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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