Today’s Quick Take: If you find yourself using both “reason” and “because” in the same sentence, you probably need to re-write it.
Incorrect: The reason I ate the rest of the chocolate cake is because I was feeling blue.
Correct: The reason I ate the rest of the chocolate cake is that I was feeling blue. OR
I ate the rest of the chocolate cake because I was feeling blue.
In formal writing, you should also keep ‘why’ away from ‘reason’.
Incorrect: The reason why I’m going to the store is for more chocolate cake.
Correct: The reason I’m going to the store is for more chocolate cake. OR
I’m going to the store for more chocolate cake.
‘Reason why’ is becoming more acceptable in informal writing and in dialogue, but it’s not strictly correct, as the ‘why’ is redundant.
Continuing with the Challenge Judging Criteria, then—I’m still working on ‘how well crafted was this entry?’ I don’t think I can cover fiction, poetry, and nonfiction all in the same thread, so I’ll stick to fiction today and cover those other genres in the coming weeks.
So what makes a story ‘well crafted’? First of all, it’s all that stuff you learned in school—spelling, grammar, punctuation. And I can’t cover those here; it’s far beyond the scope of this thread. If you find that you’re getting frequent comments about spelling, grammar, or punctuation, here are a few recommendations for you:
1. Visit Ann’s “Grammar Basics” thread here on the boards.
2. Get a proofreading buddy. I say that with a bit of hesitation, as there’s potential for skirting the rules (and intent) of the writing challenge. In the past, it’s been approved to have someone in your level
proofread your story for mechanical errors only
. Any discussions about content, clarity, plot, characterization, etc., are prohibited.
3. You can find free grammar tutorials online.
4. Buy a grammar book, or see if your local school has any extra that they’ll be willing to donate. Most schools order new textbooks every several years, and have piles of old ones moldering in storage. Grammar doesn’t get out-of-date, so if you can locate an old grammar workbook, you’ll be fine.
However, a story may be error-free and still not be particularly well-crafted. There are many components to an exquisitely-constructed story; the following is a very partial list.
A. Choose your words
well. I covered that in this lesson
, so I’ll move on.
B. Vary your sentence structure
. Sometimes you want a nice, lengthy sentence, with several clauses set aside by commas or other punctuation—like this dash. Sometimes short sentences are best. Or even intentional fragments. When you vary your sentences, your story has an ebb and flow, rather than a predictable rhythm.
If you write in 1st person, be careful not to start too many sentences with ‘I’. Similarly, if you write in 3rd person, don’t start too many sentences with your characters’ names or with pronouns.
Construct your sentences so that they begin or end
with the most interesting words.
C. Vary your paragraph structure
. In the format of the Writing Challenge, very long paragraphs should be avoided, as they’re difficult to read on the screen. Some of your paragraphs should be several lines long—and some should be quite short. Short paragraphs are great for sections that should be rapidly paced: action sequences, conversations, transitions. Longer paragraphs (but no too long) are better for slowing down the pace a bit—reflection, description, plot development.
Incidentally, I've read that publishers and agents look for 'white space' in a manuscript. Of course, you get white space by having lots of quick-paced dialogue and shorter paragraphs.
D. Be sure that your story contains conflict
. This draws readers into your story as they look for resolution. Conflict can be present in any kind of story—don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s just for the writers of mysteries or adventures. Humor, romance, children’s stories—you need conflict in all of those.
E. Although you can’t squeeze all of these elements into one little 750-word story, if you’re ready to bump your craftsmanship up a notch, pick one of these terms
and research it. Any one of these might take your story out of the this happened, then this happened, then this happened…
F. Show, don’t tell
. This may well be the writers’ creed. I find the best way to illustrate this is in showing your characters’ emotions. Telling
: Susan was angry at Tim for spending money on gambling when they needed it to pay bills. She was frustrated that money that should have been going for diapers and baby food was being spent on poker and blackjack.Showing
: Susan looked up from the pile of bills; Tim was at the door, the smell of the casino clinging to his jacket. She shifted the baby in her lap and swallowed the rock that had been lodged in her throat for hours. “There’s only one more diaper, Tim. I’ve been saving this one for you.”
Got it? Don’t tell
me that Susan was angry and frustrated, show
me by what she does and what she says.
That’s enough to absorb for one lesson, I think. I’m going to send out a plea to the Masters and Advanced writers for their input into what makes a well-crafted story; I hope they’ll post their ideas on this thread.HOMEWORK: Let’s concentrate on item F—show, don’t tell. Write two little snippets, just as I did above—one that tells, and one that shows. Please keep them to about that same length.