Tag Archives: good writing

A Challenge for You: Describe these Sentences.

How would you describe the sentences in italics below?

A.  What kind of sentences are they?  They are obviously not simple subject-verb constructions or  what are commonly called compound or complex –or even compound-complex sentences.

B.  Do they work for you?  Do you find them effective, easy to follow, descriptive, and maybe even at times evocative?

C.  Are they grammatically correct?

1.  A pungent odor of dried coriander and bay leaves permeated the room; the scent mixed with garlic, a hint of bread, and darker overtones.

2.  Roman guards stood equally spaced at intervals along the wall, silhouetted against barrels of fire and the considerable light of the almost-full moon now setting on the horizon.

3.  The Lower City rose to her left, white boxes with dark windows and door slits, tiered row upon row.

4.  Sara moved through the street of the Lower City, holding an infrared flashlight that pulsed invisibly, something only Benjamin could see with the night vision goggles.

The quotations in italics above are from Amy Deardon’s novel  A Lever Long Enough (©2009, availabe at Amazon.com, including for Kindle), a novel I recommend. They were picked at random.

Here are my answers:

A.  They are called cumulative or loose sentences.  I call the segments added onto the main clauses “add-ons”  See more in the post here:  http://keystowriting.com/2011/11/

B. Yes. Yes.

C.  Yes.

Modern English constantly transcends what is taught in many books on writing–certainly many books on grammar.

Contemporary published writers, including best-selling ones, use the types of phrases illustrated in the italicized quotations above constantly in their writing. And effectively too. Often with lyrical beauty approaching poetry and with descriptive power.

Are they part of your writing arsenal?

Recommended additional reading:






Best books and courses:

Notes Toward a Modern Rhethoric  by Frances Crhistensen

A Modern Rhetoric by Frances Christensen and Bonniejean Christensen

Building Great Sentences by Brooks Landon, Ph.D., University of Iowa, 24-part lecture series, http://www.thegreatcourses.com by The Teaching Company.



How much grammar is enough?

Let’s get real about grammar.
What is grammar about?  I’m talking the rules here, not the general word “grammar” that includes things like  syntax and rhetoric, great sentences and  paragraphs, eloquence, oratory, formal verses informal and conversational writing, and so on.

Grammar is about rules. Merriam-Webster’s gives this among other definitions: “speech or writing evaluated according to its conformity to grammatical rules.”  In other words it’s about whether or not you and I obey the rules when writing.  The rules are about the accepted ways speakers and writers do their thing. It’s about writing according to the rule book on writing.

Will it make you a great writer?
Brooks Landon, celebrated professor of English and writing at the University of Iowa, in his lectures on the sentence in the Great Courses videos, puts it this way: “Grammar won’t teach you to write well.”

Grammar concerns naming the parts of speech and, again, the rules for avoiding mistakes that go against common accepted usage.  Translation: Knowing the rules of grammar well can help prevent you from embarrassing yourself when you publish your blog post.

So, then, how much grammar  is enough?  “Enough” means you know what you are doing, that you know the correct forms.  Not that you are duty-bound to always follow them.  But if you are going to violate one of those rules, it’s far better to do so knowingly than out of ignorance.

So you need to know your grammar–and spelling, or at least be diligent to look them up when you’re not sure you’re right.

There are lots of grammar blogs and books available.
I see frequent posts on grammar online, and that is good.  But with one exception:  There’s a lot more to good writing than correct grammar. It’s good to keep that in mind. For example:

How do we write sentences that keep our readers in suspense right there in the midst of the sentence until its end? (Answer: the periodic sentence.)

How do we write sentences that flow naturally like the way we speak, often by association, that mimic the way we humans think, and that allow our readers to follow our thinking, sentences written with upfront honesty? (We’re talkin’ the so called “loose sentence’, also called the cumulative sentence.)

What is the pathway to power writing?
How do we write words and phrases that are poetic and lyrical, that make our readers laugh and cry or feel generally wonderful?

Ah, now we’re way beyond grammar.
We’re into the glorious realm of syntax and rhetoric, the art and discipline and techniques that make for fine writing, that made Shakespeare and Chaucer and Dickens and so many others famous and worth reading.

Your turn:
How do you see the difference between grammar and rhetoric?  Is it important to you?




Right-Brain Editing

Be like Luna Lovegood, only not all the time.

Luna Lovegood could make a good writer, certainly fun to read. She’s strange at times but always charming, entertaining,  coming up with off-the-wall comments. Some don’t make sense, but at other times she surprises with some rather wise ideas. For me, whether I’m reading the Harry Potter novels or watching one of the movies, she makes a scene come alive. She’s definitely a right-brain gal.

So how does that relate to editing? When we edit we need to pay attention to the right-brain’s intuition, not just the left-brain’s critique.

                              Courtesy http://www.pdphoto.org/ 

Free writing
is a carnival ride.

No doubt you know about freewriting. Ray Bradbury, who likes carnivals, is an advocate of getting wild in our first drafts, pushing the limits, leaving the crazy stuff in. Because we can go back later and edit out anything we decide doesn’t really work. You could say, then, that freewriting is best done in a heavily right-brain mode: dreamy, sometimes bizarre, startling and even poetic at times.

                                   PET scan of a normal brain.  Source Wikimedia Commons

Editing is much more sensible.
You also know, I’m sure, that editing belongs more to the left-brain sector. We need our critic mode to pare off those too-nutty phrases, that humor that reaches too much, or those just-too-spicy words. Writing can of course be lyrical and poetic and playful, but we need it to make sense too.

But here’s the thing.
When writing a first draft, i’ts important to turn-off/ignore the left-brain’s pickiness so that the words flow uninhibited. And it is just as important to pay attention and stay open to input from our intuition. Like a smart lady, she wants to be heard.

At best it’s a team effort
There’s been a lot written on right-brain verses left-brain, but a key point is that we never function in only one sector of our amazing brain, not totally. The research has shown this. The two sides are physically connected. So there is a channel between them for relating. The content can flow between them. Like a couple working together.

So when I edit, I work at keeping in mind that even while my left-brain is reveling in his authoritative role, and often doesn’t like interruptions, I’d best pay attention to my intuition.

After all, you never know what she’ll come up with.