Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Common Problems (Part 34 of 50)

Put the most important part of the sentence at the end. Think of the end of a sentence (and just as true as the last sentence in a paragraph) as your final, most emphatic statement. This is one of the principles I didn't grasp until about 15 years after I began to publish.

As the author, you decide which words you want to emphasize.

I wrote these words in a first draft of my book, Unleash the Writer Within: I am a passionate person; I can be a passionate writer if I choose. When I read the sentence again, I decided that the strongest part of the sentence should be I can be a passionate writer. It's the being and not the choosing that I wanted to emphasize, so I revised it to read: I am a passionate person; if I choose, I can be a passionate writer.[1]

Here are two examples from my students.

* Richard rattled the bushes with a stick he broke loose from a tree on the way in. (Better: With a stick he had broken loose from a tree. . . he rattled the bushes. Bushes is stronger than the preposition in.)

* He heaved a sigh of relief, although drenched in fearful sweat. (Reverse the clauses.)

Put the emphatic part of the sentence at the end. 
Those words make the most impact on readers. 
[1] Unleash the Writer Within by Cecil Murphey (Wheaton, IL: 2012).

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A note from Twila:

Cec is thinking about doing a one-day seminar on the inner writer, based on his book Unleash the Writer Within. If you had the opportunity to attend a seminar on the inner writer, what would you want Cec to address? Email me with your suggestions.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Common Problems (Part 33 of 50)

Properly punctuate nouns in apposition. If the person is the only one, you separate with commas: Apposition means placed beside. The noun in apposition, called an appositive, identifies or explains the noun or pronoun preceding it.

* My friend, Charlie, will go. As written, it means you have only one friend and his name is Charlie.

* My wife Shirley likes to read. As written, I'm a polygamist. Because I have only one wife, I would write: My wife, Shirley, likes to read. Wife and Shirley refer to the same person.

* His sister Ashleigh’s room was painted green. (This means he has more than one sister.)

* We'll visit our close friends Willie and Cissy. (This means you have several close friends.)

If the two words refer to the same person or thing, 
I need commas around the second word.

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A note from Twila:

Cec is thinking about doing a one-day seminar on the inner writer, based on his book Unleash the Writer Within. If you had the opportunity to attend a seminar on the inner writer, what would you want Cec to address? Email me with your suggestions.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Common Problems (Part 32 of 50)

Quotation marks go outside commas, periods, and question marks. The British do it differently, but Americans would punctuate the following sentences this way:

* "I need to go now."

* "Do it then, if that's the way you feel," she said.

* 'Why would I want that book?" Mary asked.

However, we place a question mark or exclamation point after the final quotation mark if the quoted material isn't part of the question or exclamation.

* "Why does he call his wife "Papa"?

* Do you realize there is no Bible verse that reads, "God helps those who help themselves"?

The general rule is that punctuation 
goes inside the quotation marks.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Common Problems (Part 31 of 50)

Put words in quotes only if readers might otherwise misunderstand. If we want to emphasize a word, we use italics or boldface.

* Do you have a "giant" in your life that needs tackling right now?

* She will suffer through the "cold turkey" routine.

* He'll show them through this "chance" event.

* Eldred aims to come up with persuasive "arguments" when confronting difficult reasons.

* I had never felt that mysterious "knowledge."

If you use words in a special or different sense, for clarity you use quotation marks. Here is an example where you would use quotation marks for clarity: In filmmaking, movable "wild walls" make a room seem to have four walls.

If readers will understand the sentence, 
delete the quotation marks.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Common Problems (Part 30 of 50)

Watch the use of words such as started to/began to. They imply incomplete action or action that's interrupted. I began to eat my cereal but the phone rang. I started to watch TV but fell asleep. Too many writers throw in such expressions, unaware that they refer to unfinished action.

In the examples below, the writing is not only more accurate but stronger if you omit those expressions.

* Jana began to move around the area. (Jana moved. . . )

* I have begun to include singing or listening to inspirational music (I include singing. . .)

* The poetry of Edgar Allan Poe began to take on new meaning. (The poetry of Edgar Allan Poe took. . . )

Unless I mean interrupted activity, 
I'll avoid using started to, and began to.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Common Problems (Part 29 of 50)

Avoid amateur words such as quickly and hurriedly. Don't use such words unless speed is important.

* His eyes adjusted quickly to the murky light.

* Elmer made a quick survey of the narrow room. (Same principle: If he surveys a room, unless there is reason for haste, wouldn't he do it slowly and methodically? Isn't that the idea of surveying?)

* She shuddered and hurriedly smiled an apology.

I can usually omit speed words from my writing 
unless I want to emphasize haste.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Common Problems (Part 28 of 50)

Avoid meaningless words such as some, really, very, just, managed to, and at all. They're not wrong, but they add nothing. What's the difference between he was dead and he was very dead? She drank some coffee or she drank coffee?

* Today’s news, though, called for some serious grime-fighting: scouring baseboards. [You can usually delete some without hurting your sentence.]

* She’d managed to arrive at the law office before anyone… [She arrived…]

* The tension in his jaw began to cause a noticeable ache, but he ignored it. [The tension caused his jaw to ache.]

* Jessica was really nervous about mentioning Jesus to Amanda, and she didn’t really even know why.

* My world had very abruptly come to an end.

* Both of my sons were just waiting for the phone call.

* He wasn't dead at all.

* They stopped for some fast food. 

I write concisely; 
I delete words that add no value to a sentence.