This week’s lesson has some more ideas for writing “on topic” for you, and another “quick take” on a common spelling error. I’d love it if you’d continue to spread the word—please tell any Beginner and Intermediate writers you know about these lessons, and encourage them to pop by. Advanced and Masters writers are certainly welcome to add to the discussion!
Quick Take—the word ‘supposed’ is often spelled incorrectly, especially when paired with the word ‘to’.
Here’s the correct usage:
You’re not supposed to wear flip-flops to a formal wedding.
The most common error I see with this word is ‘suppose to’ (without the –d), but I’ve seen lots of other variants: suppost to…suppoze to…suppozed to.
Like many other common errors, this is an “ear” error; we write the phrase the way it sounds, and in the phrase ‘supposed to’, the ‘d’ and the ‘t’ sort of become one sound.
Try substituting the word ‘expect’ for ‘suppose’ in your sentence. If you’d use ‘expected’, use ‘supposed.’
As I mentioned two weeks ago, I’ll be using the Writing Challenge Judging Criteria
as a basis for the next set of lessons. If you’re not familiar with them, I encourage you to visit that thread. The criteria for the Writing Challenge work for almost any kind of writing, and mastery of them is a great exercise for writers of all levels.
Now on to the second part of “writing on topic,” where I hope to answer the questions left in the last lesson and to give some more insight into “on topic-ness”. Let me start with a few “don’ts”—things that will cause the judges to mark your entry low in that judging category.
1. Don’t contrive
a way for your entry to be “on topic”. Remember that the topics are all unified by an overall theme. The theme for this quarter seems to be something along the line of “the writer’s life.” I don’t have a list of the topics, but let’s imagine that an upcoming one might be “Inspiration”. Well, inspiration
is another word for breathing
, but if I write a piece about a person with a breathing disorder, no matter how well I write it, it’s not going to be ‘on topic’. Keep the overall theme in mind, as well as the week’s topic. Your idea may be clever, but it’s not going to win.
I’ll use an early entry of mine as an example of “cheating” the topic—the topic was “Car Trip” for a quarter where the theme was “Vacations” or some such thing. I wrote what I thought was a delightfully out-of-the-box entry about a gal who buys a toy CAR, and then TRIPS when she’s carrying it. It was a CAR TRIP…get it? Nudge, nudge? That was overly contrived and only marginally on topic (if at all).
Here’s another example—for the “Geography” quarter, one of the topics was “United Kingdom”. Several people chose to write about God’s kingdom, and how we should all be united. Well, yes…we should. But that really didn’t fit in with the overall theme of “Geography.”
One more: There have been many weeks when the topic word could also be a character’s name. If it’s a “weather terms” quarter, and the word for the week is “Gale”, writing about a character named Gale is really not on topic. That goes for any word that has more than one meaning. Choose the meaning that seems to best fit the overall theme of the quarter—and THEN start to think out of the box
2. Don’t have an entry in mind, and then look for a way to squeeze in the topic. I’ve read many pieces where the writers seem to have a predetermined agenda, and then they stick the topic in there almost in an offhand manner. This happens most often in non-fiction works and devotionals, so if those are your preferred genres, you need to be especially careful about this. If you’re really determined to write an entry about “God’s Grace”, and the topic for the week is “Hula Hoops”, you have a choice to make. A) Write your piece, but find a way to make a hula hoop integral to your point (an object lesson, perhaps? A childhood memory?), B) Write about “God’s Grace” but not for the challenge—put it in the Regular Submissions area, or C) Write a story about a hula hoop, and save the “God’s Grace” story for another time.
The one thing you really shouldn’t
do is to write the entry by starting out “As I watched my daughter with her hula hoop, I thought about God’s grace…” Similarly, don’t write the entry, then stick a weak analogy at the conclusion: “So God’s grace encircles us, just like a hula hoop…”
Fiction writers do this, too. Unfortunately, it’s pretty obvious to the judges when the topic is an afterthought.
So…we’re back to the question of how to write on topic in such a way to score maximum points on that criterion. When I was writing for the challenge, there was a question I’d ask myself at some point in the writing process:
Could I have written this same story without [TOPIC]?
If the answer was ‘yes’, I’d re-evaluate; it may not have been as strong as it should have been for that criteria.
The “Colors” theme was one in which this really came in to play. If you’ll allow me, I’ll give you a few examples:
RED—I wrote about a struggling actor who becomes a “red shirt” in an episode of Star Trek.
BLUE—A new mother with “baby blues”, but since that was pretty abstract, I also made sure her baby was a little boy, and included her irritation with his boring color palette.
BLACK—A little girl thinks her “bad” grandma gives her the horrible black jelly beans because she doesn’t love her.
GREEN—The main character was a leprechaun. ‘Nuff said!
YELLOW—A southern woman of the early 20th century is discovered to be “high yellow” (mixed race).
In all of those stories, the color was integral to the plot—and no other color would have done.
I read lots of stories that quarter in which colors were interchangeable…an orange car may have been essential to the plot, but a green or purple car could have served the same purpose
. And yet I didn’t write about
those colors…I wrote about an actor, a little girl, a newlywed wife.
It’s tricky and a bit subtle, but the more you write for the challenge—and the more you read winning entries—the more you’ll “get it”.
That’s enough for now. No homework assignment this week, but I’d love to answer your questions about writing on topic
. What can I clarify for you? Any comments?