Elizabeth Herman has been helping and supporting writers of various backgrounds and ages and in all stages of the writing process since 1998. She completed her doctorate in Rhetoric and Composition in December of 2008. Vital Writer Services is her new business offering coaching, tutoring, editing and proofreading to writers in various genres and with a variety of possible issues. Five percent of each fee will be donated to non-profit educational service projects around the world, which are described on the ‘supporting others‘ page of this blog. Contact her at 618-559-1641 (cell phone) or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
At a party, anyone who speaks verbosely can try the patience of others. The same dynamic occurs during the celebration we know as reading!
If an author sounds long-winded, rambling and effusive, it results from the use of too many unnecessary words, which can happen for a variety of reasons.
Please enjoy the following example of a loquacious sentence from a published book (Life of Pi, by Yann Martel) that I nevertheless find very comforting, as I read it for the second time, after having seen the movie:
“Wild animals that are captured when they are fully mature are another example of escape-prone animals; often they are too set in their ways to reconstruct their subjective worlds and adapt to a new environment.”
One idea for making this sentence more concise involves eliminating the repetitive use of forms of the verb “to be,” as well as another repetition (“animals”) and an article used for inconsistent use of the plural.
The following version of the same sentence contains only 30 words, rather than the 35 words in the original:
“Wild animals, captured when fully mature, have a tendency to escape; often, they find themselves too set in their ways to reconstruct their subjective worlds and adapt to new environments.”
Suggestion: See which sentence you like better! Better yet, look up the original sentence in the second paragraph of Chapter 10 of Life of Pi, and see how well my re-write fits in its place!
Comparisons Using Different Types of Connecting Words
As I was driving to Nashville, Tennessee about ten days ago, I stopped in Marion, Illinois and decided to get some lunch there also. I saw some free newspapers as I waited, and picked one up.
In the weekly “The Little Paper,” May 13-19, 2013, I noticed a timely article entitled “Are Bees Damaging Your Porch, Deck or Barn?” by Julie Mumbower, County Extension Director for Franklin, Jackson, Perry, Randolph and Williamson Counties in Southern Illinois.
In Ms. Mumbower’s very helpful description of the different types of bees, she makes the following two statements: “Carpenter bees are similar in size and appearance to bumble bees. But, carpenter bees have relatively shiny, non-hairy abdomens while bumble bees are quite hairy.”
Then, later in the same article, she makes another comparing observation about male carpenter bees in two more statements that seem constructed similarly to the first pair of sentences: “Males are more aggressive and live for a much shorter time than females. However, males are all bluff— they have no stinger and, as such, cannot sting.”
The ungrammatical use of the word “but” really stuck out when I read the first two statements. When I saw how the word “however” took the same position in a later comparison, I realized a subtle point about the grammatical difference between the two words. Although they both indicate contrast in meaning, “but” is a coordinating conjunction and “however” is a conjunctive adverb.
One rule of thumb about the two words’ different functions involves where to place them. As a coordinating conjunction, “but” does not belong at the beginning of any sentence; it works better in the midsections of sentences. The same principle holds for other coordinating conjunctions, such as “and,” as well as “or.”
On the other hand, as a conjunctive adverb, “however” can introduce clauses and sentences and often serves as a transitional word at the beginning, or anywhere else in a sentence. I offer you this story for when you write comparisons, whether between characteristics of bees or any other animal.
however- conjunctive adverb- placement anywhere in sentence
but- coordinating conjunction- placement in the middle of a sentence
Not Enough Research
Depending on the genre and the specific project, writing that has plenty of solid information to back it up usually turns out stronger than writing with no research behind it. Part of an author’s job consists of investigating a topic thoroughly.
As I think about starting a new blog for a group that I’m working with, I realize that the blog entries, in order to have value for the culture of the group, should have facts and research both contained within the text and surrounding the text.
I don’t wish to write a bunch of fluff pieces that don’t have a basis in substance. The process of research seems like the only way to obtain the necessary substance for an interesting piece.
Moreover, numerous ways to spark new ideas for writing often stem from engagement in research. Just as scientists can find new and innovative directions in which to take their investigations, writers also begin to invent their explorations and narratives via the uncovering of interesting details, situations and contexts that they haven’t experienced before.
One book in the genre of historical fiction geared to young readers comes to mind in this regard. “Across Five Aprils” by Irene Hunt tells a story about children in Southern Illinois during and after the Civil War era. In this novel, the vivid regional detail helps to ground the characters and fires readers’ imaginations through the magic of connecting specific places and people to volatile times in history.
As I saw when I read Hunt’s narrative, an author’s efforts as researcher can pay off big time. I especially recommend this example work of fiction for people who may have recently moved into the border regions along the Mason-Dixon Line, which in olden days divided the old South from the old North.
Dialogue lines from different characters get smashed together into the same paragraph!
Some dialogue lines should have narrative afterwards in the same paragraph! Unvaried use of dialogue can get very monotonous to read. Dialogue is great for breaking up dense text. It helps move the narrative along, gives it momentum, and encourages the reader to hear more than one character’s voice.
Be careful, though, because each line of dialogue should be distinct from the one before and the one after it. There must be a paragraph break between each line of dialogue, to show the alternating voices.
If one character has two lines of consecutive dialogue, they can be contained within the same paragraph, but as soon as someone else in the story speaks, you need to hit enter and tab to indent your new paragraph and your new line. This will introduce a new quote from another character, and will move the reader’s eyes and inner voices along on down the page.
Please have fun writing dialogue. It’s the single best way to develop your characters’ personalities, and to move your plot along. The momentum created by dialogue makes a story exciting to read, and potentially brings suspense and drama into your writing.
Not Enough Feedback From Readers
When you check with someone who will read your writing for the first time, after you have seen it over and over, you do a big favor for yourself.
The reader will notice more problems with your story, paper, letter or poem than anyone. On the contrary, you will turn a blind eye to such problems after having read and revised your text numerous times.
A sense of amazement may waft over you about how many mistakes you miss as the author. But your very closeness with your writing makes it impossible for you to look at the words with an objective, unbiased perspective. Your brain attaches to the intention you first had when you wrote, and holds on to those early visions, however flawed, with great tenacity.
Even when you have revised several times, and you think of your piece as perfect, I still advise you even then to get another reader’s feedback before submitting it for publication. However, I don’t ask you to necessarily accept everything that you hear, regardless of your own opinion. Ultimately, you must decide what feedback to implement and what not to.
The process of making such decisions can include more viewpoints, though, thereby becoming more efficient and more capable of potentially improving your text beyond your best hopes.
The use of the exclamation point can reveal something about a writer’s sensibilities. Some writers and editors dislike any use at all of this mark, while some enjoy the added verve and enthusiasm that results from the vertical line with a period underneath!
I find it amazing how differently I read the ends of sentences that have the exclamation point, versus the ones that have periods or question marks.
Just as in all things, there are endless ways to creatively interpret the metaphorical possibilities of this particular punctuation. You can find such creative illustrations online by searching on the topic. Did you ever before imagine that you might have a reason to research such a thing?
The endless opportunities abound for enhancing your relationship with your punctuation. In fact, it could help you heal yourself emotionally and give you a great deal of solace to look closely at how you use these vital expressions of feeling, both in your written and spoken language! Did you ever reflect on how you use vocal inflections to express enthusiasm with spoken sentences also? It might be worth thinking about. It might help you live with more energy and positivity. It might make you more valuable to an employer or a friend, when he or she sees you infuse your speech with added vitality.
Unless you overuse them, exclamation points may just make a difference in how you feel about life!
Lack of Ethos
From the classical Greek language, “ethos” literally means “character,” and forms the root of many other words we know and love today, such as “ethics,” “ethnicity,” and “ethnography.” All these terms have something to do with people, their character and culture.
In rhetoric, the word has come to signify the credibility of the speaker or writer, and the terms “persona” and “projection” may translate the concept into that of a human image that goes along with the message. Ethos takes a position in the widely accepted rhetorical triangle, along with pathos (emotion) and logos (logic or story).
Some types of writing necessitate certain clarity of ethos. In other words, in order for me, the reader, to get what you’re saying, I need to know more about who you (and your speaker) are!
If you want to achieve an effect, such as an action on my part or a new way of thinking on my part, I need to have an idea of who you are and why you feel so driven to change something by writing about it!
Your purpose really matters when you write. And I can’t always guess your true purpose unless you reveal yourself to me.