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Be a Better Writer--FLOW (the 7th judging criteria)

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer--FLOW (the 7th judging criteria)

Postby glorybee » Sat Sep 19, 2015 7:26 am

Several days ago, Writing Challenge coordinator Deb Porter asked me if I’d done one of these lessons on the 7th judging criteria, which reads, Did it (the Writing Challenge entry) flow smoothly from start to finish (no detours or rough bits)? After a brief search, I was surprised that there was no such lesson; somehow I’d skipped criterion in my lessons last spring.

There are several factors that determine if a piece flows well. One of the keys to flow is transitions, and I did an entire lesson on transitions here. If you don’t have the time to read it, I’ll summarize its main points:

1. Use transitional words or phrases to lead your reader from sentence to sentence or from one paragraph to the next. You can Google “transitional words” for a list of these. Make sure you mix them up, and don’t use them in a formulaic way.

2. Be sure you use the correct transitional phrase, and punctuate it correctly. (For example, don’t put a comma after the small conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.)

3. For sentences where a transitional phrase doesn’t work, you can pick a word or phrase from the previous sentence, paraphrase it, and build on it with a new concept.

4. Alternatively, you can repeat an exact word, concept, or phrase from a previous sentence.
Here’s an example of a paragraph incorporating the above suggestions. I’ve color-coded them so you can see what I’ve done.


If you’re taking a cruise for the first time, you should know several things before you set sail. First, although modern cruise ships are stabilized, if you are prone to motion sickness, you may feel some queasiness. For mild nausea, OTC pills may not do the trick; ask your doctor for a patch that will counteract any negative effects of the boat’s movement. You’ll be happy you’re feeling well once you see the ship’s bountiful array of food. It’s possible to get something to eat any time of day or night; eat at ‘off hours’ to avoid long lines and to get desirable tables by the windows. Speaking of windows, be sure to enjoy the views, especially on long days at sea. You never know when you’ll spot a pod of whales or a friendly dolphin racing alongside your ship.

Can you see how each sentence leads the reader into the next? On the other hand, take a look at the same paragraph copied below, with a few additional sentences inserted:

A person taking a cruise for the first time should know several things before you set sail. First, although modern cruise ships are stabilized, if you are prone to motion sickness, you may feel some queasiness. It’s terrible when you feel sick on vacation. When I was twelve, we traveled to the Rockies, and I was sick in the backseat, miles from nowhere. It was hours before we were able to stop and get something to help me feel better. For mild nausea, OTC pills may not do the trick; ask your doctor for a patch that will counteract any negative effects of the boat’s movement. You’ll be happy you’re feeling well once you see the ship’s bountiful array of food. It’s possible to get something to eat any time of day or night; eat at ‘off hours’ to avoid long lines and to get desirable tables by the windows. Speaking of windows, be sure to enjoy the views, especially on long days at sea. You never know when you’ll spot a pod of whales or a friendly dolphin racing alongside your ship.

That aside about my motion sickness as a child may be vaguely related to the previous sentence, but those three sentences send the reader off the cruise ship altogether—a ‘detour’ like the one mentioned in the judging criteria.

Another way to improve the flow of your writing is to use sentences of varying lengths. A great example of this has been floating around the internet recently.

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important.” ~Gary Provost

That says it pretty well, so I’ll move on to a few final hints, gleaned from this article.

• Work on your specific writing weaknesses. Bad writing interferes with flow, as readers have to stop often to get your meaning.

• Remember Data from Star Trek, and how he spoke in a stiff, robotic fashion? If your writing is like that, it won’t flow. Be particularly careful with dialogue; people don’t speak in perfect sentences. They grunt, they interrupt, they use slang and incorrect grammar and fragments.

• Trim your writing. Get rid of redundancies and superfluous words. Once you have a rough draft, see if you can make it 10% smaller. The result is nearly always better.

• Don’t assume your reader knows what you do. Fill her in on the backstories of your characters, or the theological principle you’re referring to by a possibly unfamiliar name.

• Use punctuation correctly. Too many, periods or commas, when, they aren’t needed, will cause your reader, to read, in jerks and starts.

• Read out loud. You’ll hear if you’ve got too many short sentences. Know several ways to combine sentences, and use them.

HOMEWORK:

Write a paragraph that incorporates the numbered list of hints for good transitions (like my cruise ship paragraph). If you have any questions or comments about your use of transitions, share them. OR…

Add your own take on what gives a piece of writing good flow. OR…

Ask a question about flow.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--FLOW (the 7th judging criteria)

Postby JudySauer » Sat Sep 19, 2015 3:24 pm

During a trip to Yellowstone, we envisioned tons of animals to be near the car and that buffalos and bears would be bountifully present. Not so was our experience. We saw buffalos from a distance. Hundreds of buffalos flocked together, but none nearby until we took the road to Montana for our lodging. Resting buffalos lined the roadway while others stood their ground in the middle of the street. There’s a law that you cannot make them move. Use of horns or flashing lights is not permitted. All we could do was wait. I got out of the car to take a picture of a buffalo across the road only to realize we parked quite close to one. Gratefully, that buffalo wasn’t in a goring mood or I would have gotten hurt. To see bears required binoculars. As we traveled the mountain roads, cars were stopped in groupings. Someone spotted a black bear and cubs miles away on a different peak. People helped others to see the bears by pointing to their locations. Through binoculars black bears look gentle.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--FLOW (the 7th judging criteria)

Postby glorybee » Sat Sep 19, 2015 4:18 pm

JudySauer wrote:During a trip to Yellowstone, we envisioned tons of animals to be near the car and that buffalos and bears would be bountifully present. Not so was our experience. We saw buffalos from a distance. Hundreds of buffalos flocked together, but none nearby until we took the road to Montana for our lodging. Resting buffalos lined the roadway while others stood their ground in the middle of the street. There’s a law that you cannot make them move. Use of horns or flashing lights is not permitted. All we could do was wait. I got out of the car to take a picture of a buffalo across the road only to realize we parked quite close to one. Gratefully, that buffalo wasn’t in a goring mood or I would have gotten hurt. To see bears required binoculars. As we traveled the mountain roads, cars were stopped in groupings. Someone spotted a black bear and cubs miles away on a different peak. People helped others to see the bears by pointing to their locations. Through binoculars black bears look gentle.


Well done, Judy. You've written a paragraph that for the most part flows quite well, especially in the beginning. There were many instances where it was obvious that one sentence flowed naturally to the next by using some of the tips in the lesson. A few suggestions:

1. A transition between the buffalo and the bears would be helpful.
2. I wasn't sure why the sentence that starts "As we traveled the mountain roads..." was there; it needs something to tie it into the wildlife viewing.
3. The last three sentences all have a similar "feel," with no natural pauses, just stops. Joining two of them with commas, or adding an appositive phrase, would help them to flow getter.
Jan Ackerson -- Follow me, friend me, give me a wave!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--FLOW (the 7th judging criteria)

Postby JudySauer » Sat Sep 19, 2015 4:38 pm

Thanks for the feedback, Jan.

I learn a lot from your lessons.

Judy
Mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance. -Jude 2 NIV

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Re: Be a Better Writer--FLOW (the 7th judging criteria)

Postby redrockmom » Sun Nov 01, 2015 11:07 pm

Dear Jan: Deb Porter recently guided me to check out your lesson on "flow" and transitions so my work would not appear so choppy. (a recent critique on my challenge submission) I've studied the different types of transitions: writing a sentence that refers to the topic of the previous paragraph but with an added dimension. Using a synonym or pronoun to refer to the same word; repeating a word or phrase. I am in the process of glancing at other books and picking out those transitions. It was hard at first, but now I can identify them quickly. Thank you so much for this added dimension of learning for me! I look forward to reviewing your index of topics to enrich my writing even more!

Thanks for your time! :thankssign
Chris Goglin


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