TODAY’S QUICK TAKE: Shoulda, woulda, coulda
There’s a common error in this sentence:
I wish I would of saved a piece of that coconut cake for tonight.
Did you find it? The error, of course, is that I ate the last piece of cake this afternoon, and now it’s gone.
Nah, just kidding. It’s that little word ‘of’ after the ‘would’. The correct phrase is ‘would have’. The same goes for its cousins, ‘could have’ and ‘should have’.
It’s an easy mistake to make—when we talk, we usually make the phrase into a contraction (would’ve) which sounds like ‘would of’. But it’s not. And I can’t think of a handy device to help you remember this one, so you’re on your own.
Should have, would have, could have.
Over the next several weeks, I plan to use the writing challenge judging criteria
as an outline for my lessons. Even if you plan to branch out from the writing challenge, or you do most of your writing elsewhere, these are excellent criteria for almost any genre or length of writing. Learning to write to these criteria should definitely improve your overall writing skills.
Here’s the first one (which might take two weeks to cover): How well did this entry fit the topic?
1. Understand the topic.
Many weeks this is not a problem, as the topics are fairly straightforward. But there have been weeks when the topic was unfamiliar to some people (Australia, A Stitch in Time Saves Nine, Science Fiction…). If this is the case—before you start writing, do a little bit of research. You might also check the Writing Challenge forum, as there is often a thread with clarification of the trickier topics.
2. Don’t refer to the topic itself as the topic, or to the Writing Challenge
. I’ll use a made-up topic from a few lessons ago as my example: let’s say the topic for the week was ‘Fire’. You wouldn’t want to write anything like…When I saw that this week’s topic was ‘fire’, I immediately thought of the time my Thanksgiving turkey burst into flames.
There are several reasons for this. First of all, self-referential statements are redundant, so you’re wasting precious words. Second, referring to the topic isn’t a very effective ‘hook’, nor is it particularly original. Finally, the winning entries will eventually be published in a book, purchased and read by people outside of FaithWriters. They may know nothing about the writing challenge, so the entries need to be able to stand on their own, without referring to ‘the topic of the week’.
3. Don’t overkill the topic.
There’s a bit of finesse to being sure that your entry is on topic
but not to the extent that you make your reader weary of it. Back to the ‘fire’ example: you don’t need to include a fire in every paragraph. This error is even more noticeable in weeks when the topic is a more uncommon word or phrase (oops, bitter and sweet, charades). BUT…
4. Make sure that the topic is integral to your story, poem, or article
. Here’s where the finesse comes in—how to make the topic important, but not to overdo it? When I was writing for the challenge, I tried to write a story that could not have been written without the topic concept.
The best example I can think of was a story for which the topic word was ‘Space’. I didn’t use the word ‘space’ until the last sentence (except for a few red herrings)—but the entire climax and resolution of the story revolved around the fact that my main character had mis-read a phrase because of a missing space. My story for the topic of “America” wasn’t really about America—it was about a very old woman being interviewed—but it was essentially American, and it couldn’t have been set in any other place. When the topic was “River”, I wrote not about a river, but about a series of comedic events—however, a river wound its way throughout the whole piece.
Here’s where I can just advise you to trust the judges to “get it”. Every week, the judges are given instructions about the topic, and included in those instructions is usually something along the line of “if it conveys the essence of [topic-ness], it’s on topic.HOMEWORK:
1. Ask me a question about writing to the topic. OR
2. Comment on something in this lesson. OR
3. If you’ve been writing for the challenge for a while, please let us know what you do to make sure you’re on topic.