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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.