Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Watch Those Transitions (Part 3 of 9)

Transitions are the change from one scene to another in a dramatic narrative. It usually means moving characters from one place to another or from one time period to another.

[End of paragraph] . . . Helena said goodbye to Martin.

[Next Paragraph] Martin ate his now-cold lunch.

Where's the connection? The second paragraph could begin with: Four hours later, Martin ate . . . Or you might add a scene break. In typewriter days, we wrote [Double Return] to show this. Today, it's as simple as 2 centered asterisks, or § (alt 0167 on your number pad), or [page break].

Here's the rule I follow in fiction: As soon as I finish one scene, I lead readers into the next with no excess prose between them. The details of how the characters got there can clog the flow of the story.

I write transitions to make reading smoother.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Watch Those Transitions (Part 2 of 9)

That's a silly title because the people who write transitions usually don't need to watch them. The problem is that too many writers jump from topic to topic without taking readers with them.

Writers take their fingers from the keyboard to think about the next paragraph, while their minds keep moving. They start typing again and don't connect with the previous paragraph.

As an example (and those three words are one way to write a transition), let's say Marv's article is about making a six-figure income from writing.

The third paragraph ends: The concept sounds difficult to put into action.

The fourth paragraph begins: I made two hundred dollars my first year of writing.

Do you see the jump from putting something into action and Marv's statement about his income? He needs a transition to lead you to the next paragraph.

Try this:
. . . The concept sounds difficult to put into action. 
For two years I stumbled around until I had the courage to implement my concept. I made two hundred dollars my first year of writing. By my third year, my income had increased one thousand times.

Marv could have made a shorter transition:
Consequently, I made two hundred dollars my first year of writing. 

Because I want readers to understand, 
I provide transitions from paragraph to paragraph.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Watch Those Transitions (Part 1 of 9)

If you don't want to get wet when you cross a river, take the bridge and walk across it. If there’s no bridge, build one.

In writing, you call those bridges transitions. You move from one idea to another without slipping and falling into the murky water between ideas.

Transitions tie writing together. They connect two parts of a sentence so readers clearly understand the meaning.

Example: Most students did well on the test. Lonnie made a grade of 50.

We need to build a bridge to connect them. That is, we need a transition from the first sentence to the second. You can easily fix this example. Put a comma or semicolon after test and add: although, however, or but.

I write well-crafted transitions for a smooth, readable style.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Reading Aloud

I've often heard writers speak about reading their work aloud before sending it off. I disputed that advice and said, "I hear it inside my head."

This is my confession that I was wrong. I recently recorded five radio scripts for the publisher of Not Quite Healed. The publicist chose segments for me to read in 35–40 seconds.

As I read in preparation, I was shocked at some of my bad sentences. I understood them only while reading them aloud.

Here are two that I'm embarrassed to have written.

First, it's a good thing I didn't see everything in the beginning . . . Notice the double thing and I started with a weak, It's.

It would have been a better sentence if I had written it this way: I didn't see everything in the beginning and that was good."

In another script, my sentence read, "We lived with our hidden anguish for years." Not a bad sentence, but it has the wrong emphasis, so I changed it to read: For years, we lived with our hidden anguish.

When I read aloud,

my ear catches what my eye misses.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

More Word Choices (Part 7 of 7)

"You know" and "Like"

When people talk, they use you know and like constantly—often irritatingly. In late December, even our president used "you know" several times in making a statement about America's fiscal cliff.

In conversation, I consider them pause fillers—words we throw in while we reach for our next thoughts. Writing comes out of our brooding and concentration so we don't need fillers.

The more aware and careful we are in our writing, the more we tend to carry over the principles in our speaking. It works both ways, doesn't it?

For clearer communication 
I delete pause fillers.

Friday, February 8, 2013

More Word Choices (Part 6 of 7)

As to What?

For the past few years I've become aware of the addition of "as to" in sentences. So far, I haven't figured out the reason or the need. For example, in a novel I saw the two words used twice on the same page.

1. He declined to comment as to what actions the council might take.

2. Neither commented as to whether the company would be part of the effort. 

Delete the two words and read the examples. They make good sense. Because people use them often, doesn't make them useful.

1. He declined to comment which actions the council might take. (I changed what to which.)

2. Neither commented whether the company would be part of the effort.

(FYI. My wife would add on after comment and commented. I didn't see the need for the additional word, but you may.)

Every word in a sentence needs to justify itself.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

More Word Choices (Part 5 of 7)

Most and Almost

Most everyone from work will be at Julie's party. It's better to say almost in this sentence. Almost means nearly and most means the greater number—what we sometimes call a superlative (few, more, most). To make the sentence correct, we could say, "A few will go to Marvin's reception, but most of them will be at Julie's party."

I'm aware of the small things in grammar 
because they add up to big things in writing.

Friday, February 1, 2013

More Word Choices (Part 4 of 7)

Hopefully You'll Understand

People have started sentences with hopefully and fortunately and other similar adverbs so long that they use them without thinking. Most dictionaries list their usage as acceptable. Grammatically, however, they're incorrect. They're shortcuts in language and people rarely misunderstand.

I try not to use such expressions because of the grammar. Those words are adverbs and they have to modify another word.

* Hopefully, I'll recover from the flu by Monday.

* Fortunately, I made a wise choice when I bought the insurance policy.

In the first example, hopefully means I hope or I am hopeful. Fortunately refers to it is fortunate, which makes fortunate what we call a predicate adjective. But to what do those adverbs refer? That shows the difference between what is grammatically correct and what I can get away with as a writer.

Even though I can get away with sloppy grammar, 
I'm a professional and try to do it correctly.