Thursday, January 31, 2013


Purple prose.
Roundaboutation . . .

I often wonder what would happen if every would-be writer stopped trying to grab the brass ring of becoming a famous author and was charged $10,000 for every word they set onto their monitor screens and $25,000 for every word they placed in an e-mail. Would that stop the mega-gazillions of words flooding "the cloud," the Internet, blogs, and people's e-mails?  Not to mention what arrives at editors' and agents' desks.  Such wishful thinking . . .

As I said last month, the secret of good writing is clarity and strength. The second secret of good writing is "simplicity."

Simplicity is taking the time to reread what was written and analyze each word, each piece of punctuation, and each sentence's structure. That's right— just stop the finger from hitting the save or send button and reread. Sounds so simple, doesn't it?

Fact is, few go back and reread what they wrote when it comes to blogs and e-mails. Fewer still will reread their story drafts slowly. That's likely due to familiarity with the story and the words, thus glitches and errors will go "unseen."

However, when a reader gets confused, loses track of what's happening to whom, or misinterprets the passage (because of missing words, punctuation pitfalls, etc.), that reader is likely to become frustrated and negatively emotional (angry). Of course, the person the reader blames (and rightfully so) is none other then the person that strung those words together—the writer.

I can't stress enough that readers are not mind-readers. Readers only have the words on the page to go by. Clarity of thought and logic are no accidents. Simplifying for understanding means a writer must switch hats from "creativity" to "editor." Analyzing every word, every sentence, every paragraph also means adopting the KISS mantra of "keep it simple stupid."

So, the question is: Are you willing to take time to simplify your next blog or e-mail entry, or that drafted chapter, or your story manuscript to become a better writer, a more professional writer? If not, why not?


Coming in MARCH 2013: "Clutter"
Interested in having a "Revision is a Process" Cheat Sheet?  Click Here.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

January 2013 - On Writing Well–what does that mean?

    "Good writing has an aliveness that keeps the reader reading from one paragraph to the next, and it's not a question of gimmicks . . . It's a question of using the English language in a way that will achieve the greatest clarity and strength." --William Zinsser/ON WRITING WELL

So, exactly what keeps a reader reading from one paragraph to the next? What is clarity? What is strength?  To be sure, these things have to do with writing an understandable sentence, but for that sentence to be understandable, it must, first of all, have clarity. Take a look at these two sentences:

    1) The door chimed as she entered the shop.

       2)  As she pushed the shop's door open, it grazed the bell-chimes mounted on the lintel.

    Which one of the above instantly provided you with an image in your mind? Answer: #2. Oh, you didn't see anything wrong with #1? Let's look at #1.
    First, the door is chiming. Doors are usually very solid items, so how could it make a sound other than to creak on its hinges? Logically, something else triggered the chime sound, right? But what? The reader is clueless. The reader did not instantly visualize how the "door chimed."
    Secondly, the cause-effect is reversed. How do I know this?  Because of the "red flag" warning word, which is "as." Nine times out of ten when "as" appears in a clause at the end of a sentence, that sentence has a reversed cause-effect sequence. What this means is that the person reading the sentence is forced for an instant to stop and adjust "the movie in their mind" so the passage makes logical sense. After all, isn't it logical that a woman would enter a shop through a door and then a chime might go off announcing the door's opening?
    Let's look at what happened in sentence #2: the cause-effect was logical and straightforward so, with clarity, the reader visualized what actually took place. No stopping or exiting the story world (
not even for a nanosecond) and thus the strength in sentence #2 keeps the reader reading.
    If you've looked at your work and found such "as"-reversed sentences, I'm inviting you to share one of your originals here and your revision to it in order to help others "see" what happened. And, if you want to ask me to comment, I'll give feedback (either here or privately). Just use use the comment feature below. This offer is good only for the month of January 2013.

@2013 by Catherine E. McLean *

FEBRUARY 2013's topic will be: "Simplicity"