Monday, October 4, 2010

Cec Answers Questions Raised

Twila's note: Babushka asked a couple questions after reading a blog entry from several months ago. Here's a bonus post from Cec with his answers.

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Babushka raised a question about my statement that my book “will release this month.” I probably could have found a better way to phrase it, but I tried to avoid the use of the passive voice (will be released). But either way, her first question remains: released from what?

In writing, clarity is my major concern. Would anyone misunderstand the intent of my statement? Isn’t it obvious that this month people can buy my book because it will be for sale? It may not be the usual way of saying it (and it’s not), but is it less clear than “will be released?” Neither phrase names nor qualifies the releaser.

The second question is whether “will be released” is a cliché. Probably. We can’t totally eliminate overused expressions from our writing, but we can avoid those that obscure the meaning. My argument against clichés isn’t only that they’ve been overused, but they tend to be generic and meaningless. If we make clarity a primary focus, we’ll delete most of the hackneyed expressions.

One more thought. Good writing isn’t about following strict rules but writing clearly. I say to avoid clichés and I like to avoid passive voice. But there are occasions when they are useful. For instance, above I used the passive voice when I wrote, “they’ve been overused.” I could have said, “…isn’t only that we overuse them…” but I deliberately chose to use the passive voice and probably no one stumbled over it.

7 comments:

  1. Excellent point, Cec. Rules are great, but sometimes we need to break them for clarity. It reminds me of Winston Churchill's statement, when someone corrected his placement of a preposition at the end of a sentence: Tampering with my sentences is something up with which I will not put.

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  2. Cec, you always write wise words about the writing path and I thank you. Richard's quote of Churchill's is a great favorite of mine and C.S Lewis wrote about that very situation.

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  3. Cec, next time say, My new book hits the stands this month. Go buy one or many. :)

    I trouble brain with the passive voice, constantly searching for fresh ways to speak succinctly with spunk. I fail too often. selahV

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  4. Selah made a suggestion--and for her it might work. But "hit the stands" is a cliche and an outdated one that doesn't fit the way I would express myself.

    This points to the problem of good writing. We need to find our own way to write and to make our meaning clear.

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  5. I didn't stumble of your deliberate use of that passive voice.

    You are so right. Writing is so much more than the slavish adherence to rules. Writing from the heart, writing the truth (our truth) and writing with passion often smooths the rough edges off cliches and the passive voice. Still, we should aim to do our best work every time.

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  6. But how do you know which rules to break? Some editors have pet rules they won't tolerate the breaking of. Oh, dear. I did it--ended a sentence in a preposition. That's a rule some newer editors overlook, while older ones don't.

    I love fragments. I talk in fragments. Everyone does. But my son, with a degree in English comp, says using fragments is lazy. Glad I'm not querying him!

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  7. Jeannette raised a question about rules. The rule of not ending a sentence with a preposition is not a rule of grammar. In a few weeks, you can read my blog my comments about such false commands.

    Sentence fragments may not make it in formal writing, but in print, they've been accepted for years.

    Don't worry about rules. Makeyour prose the best you can. Focus on the meaning/sense of theideas you can to communicate.

    Good editors don't reject manuscripts over a few grammatical errors (unless they're the glaring types that any third grader ought to know). Gammar is easy for them to correct.

    Write your best and keep improving.

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What are your thoughts?