Writing ain’t easy–even if you love it. But at least you usually know whether you’re doing something well or not. One thing, though, might be slipping beneath your radar. If you don’t pay attention, it’s guaranteed to make your writing fail. See if you can figure it out before it’s too late. Here’s an example:
He wrote some lovely sentences. Those words sing clever news. I do hope that you read ’em all. They’re stuffed with everything!
Would you continue to read WowPow if I wrote like this? (Rhetorical question!) Did you notice how sing-song-y it sounded? But what exactly is wrong with the writing that makes it fail? Can you figure it out if I break apart the paragraph like this—?
He wrote some lovely sentences.
Those words sing clever news. I do hope that you read ’em all. They’re stuffed with everything!
Now the problem becomes evident—the sentences are all the same length. This gives them a regular, bouncy rhythm, not unlike The Cat in the Hat[Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss!] or “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Delightful when you’re a toddler, like my granddaughter, but not so endearing, otherwise. Now, I’ve created this extreme example as an illustration, but you’d be surprised how many writers unwittingly think in measured ideas. They might sail “in and out of weeks, and almost over a year” [Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are], have aminotaurat the center and be full of ten-dollar words, but if those sentences are all the same length—epic rhythm fail. [You make your own joke here.]
I used to be a language snob, complete with William Safire trading card. Growing up with teacher parents who corrected my grammar made me hypersensitive to language rules. (“Where’s he at? Between the ‘a’ and the ‘t’!” and “You’re ‘done’? Let’s stick a fork in you!”) Plus, excelling at grammar, punctuation and spelling tempted me to think people who didn’t speak “properly” were uneducated or lazy. How could you hear correct grammar at school and (sometimes!) on TV and still say, “I didn’t do nothing” or “I should of went fishing”?
My “Aha!” Moment
Then I had a daughter with dyslexia, who not only couldn’t follow the inconsistent, irrational rules of English spelling (How do you pronounce “ghoti”?)* and grammar, but still doesn’t remember the differences between (oops! among) to, two and too.
Another sea-change in my attitude occurred when I read The Story of English by McCrum, Cran and MacNeil. As I railed against Ebonics in the seventies, I was shocked to read that my own “proper” language was the product of hundreds of years of the same sort of evolutionary bastardization. English began as West Germanic, with the Angles, Saxons and Jutes arriving in England and pushing the Celts westward. It was changed by invading Norse speakers in the 9th and 10th centuries and Norman-French speakers in the 11th. During the Renaissance, French, Latin, Greek and Italian influences changed the language and grammar. Scholars tidied up English in the 16th and 17th, but punctuation was still haphazard in the early 17th century. English has been enlarged by words and constructions from Asia, the Caribbean, Africa and Native Americans. Continue reading The Shocking Truth about “Proper” English: How Millennials are Changing our Punctuation and Grammar and What it Means to Us as Writers
So, did you cure all your warts last week? At least, I hope you used blood, sweat and tears (and toil) and searched here, there and everywhere for examples of the Rule of Three. I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in giving you the “thinner, lighter, and faster” version of how to use it to add creative power to your own writing.
♠ You can apply the Rule of Three to all sorts of writing building blocks: words and phrases and clauses and sentences. (I know, that’s not three. Get over it. I needed to write it that way for the *Note* that’s coming next.) [*Note* Did you recognize “words and phrases and clauses,” a use of the Rule of Three fromSchoolhouse Rock’s “Conjunction Junction”?]
♣There are three main Rule of Three processes you can apply to those building blocks: repetition, lists and progressions.
♥The Rule of Three can also be applied to the structures of the creative and business works you write.
You’re reading WowPow because, like most writers (me, too!), you’re always looking to better your craft. There are so many resources available today that you could spend your children’s inheritance and your summer vacation sifting through them to find even one that speaks to you. To save your children from penury and make sure you actually wiggle your piggies in the sand, I’m sharing the writing resources I can’t live without. These are real, honest-to-J. K. Rowling, published-by fancy-dancy-publishers books. I’ve read them multiple times and I get new inspiration every time.
These should be on your desk, getting dog-eared and spine-broken. If you’ve already read them, let this be a reminder to read ’em again.
Getting this blog out on Thursdays isn’t working for me. Most of you seemed to prefer Sunday night, too. So, I’m returning to publishing late Sunday nights for Monday mornings. Look for my next post this Sunday/Monday.
In the meantime, I’m posting a photo here as a story prompt. Here are some ideas, but don’t limit yourself to them:
What is happening here? What has just taken place? What is about to occur? Create a realistic story, a fantasy, a fairy tale or a horror tale. How did these figures/puppets get here? Are they sentient or simply dolls? Tell a story in which the figures are not what you’d expect. Make them main characters or minor props. What role does the setting play in your story? When and where does the story take place? Make the mood be as it appears in the photo or change it drastically. Add a specific item that changes everything. Who will tell your story?
Have fun with this! I can’t wait to read your work!
After the recent horrific terrorist attacks, it’s comforting to remember someone who advocated change without assassinating cartoonists or eradicating entire towns. We celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday. King was electrifying, and as a speaker he drew on his experience as a charismatic preacher. He also pulled from an enormous stock of rhetorical devices to add even more creative power and evoke emotion. His now-famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C., employed dozens of these, including charged words (last week’s topic!). Continue reading What Martin Luther King, Jr. Can Teach Us About Creative Power Writing