Tag: Communicating

Full Circle: Capturing Imaginations, Hearts and Minds

 

A Checklist to Make Your Writing Shine

A marshy field in Colorado

This marshy field teems with life. When our car speeds by it, though, we don’t notice or experience the wildlife hidden in the grasses, wading in the mud, singing from the reeds. One day we stopped our car, rolled down windows; looked through binoculars; listened, felt, smelled; tasted the breezes. Myriads of bird life, colors, textures of fauna and flora brought the place alive to us. Good writing does that also: draws in the reader, reveals hidden things, opens possibilities.

I taught from the following list at a recent writers workshop. Afterwards, a couple of wide-eyed writers said to me, “You really want good writing.”

Well, yes, I do! The better-written a manuscript comes to me, the more I like it. Here at Cladach we may resonate with the premise and material of a nonfiction manuscript—we may like a novel’s characters and plot—so much that we are willing to devote the editing time needed to bring the writing quality and style up to these standards. We may ask an author to go back and re-write/revise/re-work a manuscript. Then we also do in-house macro editing, line editing, and copy editing. The following list gives most of the elements of style and “good writing” that we look for in a manuscript and strive for in the books we publish.

Here’s how to give your writing pizzazz so readers will want to invest in it, engage with it—be entertained, convinced, and inspired by what you say. Check your writing against this list to make sure it communicates as clearly and persuasively as possible.

 1.  Have you written from your heart as well as your mind? (If not, read this post. If yes, go on to the rest of the list.)

 2.  Write in the active voice. Choose strong, active verbs.

 3.  Write concretely, rather than abstractly. Show, don’t just tell. Appeal to all the senses.

 4.  In nonfiction as well as fiction, use storytelling as much as possible.

 5.  Stay in a definite, consistent POV. Through whose eyes is the reader seeing?

 6.  Hook the reader on the first page/ first paragraph/ first sentence/ first word.

 7.  Keep the reader’s attention as each word, each sentence, each paragraph, each chapter leads to the next.

 8.  Maintain a logical or chronological flow of thought or action. Use transitions when needed.

 9.  Strive for precision and conciseness. Cut extraneous/ repetitious words and phrases. Less is more.

10.  Give thought to word choices—consider subtleties, connotations, nuances; find the zing and zest of the right word.

11.  Vary sentence structure and length. Use periodic sentences often (as in these examples).

12.  Search for and remove troublesome words that hide like gremlins in your writing, words that are used compulsively but often aren’t needed. (Click here for my list.)

13.  Use your ear. Do the sentences flow well? In fiction, is that how people sound when they talk? Try reading your writing out loud.

Search, Find, Delete These Word Gremlins

“Front Yard Discovery,” a collage by Mark Fraley, from the book “Creation of Calm” © 2014

These troublesome words tend to hide like gremlins in our writing (especially in fiction, but also nonfiction).

We often use these words compulsively, but often they aren’t needed.

Remember, less is more. Conciseness makes better, stronger, clearer writing.

Do a search for—and delete unnecessary uses of—the following:

  • very
  • just
  • that
  • nice
  • interesting
  • look / looked (at)
  • like
  • then
  • begin / began / beginning
  • started / started to
  • take / took
  • seem / seemed

Were you surprised how many of these words showed up in your article, blog post, or book manuscript (especially a novel)?

Do you have other words on your personal list for keeping gremlins out of your polished drafts?

A Writer’s (Tongue-in-Cheek) Checklist

CCWC Editors and Agents Panel 2016

Are editors always this long-faced? 🙂 Maybe we have all seen too many proposals and manuscripts with these errors in them. (See the list below.) In this photo, I’m sitting in the middle of a panel of book editors and agents at CCWC May 2016. We’re all considering a serious question posed by a conferee. But plenty of light, humorous moments occurred at the conference also–and lots of encouragement and inspiration, as well.

One constantly-recurring theme for writers is that we must strive for clarity. To that end, at my workshop on “A Checklist for Writers” I shared my list of writing techniques. Then I offered this bonus “checklist” that uses tongue-in-cheek humor to help us avoid murky writing.
(This list comes from Professor Howard Culbertson at Southern Nazarene University, and I use it with his permission.)

  1. Don’t use no double negatives.

  2. About them sentence fragments.

  3. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

  4. Between you and I, case is important.

  5. Do not submit writing in email or cell phone text format — thx!

  6. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

  7. Use your apostrophe’s correctly. Omit the apostrophe when its not needed.

  8. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

  9. Of course, if any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

  10. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.

  11. A writer must not shift your point of view.

  12. Avoid clichés like the plague. They’re old hat. So, go around the barn at high noon to avoid clichés and colloquialisms.

  13. Do not be redundant and keep repeating yourself; do not use more words than necessary; eliminate the superfluous in your writing.

  14. One should NEVER generalize.

  15. Be more or less specific.

  16. And avoid starting sentences with a conjunction.

  17. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.

  18. Don’t use commas, that are not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.

  19. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed. So, take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.

  20. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.

  21. Be careful to use the write homonym.

  22. DO NOT use multiple exclamation points and all caps to EMPHASIZE a point!!!!!!!!

  23. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.

  24. Proofread your writing to see if you any words out.

Changing Direction

   Paris-hotel-near-Eiffel-Tow

We finished our salads and chocolate mousse at the corner cafe and, after a merci beaucoup to the waiter, stepped across the old street of Paris. We had come to France to visit our missionary son and we had an opportunity to be sightseers in Paris. On our first full day in the city of lights, we had decided to walk from our tiny hotel near the Eiffel Tower, find a place to eat lunch, then head toward the River Seine. We stood at the open corner of a small park, examining our map. Finding our location on the map, we turned toward the direction of the river (we thought).

Before we could take a step in that direction, a small, middle-aged French lady appeared at our side. Perhaps she was a Parisian housewife out shopping for the day’s bread and vegetables (earlier we had seen narrow streets lined with open-air markets of fresh produce and flowers) though she wasn’t carrying anything. She wore a simple, colorful dress and a cardigan sweater missing a button. She smiled, her eyes twinkled, and she said something in French. We didn’t know how to respond, so she reached for our map. Somewhat startled, we handed it to her. She examined it for a moment then pointed to something on the map. We looked.

“Yes, the river. That’s where we want to go,” I said in English, as we all still faced down the street.

Even as I spoke, the helpful little madame, still clutching our map, turned 180 degrees, stretched forward her arm, and decisively pointed in the opposite direction. We laughed with slight embarrassment, and with genuine gratitude we practiced our merci again. The lady returned the map to my husband, and she was gone. The memory of her smiling eyes has lingered with me.

I don’t know how far we would have walked before we realized we were going the wrong way, but I’m sure our day would have turned out differently. The special surprises we found along our walk that day wouldn’t have happened.

Paris-streets

Every morning, as Christ followers, we pray and ask the Lord to guide us through the day. Then we start out going in the direction that seems right, whether in business, ministry, relationships, or activities. If the Lord sends someone or something to get our attention and point us in a different direction, we need to leave our own ideas, turn around, and go the other way. Later, we’ll be glad we did.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body.” (Proverbs 3:5-8)

Periodic Sentences

Colorado Marsh

How does the writer effectively pull in the reader, take hold of his hand, and keep him reading? How does a writer achieve her goal of changing her reader’s thinking, of painting pictures in his mind that give pleasure, insight, and hope? The writer’s success depends largely on how she arranges her words in sentences.

In my previous post I mentioned periodic sentences. This sentence-writing technique places the most important, impactful words at the end. This arrangement is effective for two reasons: 1) The last words you read or hear are the ones you remember best. 2) When the entire sentence leads up to those final words, the reader doesn’t want to stop reading. He anticipates; his mind and emotions engage;  he wants to find out where this is leading.

In each of the following pairs of sentences, the first sentence gives you the punch words at the beginning, and the second sentence saves until last the juicy words.

♦     ♦     ♦     ♦

Did he notice the teeming wildlife—snapdragons, butterflies, cottontails, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds—when he looked out across the meadow?

When he looked out across the meadow, did he notice the teeming wildlife: snapdragons, butterflies, cottontails, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds?

 

Eating is his favorite activity and snickerdoodles are his favorite food.

He says his favorite activity is eating, and he especially enjoys snickerdoodles.

 

We got big, pink snow cones and we rode the merry-go-round when Grandma took us to town.

Grandma took us to town to get big, pink snow cones and ride the merry-go-round.

 

Driving a fire truck is what I’ve always wanted to do.

All my life I’ve wanted to drive a fire truck.

 

We heard the computer keys clicking so we knew she was working in the next room.

We knew she was working in the next room because we could hear the computer keys clicking.

 

We drank our last ounce of water before we had climbed up the mountain halfway.

Halfway up the mountain we drank our last ounce of water.

 

Come to the Father when life makes no sense, and you don’t know what to do.

When life makes no sense, and you don’t know what to do, come to the Father.

 

I assume you mean “Suggested Retail Price” when you say “SRP.”

I assume “SRP” means “Suggested Retail Price.”

 

Feeling his arm around me gives me more consolation than anything else.

Nothing gives me more consolation than feeling his arm around me.

 

I’d spend a week in Paris with you if I could have anything I wanted in the whole world.

If I could have anything I wanted in the whole world, I’d spend a week in Paris with you.

 

I love you, Lord, for who you are and for all you’ve done for me.

For who you are—and for all you’ve done for me—I love you, Lord.

 

Listen with the ears of your heart when you listen.

When you listen, listen with the ears of your heart.

 

Keep an open heart when you say your prayers.

When you say your prayers, keep an open heart.

 

Are you already consciously using periodic sentences? Do you think your writing would improve if you consider each sentence with your reader in mind, and rearrange words?

For the Love of Words and the Living Word

If you’re a word person, as I am, then perhaps you also have “a love affair with words.” You use words, but take care not to abuse them. You like to play with words, but you also take them seriously. You cherish them, listen to them, pray over them, respect them, have faith in them, and you know when to release them.

Words are a writer’s tools, the building blocks of our stories, articles, blog posts, tweets and books. Words have power. With words we instruct, entertain, woo, influence, write and speak.

God spoke the world into being. Jesus is the Word become flesh. Spoken words matter. Written words matter. Every word matters. They matter because they enable us to see the unseen, to know the unknowable, to grasp the undreamed of.

The well-chosen correctly-used, creatively-connected, ingeniously-employed word has power. If your words fit that description, and they are prayed over, respected, understood—then these words may form a piece of writing that is Christ-infused, Christ-honoring, and Christ-giving to a person and a world that needs the living Word.

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