Monday, December 10, 2012

Long flowing sentences -- writng tip

Write Words Author
Nina M. Osier wrote a novel about a future planetary
allignment that will be the same
as the one to occur on Dec. 21, 2012

Edek Fallon, born with a Shaman's seal on his wrist, lives an Astral Guard officer's life and never thinks about the chants his father taught him. Not until they start to come true ...

When the shadow-men shall conquer,
When ten billion suns shall blaze
With the brightness of destruction, 
Comes the time of INTERPHASE.

And For The Record, the Mayans did not say this coming planetary alignment would be the end of the world, only the end of the "Long Count" recorded on that particular calendar. They named several more long counts to come after this one.

Question from the e-mail:  I was taught in college to use semicolons and to use them correctly. I was also taught to write in long, flowing sentences.  I recently paid an editor to go through my unpublished novel and not only did she change all the semicolons to periods, but  she suggested I write in "punchier" sentences and paragraph more often. What do you think about that?

Answer: In college they teach us to write exposition. Long sentences, no slang, no em dashes, absolutely correct grammar, etc. What they don't teach us is to write fiction with dialogue. Their aim is for us to put forth an argument about something. Not to talk to one another. Dialog is frequently ungrammatical, because the way people talk is different from the way people write

Ellipses in exposition, or in a quoted section from another text, mean that something was left out. In dialogue, they signify a long pause, at least long enough to count to three, while the em dash -- is quite rightly used to show an interruption or a change of thought.  So it's almost as wrong to use ellipses in dialogue as it is to use em dashes in narrative. 

When I worked as a news reporter, the only complaint they had about my writng was that I used $5 words too often. "You are here to edify, NOT to mystify!" my editor used to yell. The great American public, thanks to our peerless education system, reads at an average of 5th grade level. Many book buyers didn't go to college and some stare at a semicolon, wondering what it is, for long enough to lose the thread of your story. So your editor is giving you good advice for fiction.  

As an editor and a publisher, my own pet peeve is long paragraphs that run all the way down the page. Readers take one look and skip to the next short one. 

Worse still are long paragraphs where the topic sentence does not reflect the true topic. If the long paragraph starts with a lovely young woman walking down a country road and enjoying the flora and fauna and (several long and flowing descriptive sentences later) ends with her finding a body in the ditch. The readers who read the topic sentence that is a  weather and scenery report will skip down to: 

After she found the body...and that will be quite a shock.
Avoid run on sentences. A sentence should have a noun (name) and one verb (action that happens to, or because of the noun).  Mountains float. You can allow one explanation per sentence. Mountains float when we have an earthquake. But if you find more nouns and verbs, you need to put in a period and start a new sentence. 
No: Mountains float whenever we have an eathquake; the creek overflows it’s banks and our old cabin shakes on its foundation; it scares the living heck out of me.  
Yes: Mountains float whenever we have an earthquake (Period). The creek changes course and water rises over the banks (period). Our old cabin shakes on its foundation (period). That scares the heck out of me (period).


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