “To lay” implies that some object is placed somewhere. “I lay the umbrella on the bed,” present tense. “I lay on the bed,” used alone in its present tense meaning is, strictly, incorrect. Any form of “lay” requires an object to complete the action. The past tense of “lay” is “laid.” “I laid the umbrella on the bed yesterday.” The past participle is also “laid.” “By tomorrow at 4 PM, I will have laid the umbrella on the bed.”
Undoubtedly the confusion comes from the fact that the word “lay” occurs in both meanings. I’ve seen “lay” in such a construction as “I decided to lay on the bed and take a nap,” several times, and although it’s not correct, it is fairly common. I’ve heard it in speech as well. If I can offer any way of distinguishing between the two, it would be to look for some sort of object that is the recipient of the action. If you’re just going to recline on the bed, use “lie.” If you’re going to put something on the bed, use “lay.”
Now I think I’ll go take a nap.
I went to see the movie “The Martian” about a week ago and was impressed. I thought it well done, well-acted within limits, and all around a good show. I’m not ready to add it to my list of favorite movies (which you can access on this blogsite), but I liked it. Some reviewers have said they felt Matt Damon was miscast as the astronaut Mark Watney stranded on Mars when all his buddies leave the surface because of a tremendous wind and sand storm that threatens to blow over their ascent vehicle, but I disagree. I felt he did a good job. To continue the plot line, his comrades have to make a decision whether to go or not. If they don’t , the vehicle could be tipped over and everyone will be stranded. So the thrust of the story is to get the one stranded astronaut off the surface alive, and get him back to Earth. An interesting concept.
I’m putting aside here the one glaring mistake in the movie (and in the book) that a wind/sand storm on Mars could blow over a spaceship. In reality, it wouldn’t have enough force to do that because the atmosphere is so thin that even at one hundred miles an hour, there’s too little air to move. If you suspend belief in that one fact, the movie becomes logical and reasonable, and I highly recommend it. What I want to focus on for the sake of this post is the relationship between the book and the movie.
During the movie, I found myself thinking about the detail in the book that wasn’t in the movie. Movies are great, as I’ve stated before, for doing special effects. And “The Martian” was no different. I was impressed by the spaceships, the habitat on the Martian surface, the Martian landscape, and so forth. But the book is so much more detailed than the movie. Many things that were just glossed over in the movie were treated in considerable detail in the book. The author, Andy Weir, goes into a lot of detail in many places. Especially, I remember, about how Watney was going to travel from the habitat where he’d been living, to an ascent vehicle that would get him off the surface. He had to travel several hundred kilometers and Weir went into considerable detail about the trip, working out the details, how much energy it would take, loading the rover vehicle that would take him there, and so forth. In the movie, Watney simply did it, and left much to the viewers to figure out for themselves. It works, and you can handle the situation that way, but the book is better.
Additionally, Watney in the book expresses himself more. Rarely does Watney in the movie lose his cool, yet he did several times in the book. This, I feel, is the one real drawback to the movie. Watney is almost too cool.
All this reveals the real drawbacks about translating a book onto the screen. Detail can be lost, and this kept bothering me. Perhaps it’s my scientific training, but I would have liked to hear more about what Watney was going to do as the movie went along. I realize, of course, that that would make the movie horribly long, and the producers had to cut something. As it was, the movie was 141 minutes anyway. That’s 2 hours and 21 minutes, long for a movie. Any more detail would certainly have been boring and interminable, and the producers did the best they could. If you want detail, read the book. This is another reason why I feel that if any of my sci-fi books ever get published I will not let a movie be made from them (assuming someone wants to in the first place). Books are more detailed, and in that detail lies the essentials of the plot. Read the book. Make up your own mind. Savor the detail. That’s what a book is for.