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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