Organizing Information Appropriately

Organization is critical. Sentences may be crafted perfectly on an individual level, but if they are ordered in a way that is confusing or inconsistent, the will not convey their messages clearly.

The following example presents a passage that is muddled and out of sequence. The fact that it isn’t impossible to follow is due mostly to the fact that it’s short. On a larger scale, poor organization can cause a piece of writing to be unintelligible.

EXAMPLE

    When you prepare a research article for publication, set it aside and read it again after a day or two. Does it say what you intended? Try to get a peer review. A fresher or sharper eye may spot areas of weakness, omissions and other problems in the manuscript that were hidden to you. Does the title accurately describe what the article is about? The discussion should stick to the topic and not ramble. Ensure that you have followed the authors’ guidelines provided by the journal. Finally, be sure to run spell-check before you print out the copy that will go to the publisher.

This information comes through as somewhat scattered, for several reasons.First, the opening two sentences tell the writer what he or she should do personally (look over the article and see if it’s saying what it should); the next two deal with getting someone else to give some feedback; then the passage goes back to things that the writer should do. The first category should be complete before the second is begun.

Second, sentence 4 is closely related to sentence 3, in that it expounds on why it is important to get a peer review. This relationship will be made more obvious if the two sentences are run together.

Third, two of the aspects that the writer is advised to check for are presented as questions, and two are presented as statements. Apart from the faulty parallelism (information on equivalent matters should be presented in an equivalent way, to make the relationship more obvious), this structure almost makes it look as though the text following each question is providing an answer to that question.

Better

    When you prepare a research article for publication, set it aside and read it again after a day or two. Does it say what you intended? Does its title accurately describe what it is about? Does the discussion stick to the topic and not ramble? Have you followed the authors’ guidelines provided by the journal? Try to get a peer review–a fresher eye may spot areas of weakness, omissions and other problems in the manuscript that were hidden to you. Finally, be sure to run a spell-check before you print out the copy that will go to the publisher.

Note that the final sentence has been left where it was, even though it’s in the category of things to do oneself. This is because it is sated to be the last step in the process.

Paraphrased from Grammatically Correct by Anne Stilman ISBN 0-89879-776-4

Capturing Accents and Speech Patterns Appropriately

In fiction writing, capturing colloquial accents can add color–although note that overdoing it might make things a bit challenging for the reader, if the dialect is a strong one.

I departed to renew my search its result was disappointment, and Joseph’s quest ended in the same.

“Yon lon gets was un’ war! observed he on re-entering. “He’s left th’ yate at t’ full swing, and miss’s pony has trodden dahn two rigs o’ corn, and plottered through, raight o’er into t’ meadow! Hahnsome-diver, t’ maister ‘ull play t’ devil to-morn, ad he’ll do weel. He’s patience itsseln wi’ sich careless, off craters–patience itsseln he is! Bud he’ll not be soa allus–yah’s see, all on ye! Yah mun’n’t drive him out of his heead for nowt!” –Emily Bront’, Wuthering Heights

However, if you are creating characters whose first language is not English, don’t go overboard in spelling their words as you thing they would sound. The effect may come through as ridiculing of the group the character represents, as well as making the dialogue difficult to read. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t convey foreign accents at all; just use moderation. A dropped letter here and a misused word there will usually be effective enough.

If you are quoting a real-life individual who happens to have an accent, either foreign or colloquial, it is better not to try to reproduce the accent phonetically at all, unless it has some direct relevance to the story. Direct quotes must include the exact words used, but you do not have to carry this to the extent of reproducing intonations.

With regard to style of speech, it is important to make your fiction characters talk realistically. You should have a firm handle on the rules of grammar, but you obviously don’t want to put perfect diction into the mouths of characters who are meant to be uneducated or rustic.

Every night now I used to slip ashore toward ten o’ clock at some little village, and buy ten or fifteen cents’ worth of meal or bacon or other stuff to eat; and sometimes I lifted a chicken that warn’t roosting comfortable, and took him along. Pap always said, take a chicken when you get a chance, because if you don’t want him yourself you can easy find somebody that does, and a good deed ain’t ever forgot. I never see pap when he didn’t want the chicken himself, but that is what he use to say, anyway. –Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Do not, however, carry rustic dialect to the point of parody.

Taken from Grammatically Correct by Anne Stilman ISBN 0-89879-776-4

http://www.amazon.com/Grammatically-Correct-Anne-Stilman/dp/0898797764/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1346249413&sr=1-2&keywords=gramatically+correct

10 Things Girls Should Know About Guys

1. We are going to hate everyone who hates you and every guy who likes you too much. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.

2. Jealous is what we are. In the same way a lion acts around another lion. We may not do much around the house but, by God, that dude better not be, either.

3. If we tune you out when you’re talking, it’s not because we have short attention spans–give us “Call Of Duty” or “Monday Night Football” and we’ll prove that–it’s because we aren’t interested in what you’re saying. This is our loss because you are WAY more interesting than we are. But our minds work differently. You feel and we fix. If we can’t fix what you’re saying with a suggestion or action, we drift back to a project, work, or sports.

4. Providing for our families IS how we show love. We are wired to do two things: Provide and kill. Case in point, observe children playing “house”. As soon as the fort is built, the boy says, “Alright, Bye. I’m going to work.” Before he understands work, he picks up sticks and pretends to shoot anything that moves. Sorry soft and sensitive America, it’s hard wired from birth.

5. There’s something to be said for a guy who’s comfortable enough in his own skin to wear pink, carry your purse, listen to your every need; and there is such a thing as being too comfortable. If you want to see a man in touch with his feminine side, rent a porn. You ARE our feminine side. You don’t see us asking you to get in touch with your masculine side, do you? You know why? Because we don’t want to be with another man.

6. Every guy rates every girl on a scale of 1 to 10. If this seems disrespectful, it’s not. One man’s 1 is another man’s 10. We will sleep with 4′s and above, but we marry 10′s. So, if you are married, congratulations! You are some bodies 10. That is why you shouldn’t cheat. Because a girl who cheats is every guy’s 1, including the guy who downgraded you from being someone’s 10. Is this fair? I don’t know. If I did I’d probably understand why you’ll ignore guys who would treat you like a 10 to date guys who use and abuse you like you’re a 1.

7. We don’t compliment your hair because guys don’t notice it. We notice that you look great. If you change your hair and we like it, we notice you look great, but different. We usually aren’t sure why. But that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the time you take to make yourselves look amazing. It means we don’t notice hair individually. We notice the culmination of all those little nuances put together. We do, however, notice when someone else notices. When you then say things like, “You didn’t even notice, at least he noticed” you forget that the first time a guy sizes you up, he is evaluating you on his own personal scale, checking off the details he approves of and disapproves of. He may have noticed your hair, but he might also walk away without saying a damn word if he knew some of your little quirks that the guy you’re with knows and finds adorable about you.

8. When we say hurtful things in an argument, it is because something hurts in us and we’re lashing out because we don’t know any other way to communicate it. You’ve touched on an insecurity. If you avoid that button in the future, you will avoid the lashing out that comes from pressing it. If you want the button to become less sensitive, nurture it. Make him feel secure about that area of his life. When he feels secure, he’ll naturally improve it, and he won’t feel like he has to protect it.

9. Guys need time with their buddies. Other guys are the best thing imaginable for your relationship. Why? Because other guys allow your guy to be a guy. That leaves him feeling like a guy. That way, when you hand him your purse while pointing out the guy who noticed your hair as he sports his pink shirt with the collar popped and wearing sunglasses inside, you won’t have to watch your guy as he begins to imagine hanging himself in the shower. Instead, he’ll smile without feeling threatened, nod, and think to himself, “That’s right, douche-bag. She’s with me.”

10. Lastly, someone once said it this way. Guys have two emotions: Hungry and horny. If he doesn’t have an erection, make him a sandwich.

When I was much younger, I was waiting in line at a supermarket when someone dropped a can on the floor behind me. Naturally, I turned to look for the source of the sound I’d heard, only to find one of the most beautiful blonds I’d every seen, bending over in a red and white, plaid mini-skirt to pick it up. When I turned back around, an elderly gentleman was staring at me. Immediately, I felt my face burning with embarrassment, expecting a lecture about respecting women. Or worse, what if she was his granddaughter? To my surprise, what he said next I’ll never forget. He put his hand on my shoulder, looked down at me like I was four years old, and said, “Son, no matter how thin she is; no matter how beautiful she looks; no matter how sweet the honey that flows from her mouth; somewhere, some guy, is completely sick of her shit.” Then he signed a check, gave it to the cashier, and I realized that I had just met the Dalai Lama.

Writing Tip: Use Active Voice…Most Of The Time

Thank you to everyone who read, liked and/or are following my blog since the first posting I did entitled, Writing Tip: When To Use Passive Voice. Due to the popularity of that post, I can only assume that I am not the only one who finds that the PV slips into our writing Ninja like, far more often than most of us would like and, also, that most of you have read Stephen King’s On Writing, where he states emphatically, “I hate the passive voice.”

So, to help us both with this issue, back by popular demand, here’s Active Voice Vs. Passive Voice II. Or, another source with a slightly different way of explaining it, if you’d rather.

Use Active Voice…Most Of The Time

When the verb is in the AV (Active Voice), the subject of the sentence is also the doer of the action.

The sentence “John picked up the bag” is in the active voice because the subject, John, is also the thing or person doing the action of “picking up.”

The sentence “The bag was picked up by John” is in the passive voice because the subject of the sentence, bag, is the passive receiver of the action.

Generally the AV makes for more interesting reading, and it is the AV that you should cultivate as your normal writing habit. The AV strikes more directly at the thought you want to express, it is generally shorter, and it holds the reader closer to what you write because it creates a stronger sense that “something is happening.”

Listen to how the following PV (Passive Voice) sentences are improved when they are turned into the AV.

Passive: Dutch drawings and prints are what this book is about.

Active: This book is about Dutch drawings and prints.

Passive: The light bulb was crewed in crookedly by the electrical engineer.

Active: The electrical engineer screwed in the light bulb crookedly.

Try to use the AV. But realize that there are times when you will need to use the passive. If the object of the action is the important thing, then you will want to emphasize it by mentioning it first. When that’s the case, you will use the PV.

Let’s say, for example, that you want to tell the reader about some strange things that happened to your car. In the AV it would look like this:

Three strong women turned my car upside down on Tuesday. Vandals painted my car yellow and turquoise on Wednesday. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched my car into orbit around the moon on Thursday.

The example shown above is not wrong, but is sounds choppy. To give the story a flow, you would want to use the PV, keeping the emphasis on your car.

On Tuesday my car was turned upside down by three strong women. On Wednesday my car was painted yellow and turquoise by vandals. On Thursday my car was launched into orbit around the moon by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

In the PV, the car is given the emphasis, and the story about what happened to it has a flow and rhythm lacking in the first example.

Taken from “100 Ways To Improve Your Writing” by Gary Provost ISBN 978-0-451-62721-6

Book Review: Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore

I have read a number of books, most of them quite helpful, on the subject of fiction writing and editing. This book is the best I’ve read to date. The author breaks down the daunting editorial tasks all writers face, pre-submission, into simple and manageable steps easy for writers at all levels to implement. Before you submit your work, read this book.

http://www.amazon.com/Manuscript-Makeover-Revision-Techniques-Fiction/dp/0399533958/ref=cm_rdp_product_img

Writing Tip: Use Dense Words

A dense word is a word that crowds a lot of meaning into a small space. The fewer words you use to express an idea, the more impact that idea will have. When you revise, look for opportunities to cross out several words and insert one. Once a month is monthly; something new is novel; people they didn’t know are strangers; and something impossible to imagine is inconceivable.

Taken from “100 Ways To Improve Your Writing” by Gary Provost ISBN 978-0-451-62721-6

Criticism And The Human Condition

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Why does the slightest criticism when it comes to writing make us cringe. Not so much with an essay, letter to an editor, or a check at the grocery story. But, for some reason, criticism for a work of fiction cuts us at a core level. Why? I believe it is because if we are writing honestly, we are releasing little bits about ourselves; who we are, a little at a time to see how the world responds to it. It’s kind of like an ashamed patient saying, “I have this friends who says it hurts when he/she…” Then, gauging by how the doctor responds, perhaps a bit more truth gets leaked.

It’s not that criticism regarding style, sentence construction, description or narrative is so difficult to listen to. After all, most writers I know are their own biggest critics and already believe their writing sucks on a mechanical level. It is that each character in a work of fiction is a representation of ourselves that we are gauging the world’s reaction to. Are they accepting or did they gasp in horror?

So, if you are a fiction writer who fears criticism then be encouraged. You are in the company of the greatest writers of all time, who, in spite of their fears wrote honestly and created the works of literary genius by which all other writing is judged. If the criticism cuts deeply, you are probably on the right track. Keep up the good work.

Tread boldly and make no apologies for it!

Cynical Twist

Hey, FreeCreditScore.com! Your boys went from a broken down car to mansions, painted self-portraits, and country clubs. Good thing that having good credit translates into financial intelligence or they could have over-extended themselves like the rest of America. You know, when we all had good credit. Oh, by the way, checking your credit online doesn’t give you good credit. Over-extending yourself like those singing douche-bags does. In this economy, it won’t be long before they’ll be calling Monte Williams for a payday loan to make their minimums. Unless, of course, having good credit is the same thing as making a CEO’s salary, in which case, enjoy your bailout!