I am trying to write a sentence that tells the reader that the works displayed that they are about to see will bring them back and forth between the real and virtual realms, in a figurative manner. The "borders" that I mentioned in the statement reflects some of the earlier references in the paragraph. This is the sentence that I wrote:

The displayed works will set forth its viewers through a journey from the physical, passing the borders, into the virtual realm and back.

The sentence is somewhat complicated since I attempt to throw in quite a few ideas together. The phrase back and forth, in particular, is split into "set forth..." and then "back" at the last part of the sentence. I am not sure if my sentence construction is correct and if the sentence delivers my intended meaning.

Somehow, I find my phrasing slightly awkward. Is there anything wrong with my sentence construction/pattern that causes it to sound awkward or lose its intended meaning?

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    This question is better suited for Writers.se than for English.se. – JSBձոգչ Mar 9 '12 at 13:38

The problem is actually with "back and forth." That's because back is the return, but in the idiom it's placed before forth, which is the "going out" part. If you use take over and bring back, you'll eliminate some of the confusion. Streamline it and cut some of the figurative fluff.

You want something more like:

The displayed works will take the viewers on a journey past the borders of the physical into the realm of the virtual, and then back again.
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    Thanks, this is really what I needed. The sentence is so much neater and clearer this way too. – xenon Mar 9 '12 at 16:05
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    I had an excellent English professor point out the back and forth/take and bring problem to me. It was in passing, he wasn't even my teacher at the time, and it was one of the most useful tidbits of writing advice I ever got. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Mar 9 '12 at 18:56

I agree that this sentence structure has some problems. I really don't think it conveys the message you intended, or at least not very well. Here are a couple of suggestions on ways to improve it.

The displayed works will carry viewers on a journey from the physical world into a virtual realm and back.

The first example is simple and to the point. However, if you feel the need to mention the dividing border, then you can consider something like this:

The displayed works will carry viewers on a journey from the physical world into a virtual realm and back, transporting them back and forth across the dividing boundary that separates the two planes of existence.

I'm not sure what you mean by "displayed works." Is this a book, a collection of stories, or what? You may want to simplify/clarify that a little better as well.


Here are some ideas. Note, that "the displayed works" may be technically correct, but nobody says or writes that. The awkwardness of your sentence starts there.

These pieces will send the viewer on a journey through the real -- and into the virtual.


This work will take the viewer on a journey through the physical, across the border into the virtual, and back again!

or, if you were looking for something more direct, like in a story:

Hang on to your hats, boys and girls! Step on up and have a look, you'll never believe what your eyes will see. Pay two bits, and come on, strap in for the journey! From the physical, through the virtual, the borders you'll cross and the things you'll witness your friends will never believe!

Of course that's last one has a side-show feel to it. It does demonstrate something useful, through -- the fact that you don't need to cram everything into one sentence.

Final point:
One problem I see with your writing is that it's passive. You can see that in the way you've phrased your question.

For instance, you wrote:

This is the sentence that I wrote:

instead of:

I wrote this sentence:

Or this:

The "borders" that I mentioned in the statement reflects some of the earlier references in the paragraph.

which could be:

The "borders" reflect some of the earlier references in the paragraph.

Write more directly to you audience. Don't be afraid to state what you're going to state. Your writing will be cleaner, tighter and clearer if you avoid the passive voice.

  • wow! Although the "story" version can hardly fit into my current paragraph, I really like the ideas you suggested. I have always wanted to learn to write with such "story" style in my works. But I lack the right phrasings to structure them to sound as dynamic as yours. And you are so right about my bad habit to write passively. I am still trying to shake off this habit. Thanks so much! – xenon Mar 9 '12 at 16:03
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    @xEnOn For curing passive writing, I highly, highly, highly recommend the book "The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier" tinyurl.com/6wu9uta It's thin and a fun read, and it will immediately help you identify and correct passive writing. The way she teaches it, you'll actually understand why something is passive, and you'll have "flags" to look for that indicate that what you have is passive. The book is awesome. I have a shelf full of writing books, and that one's in my top 3. – Patches Mar 9 '12 at 17:10
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    @xEnOn also, thanks for the compliment on the story version! I almost cut it before I posted, now I'm glad I didn't. As for sounding as dynamic as that, tackling the passive voice issue will go miles toward that. You'll be surprised the difference it makes. That book I recommended has no less than three major types of passive voice; just knowing about them changes the whole way you see your words on paper. You also start seeing it all over the place in other people's writing too, and wanting to correct it, which can make you obnoxious at parties. :-D – Patches Mar 9 '12 at 17:22

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