Get to Know the Authors

Monday, December 28, 2015

Week 52: Develop Your Persona to Be the Person You Aspire to Be

Many writers, especially newer ones, wonder about ‘voice’—what it is and how to develop it. This chapter gives some insight on that and how our writing not only impacts us, but how we impact our writing.
Wilbers says, “Writing is power. When you write, you assert your concerns, your values, your point of view. … With this power comes both responsibility and freedom.”1
He talks about the assumed identities the ancients called personas. We know it as an avatar, an image of what we want people to think—it might be a close approximation or a gross distortion, but either way, it’s not the real thing.
“Just as your choice of images is key to your persona, your choice of words determines your persona or the impression you create in your reader’s mind. … Natural word choice goes beyond language and techniques of style. Natural word choice shapes the reader’s impression of who you are as a person. … Your word choice should be intentional not accidental … should serve a purpose.”2
We impact our writing, but our writing also impacts us. Our writing journey is an opportunity for self-exploration. Through experimenting with language, styles and techniques that work for us, we can discover who we really are. But what about who you would like to be?
John Steinbeck said this: “I instinctively recognized an opportunity to transcend some of my personal failings—things about myself I didn’t particularly like and wanted to change but didn’t know how.”
I love this insight from Wilbers in writing behind the persona: “Whatever your choice [of persona], I urge you to be a complete person. Reveal not only your thoughts, but also your feelings. Share your insights and humor. Be playful. Write with heart. Above all, be genuine.”
And from Stephen King: “Honesty in story-telling makes up for a great many stylistic faults…”3
Revise the following using your own voice, making them less stilted.
1.            I am making an attempt to make an improvement in my writing.
2.            Please apprise me of what transpired at the meeting.
3.            We need to fabricate a dike around this building utilizing these sandbags.
4.            Such conditions impede progress in finding a resolution to said problems.

5.            Our team leader deems it imperative that we conduct ourselves ethically.

1. Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 290
2. Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 291
3. Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 293
4. Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg293

Monday, December 21, 2015

Week 51: Eloquence and Grace

Go Beyond Clarity to Eloquence and Grace
by Tamara Passey

Meet my friends, Eloquence and Grace. They've worked hard all year to learn the steps to the dance they need to perform. They've learned periodic sentences, the long-short combo, using an appropriate level of formality. They've covered modifiers, strong verbs, active voice and they've expanded their sentence repertoire. They've mastered metaphors and similes and have avoided cliches (like the plague.) And so much more.  They can dance with clarity. But now is the time to showcase their talent with eloquence and grace.

When you watch a couple like this on the dance floor, do you see power, refinement, and dignity? Can you sense the authority with which they convey the message of their art?

If we want to create beauty through language and share our message with power and refinement, we have to know the rules, understand how to put words on the page, and allow our writing style to shine through.

Here's a few more thoughts on eloquence and grace:

"Elegance cannot be forced. It cannot be purchased and slipped into like fine clothes. Writing with elegance comes naturally and gradually. It comes from making the right assumptions about language and from following certain principles of writing." 1

"Elegance need not be complicated. It can be as simple as E.B. White's sentence in The Elements of Style: "These [questions of style] are high mysteries, and this chapter is a mystery story, thinly disguised." A simple shift in word order destroys the effect of that sentence: "These are high mysteries, and this chapter is a thinly disguised mystery story." Without the grace notes at the end of the sentence, it becomes ordinary." 2

"Elegance depends more on sound than content. Elegance requires a precise, robust vocabulary. It also requires an ear for language and attention to the cadence, rhythm, and flow of sentence structure."

"More than two centuries ago Samuel Johnson, described the most desirable English style as "familiar but not coarse, elegant but not ostentatious." My, how times don't change." 3

1. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p. 286
2. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p. 286
3. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p 287

Monday, December 14, 2015

WEEK 50: Know Your Options For Comic Effect

Humor is serious Valerie Ipson

So much can be said about humor and its value not just to comedic writing, but to ALL writing. 

Wilbers says it this way, " tell a joke is to declare your humanity... To appeal to another person's sense of humor is to affirm a common bond."1 And, "Humor reduces the distance between writer and reader (and between speaker and listener)."2 

Even the writer of drama should employ a bit of humor here and there, not only to give the reader or audience a break, but to offer insights about the realities of life that can best be understand through comedy. Maybe kind of like, 'I can either laugh or cry, and laughing's more fun,' when faced with difficulties in our lives. 

In chapter 50 of Mastering the Craft, ten types (tropes) of humor are discussed. You're probably already using many of them without realizing it... paradox, situational irony, sarcasm, overstatement, wit...pick something new and try it in your current manuscript!

Mastering the Craft, p 278
Mastering the Craft, p 279

Monday, December 7, 2015

Week 49: Add a Light-Hearted Touch to Your Writing

This week's chapter is pretty self-explanatory. 

Wilbers says, "Humor is a matter of perspective..." - oh don't I know this. My husband and I do not share similar senses of humor. I'm pretty funny, but I'm also the only one usually laughing at my jokes. And I think word plays or errors are generally hilarious. Like these things that cracked me up in NYC (just please forgive my obvious lack of photography skills):

Look for writing that elicits a 
chuckle from you and then try to 
imitate it. A juxtaposition or 
something unexpected. (like this 
behemoth of a sandwich): 

Wilbers continues his thoughts on humor saying it is, "a bemused awareness of the incongruous, illogical, and sometimes absurd dimensions of our existence. It's also a matter of timing, technique, and detail." I'm a huge fan of both Sarah M. Eden and Janette Rallison's writing because each seems to effortlessly create such scenarios. 

Wilbers offers a paragraph from Kay Redfield Jamison's An Unquiet Mind.

"I decided early in graduate school that I needed to do something about my moods. It quickly came down to a choice between seeing a psychiatrist or buying a horse. Since almost everyone I knew was seeing a psychiatrist, and since I had absolute belief that I should be able to handle my own problems, I naturally bought a horse. Not just any horse, but an unrelentingly stubborn and blindingly neurotic one, a sort of equine Woody Allen, but without the entertainment value."1

The incongruity between "seeing a psychiatrist or buying a horse" lends to the comic effect. 

So this week in your writing, throw in something unexpected for comic relief.

1 Wilbers, Stephen,  Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 274.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Week 48: Use Your Imagination

Use Your Imagination to Write with Personality and Style

by Tamara Passey

What do you think about when you stare at the stars?

When you see clouds does it make you wonder? 
What about spring flowers?

And where exactly is this bench? 
And who could be meeting there? And why? 

This week is all about using your imagination to add personality to your writing. It is adding the unexpected to our pages that can make them come alive. How do you spark your imagination? Wilbers shares an example from the poet Michael Dennis Browne who would sometimes ask his students to write as many outlandish lies as they could think of in the first few minutes of class.
"Don't overthink it," he would say. "Just write whatever comes to mind."
He found that his students were more fanciful, expansive, and creative in their exploration of what was possible in their poetry. 1

"At its deepest level, imagination enables us to associate words and thoughts. If we had no imagination at all, we would lack faith in the value and meaning of words. To varying degrees, every writer (and every reader) possesses imagination. To use language is to enter a symbolic world. Every word uttered, every sentence written, is an act of imagination."

"Without that spark [imagination], a writer's relationship to language becomes superficial and rigid. To write without creativity is to underestimate the potential of language." 2

Take a minute to think about your own imagination. What has fed it and fueled it in the past? What are exercises that help you get to a place where anything can be possible on the page? Some writers set a timer for 10 minutes and write freely, never using that writing for anything other than priming their pump, so to speak. Experiment the next time you sit down to write, spend a few minutes conjuring up some outlandish lies, or simply let your mind wander wherever it wants to go--and then see if your writing reflects some new twists, or even better--new verbs, you weren't expecting.

1. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p. 267
2. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p. 268, italics and bold added for emphasis

Monday, November 23, 2015


by Valerie Ipson

By Week 47 we have learned a variety of techniques that can make our words dance and sing on the page. Tired, oft-used cliches, though, have the opposite effect. They can bore the reader, or show our laziness as a writer. 

"According to Donald Hall, relying on the easy choices, on trendy words and cliches, causes us to end our search for more precise language..."1 

Stephen Wilbers says, "The first time it rained cats and dogs was brilliant, now it's a cliche."2

It's not that we have to avoid all cliches. They can be useful because their very commonality means they're easily understood. But a well-crafted phrase, even an old cliche twisted into something new, freshens our writing and delights the reader.  

Like this one: An apple a day still can't beat pizza.

I think we all understand that.

1 Mastering the Craft, p 261
2 Mastering the Craft, p 264

Monday, November 16, 2015

Week 46: Return to Your Metaphors and Similes

This year's posts have been like a mouse nibbling at cheese. Each week, a different lesson on writing, until the whole book has nearly been consumed, one morsel at a time.

This week's lesson, Wilbers has us reconnecting with our metaphors and similes throughout our work, like the mouse returning to his feast. It's something "... every good essayist or storyteller knows" how to do.1

We are warned though that this technique works well when you have three criteria: "they're simple, apt, and novel."2 When they are forced, however, it can be a distraction. Cliche metaphors may even be glossed right over by your readers.

John Mather, senior astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center used this technique giving us insight into the evolution of the formation of galaxies:

"We thought galaxies formed just like they are. But now we think they grew, they assembled themselves from smaller pieces. It might have been like rain on the side of a hill. First you get little rivulets that flow together into a larger stream."3

Or Thoreau's famous passage from Walden:

"A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. The fluviatile trees next to the shore are the slender eyelashes which fringe it, and the wooded hills and cliffs around are its overhanging brows."4

Now that we've had a taste of this concept, try your hand at it:

1. The wind had been through/the valley/ leaving everything cold/ and gleaming/ like bells.

2. The sheer weight of one of these icy leviathans, some of which grew to a thickness of two miles, flattened the crust of the earth.5

1 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 255.
2 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 256.
3 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 258.
4 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing,  pg 258.
5 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing,  pg 257.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Week 45: Use Analogies and Comparisons to Enliven Your Writing

by Tamara Passey

Comparisons. In the pop-psychology of the day we are told repeatedly to stop comparing--mainly ourselves to other people. Comparing can be the downfall of a decent amount of self-esteem, the undoing of some well-earned confidence, the snag that unravels a perfectly knitted day.

See what I did there? Okay, what I tried to do there? Use some metaphors and analogies to make my point. So if we want to keep that skip in our step and feel our confident best, we need to avoid comparisons. But if we want to make an enduring impression on our reader with our writing, metaphors, similes, and analogies are just what the doctor ordered.

Wilbers points out that "Your chances of creating a good analogy are greater if you know how to recognize a bad one." 1

And with that he gives some examples of  'delightfully bad' comparisons. Followed by more examples of better comparisons. And yes, please find the book, read the chapter and get up to speed on how to use metaphors and similes properly and effectively. But for now, I think we've worked pretty hard in the preceding weeks and can take a minute to blow off some steam, you know, like one of those old trains that used to run on steam? *Ahem* Sorry, okay, I couldn't resist the opportunity to use a bad analogy to introduce more...bad analogies.

Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.
John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met. 2
Funny? Yes. Bad? No doubt about it.

Here's a few more I found:

The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
Now it's your turn. Leave a comment with your favorite bad analogy,

1. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p. 250 
2. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p. 250

Monday, November 2, 2015


Easy Peasy
by Valerie Ipson

This might be the easiest lesson to blog about. Basically, it reminds us of what we learned about rhythm over the last several lessons (all those interesting Greek words known as schemes)and then says, don't overdo it. Whether you're using epistrophe,anaphora, or anadiplosis a little goes a long way.

Here's an example from the book, actually one taken from another book, Flood: A Romance of Our Time:

"The big sycamore by the creek was gone. The willow tangle was gone. The little enclave of untrodden bluegrass was gone. The clump of dogwood on the little rise across the creek--now that, too, was gone,"1

Here the author, Robert Penn Warren, uses epistrophe (repetition) to create a rhythm and then alters the beat at the end for a pleasing effect.

So, the moral of this blog post is: Establish a rhythm in your writing, then vary it because too much of a good thing is, well, too much.

1 MTC, pg 248

Monday, October 26, 2015

Week 43 Create Rhythm with Anadiplosis and Isocolon

Anna Diplosis is a cousin to Ann Timetabole. Ann chooses to reverse her stated ideas (you can see examples in Week 41) whereas Anna likes to take the last word of the statement and for emphasis repeat it as the first word in a juxtaposition.

Anna would quote John Keats, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty."

It goes a bit further with phrases as shown in Anna's favorite folksong by Pete Seeger and Joe Hickerson: " "Where have all the flowers gone... young girls have picked them
Where have all the young girls gone... gone to young men".

Now Iso Colon is a different fellow. He's particular about repetition, both in grammatical structure and in the same number of syllables.

He believes 'many are called, but few are chosen', and he likes to wear a Timex because 'it takes a licking and keeps on ticking'. But he's particularly partial to some advice his grandfather gave him. "How to succeed at business: Have a vision, know your values, and work like crazy."1

Anna and Iso can emphasize ideas or create rhythm in our writing, writing that will more clearly and effectively communicate to our audiences.

Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg. 240.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Week 42: Use Anaphora and Epistrophe for Eloquence

by Tamara Passey

If you missed the guest appearance by Yoda on last week's post by Valerie, go and check it out here. Don't worry, I'll wait. She introduces the techniques we will be discussing this week. As mentioned in the title, they are:

Anaphora and Epistrophe

No, I did not sneeze. No, I did not invent these words. And no, I did not find them in a catalog for exotic flowers. Though, like exotic flowers, if you can master these techniques they can add some beauty or (as Wilbers says) some eloquence  to your writing. 1

See what I did there in that paragraph? "Opened successive phrases with repeated words"2 --that's what classical rhetoricians called anaphora. 
A more eloquent example would be Patrick Henry's proclamation: "Give me liberty, or give me death." 
Can you see and hear how employing this technique makes the writing more memorable?

As for epistrophe, it is "closing successive phrases with repeated words." Like this: "Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat." (Excuse the digression, but I try to remember that quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald when I'm baking.) Or if you need another example, compare these two sentences:

"There's not a liberal and a conservative US; there's a United States of America."

"There's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's a United States of America." 3

(I'll try to remember that one during this presidential election season!)

I hope the difference is obvious between the two sentences. The latter has the emphasis and eloquence to drive the point home to your readers or listeners.

1. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p. 234 
2. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p. 234
3. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p. 236

Monday, October 12, 2015


Improve Your Writing, You Will 
by Valerie Ipson

If you thought your high school English teacher taught you everything you need to know about good writing, think again. Have you considered employing the use of antimetabole, chiasmus, anaphora, epistrophe, anadiplosis, and isocolon

Apparently these are real things...called tropes and schemes. They're techniques used in writing to create a particular cadence or rhythm. (The names are Greek.)

Some definitions: "Departures from literal meaning such as metaphor and simile are called tropes." (Who knew?) "Departures from normal word order are called schemes."1

We've all imitated Yoda's speech pattern a time or two. He employed a "scheme of inversion." 

There are also schemes of repetition and two of these are discussed in this week's lesson. I've actually heard of the second one, chiasmus: "the repetition of grammatical structure without repetition of the same words or phrases, as in 'It's hard to make time, but to waste it is easy.'"2 

I've seen poems that are written in this form, and I know there are articles written about how chiasmus is used in the Bible, and how the Book of Mormon is one big chiasmusAnother example of a line of chiasmus: "What is stolen without remorse, with guilt must be repaid."3

Now what in the world is ANTIMETABOLE? It's's the repetition of words in reverse order. Example: "Everyone who loves his country is a patriot, but not every patriot loves his country."4

There you can see repeated words on each side of the comma.

1 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 228
2 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 228
Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 229
Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 228

Monday, October 5, 2015

Week 40 Use Periodic Sentences to Create Suspense and Emphasis

by Peggy Urry

Week 40 means there are only twelve lessons left. Only eleven more Mondays until 2016. Gah! Is it really mid-October? Yes, yes it is. Enough on that... 

Wilbers says, "In the old days [of writing], we would have been taught some two hundred schemes and tropes--schemes are structural patterns such as inversion and antithesis, and tropes are figures of speech such as metaphor."1

Theoretically, anyone can write a great and memorable sentence, but if you understand the type of sentence you're writing and how it works, your chances are much greater.

Parallel sentences (discussed in Week 39) create a pleasing rhythm through repetition of similar elements. An antithetical sentence (Week 25) "is a balanced sentence with contrary statements."2

Loose and periodic sentences mirror each other.

Loose sentences have a main clause followed by a series of parallel elements: "She peered into the dark room, fearing for her life, listening for the slightest sound, wondering if the murderer lurked within."2

The periodic sentence switches it up with the parallel elements first and the main clause following: "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she had to walk into mine." Dramatic delay creates effect.2

Use the loose sentence option when you want to keep things relaxed. When you want to tighten the screws, go for suspense, drag out the drama, your go-to structure is the periodic sentence.

This is a great chapter to read and re-read.

1 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 222
2 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 223

Monday, September 28, 2015

Week 39: Use Parallel Structure to Create Rhythm

by Tamara Passey

Last week Valerie mentioned a little something called rhythm. This week we're learning another tool to create it.

How does parallel structure create rhythm? 

Imagine a train on the tracks in the above picture...can you hear the steady sound of the wheels turning? Can you feel the momentum? Now what if one of those tracks were not parallel to the other and the train derailed? Not a pretty sight or sound. 

So for the purposes of this week, the train is your sentence and you are the conductor. Your job? Don't let your sentence go off the tracks.

Keep your structure parallel. This means you need to know your nouns from your adjectives as well as your verbs. It helps to know your noun phrases from your verbal nouns, or gerunds, too. But this doesn't need to be an intense study of the different parts of speech. This is rhythm we are talking about. Read these sentences and I bet you'll be able to hear the consistency--or lack of it, even if you can't put your finger on why.

Let's start with something most of us have heard from Alexander Pope:

"To err is human, forgiving is divine."

Did you catch that? Like a train screeching off the tracks. 

"To err is human, to forgive divine."

Ah, that's better.

Here are two correct structures:

"Language is not a carving; it's a curl of breath, a breeze in the pines. (no surprise this quote is from poet and environmental activist Gary Snyder.)
 "In the writing process, the more a thing cooks, the better. (Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing.)1
Choose a pattern and stick to it. Remember your readers want consistency. And consistent parallel structure will keep your sentences humming along the tracks.

1. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p. 216 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Week 38 Conclude your Paragraphs with a Click

All About the Rhythm!
by Valerie Ipson

"Take special care with the last sentence of each paragraph," William Zinser advises in On Writing Well. "It is the crucial springboard to the next paragraph ... Make the reader smile and you've got him for at least one paragraph more" quoted in Wilbers Mastering the Craft.

So just as we've practiced ending a sentence with a bit of a punch, we can, and should, do the same with our paragraphs.

Wilbers teaches that this technique is more than paragraph structure, more than figuring out beats, and more than putting your best line at the end. It involves RHYTHM. 

Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to check out chapter 38 and read the examples included. Read the concluding sentences of each paragraph by Eudora Welty, Kevin Kling, and Stephen King out loud and listen to the rhythm of the lines leading up to the pause. See how the concluding sentences create an impact.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Week 37 Write in Sentences, but Think in Paragraphs

Week 37 Write in Sentences, but Think in Paragraphs

by Peggy Urry

Benjamin Franklin had a great sense of curiosity (and I would say, a great amount of luck on his side: think lightning rod).

As a lad, there was a peer with whom he would debate. He "usually found himself on the losing side of these 'disputations'". Franklin, in his autobiography says the "lad" was "naturally more eloquent, had a ready plenty of words; and sometimes, as I thought, bore me down more by his fluency than by the strength of his reasons."1

To hone his skills, he took an old volume of The Spectator (Joseph Addison and Richard Steele) and studied the essays. He took notes, he wrote them in verse, then after a few days would try to put them back into essay form. And made more notes on how he could improve the next time. Sometimes, apparently needing a bigger challenge, he would jumble his collection of hints and weeks later attempt to put them back into order.

Sounds grand, doesn't it? Let's give it a try using a paragraph from an essay in The Spectator by Joe Floren, "Writing in the Age of Data Drench". Put the following sentences in order:2

___ How often would we make careless spelling errors if correcting them meant starting over with a new rock?

___ It's no coincidence that the typewriter is wordier than longhand, the word processor wordier than the typewriter, and dictation wordiest of          all.

___ Despite its many benefits, the computer gets the blame for increasing reader overload.

___ Imagine how concise we'd be if we had to chisel our messages into rock.

___ Its ease of use encourages writers to be wordier and less organized.

___ Easy writing quickly becomes lazy writing.

Need a few hints? Remember Week 36's paragraph instruction: topic, development, resolution. A topic sentence may look back before going forward--a transitional topic sentence. The one above includes a comma. The sentence that clarifies/amplifies meaning comes next. Guessing on the fourth sentence might be careless and lazy isn't always last. Good luck. Check out Stephen Wilbers's book Mastering the Craft for more hints.

1 Mastering the Craft, Wilbers, Stephen, pg 206.
2 Mastering the Craft, Wilbers, Stephen, pg 207.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Week 36 Use Three-Part Paragraphs to Organize Your Thought

By Tamara Passey

What do the following four items have in common?*
*Yes this is a bit of a trick question

Soup of the Day

The first three are components to a well organized paragraph. As for the Soup of the Day, it doesn't have anything to do with what we are talking about--unless you'd like to think of it like this: If you don't take the time to organize and structure your paragraphs, you end up with a jumbled mess of concepts--kind of like soup. Which is great to eat, but not so great to read!

Last week Valerie introduced us to the mighty paragraph, this week we get to learn a great way to organize our thought within the paragraph. And who doesn't need a little thought organizing?

Wilbers proposes that the paragraph consists of three parts (as listed above.) "The first and last sentences are the topic and resolution. The middle three sentences are the development." 1 (He refers to a paragraph in his chapter - the paragraph can be any length.)

Here is one exercise to get you started:

The sentences in this paragraph have been reordered so that the resolution sentence is now buried in the middle. See if you can identify which of the four sentences should be moved to the end so the sentences appear in their original order:

"All writing is ultimately a question of solving a problem. It may be a problem of where to obtain facts, or how to organize the material. Whatever it is, it has to be confronted and solved. It may be a problem of approach or attitude, tone, or style."2

1. Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, p. 201 
2. Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, p. 204

Monday, August 31, 2015

WeeK 35 Use Paragraphs To Frame Your Thought and Set Your Pace

Point & Shoot
by Valerie Ipson

You may have noticed that the 52 weeks of lessons found in Mastering the Craft began with the basics...first, choosing your words wisely, and then on to constructing powerful sentences. Now we're experts (right?) so we're ready to tackle the almighty PARAGRAPH.

Wilbers compares it to taking a picture. We "decide what to place inside the frame and what to leave out" MTC, 194. In putting together a paragraph, it's the choose the words and sentences and where to place them.

Our manuscripts are not emails where we might wander from thought to thought randomly. Instead, we use paragraphs crafted with a purpose. In fiction, they introduce and develop a thought, but also "mark shifts in scene and dialogue" MTC, 194. They compel a reader from thought to thought at a pace we as the author decides. Longer paragraphs slow the pace, while the short, choppy paragraph steps it up.

Often we take a photo that has too much sky or too much going on in the background and we have to crop it. Cropping is a great tool for writers, too. Give readers some white space around your paragraphs!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Week 34 Start with Something Old; End with Something New

Week 34
Start with Something Old; End with Something New

by Peggy Urry

I had to chuckle to myself when I read the title for this week. Oh, how appropriate as I have a daughter getting married in a couple of months. This post, however, deals with the order of things to improve the flow and clarity of our writing.

Ending our sentences with new information gives the reader a sense of what is coming next, enticing them to read on (as was discussed last week).

"Consider this sentence: 'You need to eliminate common errors in your writing.'"1

Eliminating common errors is an idea that you've introduced and it now is 'old information'. Anything referencing that idea should come at the beginning of subsequent sentences with new info presented at the end.

What do you think of this set-up: "You need to eliminate common errors in your writing. Your credibility will be undermined by errors in grammar, word choice, and punctuation."?

How would you improve it?

Consider this: "You need to eliminate common errors in your writing. Errors (old idea) in grammar, word choice, and punctuation will undermine your credibility."2 The flow and clarity improve with just a simple change in order.

1 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 189.
2 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 190.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Week 33 End With the Thought You Intend to Develop Next

End With the Thought You Intend to Develop Next

by Tamara Passey

Week 33: Wherein I call Stephen Wilbers the sentence whisperer. 

In this chapter he details yet another technique of using closing emphasis for effect. A way to connect your sentences to increase the coherence and flow of your information. And why would we want to do that? The more coherent our writing, the easier it is for our reader to follow our thought and (here is the biggee) "the more our reader will want to keep reading." [Readers who will want to keep reading = goal of every writer, right?]

To improve the coherence of your information, check for topics that are mentioned in a sentence and then elaborated upon in following sentences. The placement and order of information seems like such common sense, but as we know, common sense can be bypassed when the pen hits the page (or keys strike the keyboard...doesn't have the same ring.) The topic that will be continued needs to be near the end of the sentence. 

Here is the example Wilbers uses and I'm sure I cannot do the transformation justice in my recap, but hopefully you will get the idea of how to end with the thought you intend develop next:

"There are two natural stress points in every sentence you write. There is one stress point at the beginning and one stress point at the end."

Not bad. But look at how changing the word order improves the flow:

"In every sentence you write, there are two natural stress points. There is one stress point at the beginning and one stress point a the end."

See how the sentences are better connected by ending the first sentence with the topic that is explained in the second sentence?

He doesn't stop there. Remember eliminating needless words and compressing the rhythm?

"In every sentence you write, there are two natural stress points: one at the beginning and one at the end."

Now there is a better sounding and more efficient sentence!

Have fun and rewrite this sentence to get the hang of it:

"We can see that the problem with a long sentence may involve more than just garrulousness, given what we've learned about problems of topic and stress."

Monday, August 10, 2015

Week 32 Use Sentence Fragments To Punctuate Your Writing

This is not your English teacher's novel
by Valerie Ipson

Think for a minute what your manuscript would look and sound like if you followed all the rules you were taught in 8th grade English. 

(I hope you're shuddering just a little bit.)

If you're strict with the rules, you'll be writing without the benefit of the fast-paced, efficient fragment. I know. I know. Your teacher marked all over your papers in red ink because of sentences that were missing subjects and verbs. Well, it's revenge time. 

In our fast-paced world, people are moving more and more to short, quick forms of communication. And that's what fragments do for a novel. Set the pace. Move thought quickly. And efficiently.

"In the hands of a skilled writer (like you), fragments can underscore a point or advance a plot with remarkable precision and brevity...Their clipped, staccato cadence varies the rhythm from the flow of complete sentences. They add contrast and energy. They create pauses, and as you know, pauses create emphasis." 1

And truth be told, don't we often live life in fragments?
Yes. Yes we do.

1 MTC, P 175

Monday, August 3, 2015

Week 31 Hit 'Em with the Long-Short Combo

Week 31 Hit 'Em with the Long-Short Combo
Peggy Urry

Stephen Wilbers compares the concept of the long-short combo to that of a sling shot. Stretch out your first sentence and then ... Pow! Follow it with a concise, snappy one--the shorter the better. This adds punch, or emphasis, to what you're talking about.1 

Here are a few examples: 

Yesterday I read my copy four times, one word at a time, from front to back and from back to front, and today you found an error. So much for proofreading.2

"He'd mentioned his nonna, but for the first time she considered that he might have little ones. And a wife."3

Underneath, while you write you are a little nervous, not knowing how to get to what you really need to say and also a little afraid to get there. Relax. 4

Here's one for you to try:

Driving down Superior Street on a Saturday night, the sidewalks deserted, wind off the lake blowing snow through the pink light from the street lamps, the temperature stuck at twenty below, you know this isn't Paris, and it isn't even Minneapolis. This is a city called Duluth and it's at the top of the map.

1 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 170.

2 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 170.

3 Urry, Peggy, The Archer's Hollow.

4 Wilbers, Stephen, Mastering the Craft of Writing, pg 172/Goldberg, Natalie, Writing Down the Bones.

Monday, July 27, 2015

WEEK 30 Expand Your Sentence Repertoire by Adding Trailing Elements

How Not To Be Boring
by Valerie Ipson

The basic premise of this week's lesson is that readers crave variety. If an entire novel was just one long string of subject-verb-complement-period sentences, it would be soooo monotonous. Truth be told, the reader wouldn't even make it past the first chapter, maybe not even the first page.

Stephen Wilbers advises choosing a paragraph from your manuscript at random and counting the commas. "If you're writing without commas--or without dashes, colons, and semicolons--you're probably writing without variety" MTC, p 162. He calls these extra add-ins "trailing elements." Find his exercises on p. 164-165 of Mastering the Craft.

I've found that for me the best tool is reading my work out loud. It's then that I see how the rhythm of varying sentence structure is working...or not.

So, basically, don't be boring! Change things up. Keep the reader engaged through variety.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Week 29 Subordinate to Control Your Emphasis

Week 29
Subordinate to Control Your Emphasis

by Peggy Urry

Lately we've talked about placement of ideas or words we want to emphasize. Sometimes we want the emphasis at the beginning or sometimes it works better at the end. You can also use sentence structure to call attention to a main point.

Use of subordinate clauses (made by adding a subordinating conjunction such as although, when, if, and because) emphasizes the main clause.

Compare "I have my doubts about your proposal" (a main clause) with "Although I have my doubts about your proposal" (a subordinate clause).1 Beginning your sentence with a subordinating conjunction shifts the emphasis to the main clause. This can work with positive or negative information. For example, if you say "Because you've done such a terrific job on this project..." you expect some positive result. Conversely, if you say, "Because we lost $40 million last quarter..." you may not want to hear the rest.

Also, knowing when to subordinate allows you to give your message a positive or negative spin. Consider the following examples:

I am unable to refund your money, but I will give you a 10 percent discount on your next purchase.

Although I am unable to refund your money, I will give you a 10 percent discount on your next purchase.

Although his insights are invaluable, he talks too much.

Although he talks too much, his insights are invaluable.

"Subordinate to control your emphasis."2

1Mastering the Craft of Writing, Wilbers, Stephen, pg 156.

2Mastering the Craft of Writing, Wilbers, Stephen, pg 158.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Week 28 Use Sentence Beginnings for Emphasis

Use Sentence Beginnings for Emphasis
By Tamara Passey

Remember when Mary Poppins said this:
 "Our first game is called Well Begun is Half-Done."
Do you think she was talking about sentence structure?  I know she was teaching young Michael and Jane how to go about cleaning up the nursery--but I think she could have been dispensing some seriously good writing advice.

Wilbers says it this way in Mastering the Craft: "Beginnings and endings count more than middles." He also explains that "every sentence, like every paragraph, document, or speech--has natural stress points at the beginning and end."1 A stress point being a point of emphasis. And silly me, I thought stress points were knots in my back.

We know word choice is important in any given sentence, but so is word placement. Here are a few examples.

"I have never felt more frustrated."

Let's move one little word to the opening:

"Never have I felt more frustrated."

Can you hear the added emphasis? And we did that without adding any exclamation points.

Or this one:

"I'm telling you for the last time I won't do it."


"For the last time, I'm telling you I won't do it" (I would even omit the the phrase 'I'm telling you' for more punch: "For the last time, I won't do it."

Maybe at this point, you are thinking this isn't a very impressive technique - move one or two words around and somehow that improves the sentence? But think of it this way. Ever walk into a room full of furniture and the placement was haphazard, or boring or lacked direction and you weren't even sure where you were supposed to sit? And someone came along and rearranged the pieces and Voila! the room now had flow and became inviting for you to sit? That's placement.

And like Mary taught, "Well begun is half done." (I think she may have picked that up from Aristotle, but it sounds a bit more fun coming from her.) She also said, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." Imagine if she said, "Now in order to assist the medicine going down, try a spoonful of sugar." Hmm. See, she knew the power of word placement.

1. Mastering the Craft, Wilbers, p. 150

Monday, July 6, 2015


Give your writing some OOMPH!
by Valerie Ipson


We probably take periods for granted, but they are important. They create pauses. Use them wisely to end your sentence with some OOMPH!

Let's zoom straight to Stephen Wilber's analogy on flying an airplane: "As you take off, you should be concentrating on getting off the ground. Once aloft, you should be thinking about where to land." (MTC, p 147)

He's talking about sentence construction and the need to trim wordiness "so that the emphasis falls where it does the most good." Just like with airplanes, it matters where a sentence lands. In most cases it should end with the most important word or thought to place the focus right where you want it to be.

Chapter 27 gives some great examples of how to trim sentence endings, you should totally check it out. Here's an obvious one for effect: "So, don't let your sentences ramble on and on past the point where they really should stop, if you catch my drift." (MTC, p 147) Can you reduce this sentence to 6 words?

Sodon't let your sentences, and blog posts, ramble. That means my work here is done!

But first a hint: When your editor says trim a thousand bajillion words from your manuscript, sentence endings are a great place to look.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Week 26 Build Toward Climax

Week 26 Build Toward Climax

by Peggy Urry

There is a natural order to life all around us. If we throw a baseball up in the air, we know it will come down. If we get on a mattress at the top of the stairs...

It is the same with our writing. There is a natural order in language. J.R.R. Tolkien said, "My mother ... pointed out that one could not say 'a green great dragon,' but had to say 'a great green dragon.' I wondered why and still do."1

Wilbers says, "The answer has to do with the way your mind works. Without conscious effort and at extraordinary speed, your mind sorts and arranges concepts according to a natural order. For this reason, you should roll out your information according to natural patterns when you write." 2

Wilbers gives these tips:

  • Begin with simple; end with complex
  • Go from shortest phrase to longest
  • Go from less memorable/vivid to more memorable/vivid
  • End with the strongest word in the series

Here are a few sentences without natural order. How would you fix them?

Her behavior was outrageous, unethical, and inappropriate. (End with strongest word)

My primary responsibilities are to train staff, create a new database of specific economic reporting techniques, and manage the office. (Shortest phrase to longest)3

Not just building toward climax, screaming toward climax.

Write according to natural order. Look for patterns and flow. Build toward climax.

1 Mastering the Craft of Writing, Stephen Wilbers, pg 142
2 Mastering the Craft of Writing, Stephen Wilbers, pg 143
3 Mastering the Craft of Writing, Stephen Wilbers, pg 143

Monday, June 22, 2015

Week 25 Use Antithesis

Use Antithesis to Make Your Point by Contrast

by Tamara Passey

"What's the point?" "That's besides the point."
We all need a little help making our point, right?
Here is another tool for the get-to-the-point toolbox: antithesis.
(It's not a tongue twister; it's a figure of speech.)

And that parenthetical sentence was the first example of making a point by contrast. Sometimes the best way to say what you mean is to say what you do not mean, followed by what you do mean.

"This juxtaposition of contrary statements is called antithesis." 1 According to Wilbers. And in Week 25 of Mastering the Craft he doesn't just give one example of antithesis, he gives twenty-seven. (And yes, I managed to use an example of antithesis in that sentence about examples of antithesis.)

Here is an exercise, see if you can complete the statements:

a. We notice things that don't work. We don't notice . . . 
b. This book is not to be tossed aside lightly. It should be . . . 
c. Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved . . .

While your thinking of opposite endings for those statements, here are some more gems:

"Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you're doing--none of that is writing. Writing is writing" E. L. Doctorow
"The difference between journalism and literature is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read." Oscar Wilde
For those of you who have read The Christmas Tree Keeper, you may recognize I did this with the opening lines in Chapter One:
"The Nor'easter brought the snow, but that didn't start it. The radio station began playing carols around the clock, but that didn't start it. Main Street wrapped the lampposts in candy-cane-striped garland, but even that wasn't enough. Not until the decorated tree stood in the front window with soft lights glowing around the angel's contented face did Christmas officially begin in the Donovan family." 
 And the endings you've been waiting for:

a. We notice things that don't work. We don't notice things that do
b. This book is not to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force. (Dorothy Parker)
c. Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. (Brutus in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.)

And one more (literary related) antithetical statement for the road:

"In the case of good books, the point is not how many of them you can get through but rather how many can get through to you." (Mortimer J. Adler)
So, give it a try...write your own antithetical statement, or share one of your favorites!

1. Mastering the Craft, Wilbers, p. 141

Monday, June 15, 2015



Here's an exercise to illustrate this week's lesson (adapted from Mastering the Craft by Stephen Wilbers, p 134):

Match the first part of the following famous two-part quotes with the second part (answers below):

A. Writing a novel is like driving a car at night.
B. To be a novelist or short story writer,
C. The literary gift is a mere accident--
D. There are three rules for writing a novel.

1. you have to first pretend to be a novelist or short story writer. (Charles Baxter)
2. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are. (W. Somerset Maugham)
3. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. (E.L. Doctrow)
4. [it] is as often bestowed upon idiots who have nothing to say worth hearing as it is denied to strenuous sages. (Max Beerbohm)

You've just had a lesson in parallel structure. It's like a one-two punch which, admittedly, is not that pleasant if you're on the receiving end, but when it's found in literature (or great quotes) it's very appealing and satisfying. As Wilbers says, "The first sentence makes a statement; the second sentence undercuts it. It's the ironic twist that surprises the reader and makes the quip memorable."

This kind of structure can be used in our fiction from description to dialogue. Look for it in your manuscript or find places where you can add it for a surprising punch.

ANSWERS:  A-3, B-1, C-4, D-2

Monday, June 8, 2015

Week 23 Use Semicolons to Both Separate and Connect

Week 23 Use Semicolons to Both Separate and Connect

by Peggy Urry

                                                                       Clunky vs Subtle

Semicolons also come in these two varieties. The clunky version is used in vertical lists.

     Use semicolons to:
          1. Link two independent clauses or complete sentences;
          2. Link two independent clauses when the second clause is introduced
              by an adverb such as however or therefore;
          3. Add clarity to a series when the items are long or have internal commas.1

The subtle variety is a mark of distinction, a pause that is shorter than a period but longer than a comma. "Even as they separate, they imply a connection, as in 'Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country'."2

Other examples of subtle semicolons:

Understanding a concept is one thing; applying it is another.
Juan was two hours late; Arriola was getting worried.
She told us to take her advice or find a new attorney; we found a new attorney.3

Play around with those sentences and see how punctuation changes the feel and the flow.

Points to remember: Colons introduce; semicolons separate. Semicolons need independent clauses or complete sentences on either side (unless you're talking the clunky list variety).

In which sentences are semicolons used incorrectly?
1. Although it's 2:00 a.m.; I think I'll keep writing.
2. It's gorgeous outside--ten degrees with fresh snow; I think I'll go for a ski.
3. I heated the water in my coffee mug; until it boiled.
4. I flung the boiling water into the subzero air; an arc of mist disappeared before it hit the ground.

Did you pick 1 and 3? Then you are correct.4

There are many more examples in Mastering the Craft by Stephen Wilbers.

If you want more on semicolons, check our Grammarbook or UWM's Writer's Handbook.

1. Mastering the Craft of Writing, Wilbers, pg 127
2. Mastering the Craft of Writing, Wilbers, pg 127
3. Mastering the Craft of Writing, Wilbers, pg 127

4. Mastering the Craft of Writing, Wilbers, pg 128

Monday, June 1, 2015

Week 22 Use Ellipses to Compress Your Sentences

WEEK 22 Use Ellipses to Compress Your Sentences

by Tamara Passey

It's no secret that the exclamation point is overused. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, 
Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.
But what if a writer wants or needs to add emphasis to a sentence? What other options are there?
Stephen Wilbers explains,
"To compress a sentence is to make it stronger, and using an ellipsis is a good way to compress." 1  
Now wait, a few definitions are in order. We are familiar with ellipses (plural of ellipsis) as they refer to the three dots that are commonly used to show three things in writing: omitted text, a thoughtful pause, and a trailing off of thought. But did you know ellipsis has another meaning?  Well of course you did ... I'm always the last to know, just ask my teenagers. Ok, back to another definition of ellipsis.

"In the linguistic sense, an ellipsis is an omitted word or phrase that functions in the subtext." 2
Did you catch that? No dots, exactly, but an omitted word or phrase. This is where an example or two come in handy.

"Silas wrote the first draft, Myrna wrote the second, and Ezekiel wrote the third. In that sentence, the word draft appears only in the first clause, but it functions in all three." 3

I know I'm a word nerd, but I LOVE this. It gets better.

The sentence can be compressed even more. "Silas wrote the first report, Myrna the second, and Ezekiel the third." So the words wrote and draft are dropped but you can still hear them in your head as your read the sentence. Even though they aren't on the page, they function in your mind. So. Cool.

Another example of emphasis: Mark Twain wrote, " 'As a matter of fact' precedes many a statement that isn't." (See how your mind doesn't need the phrase [a matter of fact] tacked onto the end of that sentence.

There you have it. Add emphasis, not by wearing out the SHIFT + 1 keys on your keyboard, but by omitting words that your brain, and your readers' brains, will think anyway. Brilliant.

1. Mastering the Craft, Wilbers, p. 122
2. MTC, Wilbers, p. 122
3. MTC, Wilbers, p. 122