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#15--WELL-CONSTRUCTED NON-FICTION

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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#15--WELL-CONSTRUCTED NON-FICTION

Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 14, 2010 5:50 am

My Quick Take this week involves pronunciation rather than usage or spelling. After all, we wordsmiths should use words well in all of our communication, right? So…some commonly mispronounced words, and the correct way to say them (in American English):

SHERBET—there’s only one ‘R’, and it’s in the first syllable. SHER-bet, not SHER-bert.

MISCHIEVOUS—it’s got three syllables. MIS-chiv-us, not mis-CHEE-vee-us.

NUCLEAR—there’s a long ‘E’ in the middle. NEW-clee-er, not NUKE-u-lar.

PRONUNCIATION—this one’s tricky, because the root word is ‘pronounce’. But you should say pro-NUN-ci-a-tion, not pro-NOUN-ci-a-tion.

That’s enough for today, but it leads me to the first…

HOMEWORK: Tell me a word or two that you frequently hear mispronounced, or ask about the pronunciation of a word that has stumped you.


***

This is the final installment on the third Writing Challenge criterion--how well crafted is this entry? I’ll be covering non-fiction, non-poetry entries here—devotionals, Bible studies, first-person essays, persuasive and expository writing…that sort of thing.

These kinds of writings haven’t typically done as well in the Writing Challenge as fiction and poetry have, and I think there are a few reasons for this. First, it’s harder to find approaches to the subject matter that are creative and fresh. Unfortunately, this is especially true for devotionals and Bible studies. Many FaithWriters have been Christians for years, decades, even all their lives. Some of us have heard and read thousands of spiritual lessons. So the writer who chooses this genre must bring something new to the piece, or it may just flitter past the reader’s brain without making much of an impression.

Second, it’s easy for non-fiction reading to be academic and unemotional. People come to a site like FW for a few minutes of diversion; fiction may be more appealing to them unless the subject matter happens to tap into their particular interests.

Nevertheless, I think there’s a place for well-written non-fiction in the challenge, and I’d love to see non-fiction writing show up more often in the EC list. Following is a list of suggestions for perking up your non-fiction entries:

1. Begin with a great hook. The idea is to draw your reader in so that she wants to keep reading. So start with:

a. an anecdote—a story about something that happened to you, or to someone you know. You could even make up a fictional anecdote about a hypothetical person whose experience will be dealt with in your piece.

b. a shocking or dramatic fact—but write it in a creative way. Which of these do you think is more interesting?

There are over four million widgets manufactured every day in the nation of Elbonia.

An Elbonian woman wearily tosses a widget into the bin at her side and starts to assemble another—one of four million her county will produce this year.


Avoid the following openings, despite the fact that you may have once been told they were interesting beginnings—they are clichéd and uncreative.

a. quotes

b. rhetorical questions (Have you ever thought about where your widget was manufactured?)

c. scripture. I’m sorry to say it, but many readers’ eyes will skip right over a block of scripture at the beginning of your piece. But if you incorporate your scripture into the body of the entry, it will more likely get read.

d. dictionary definitions. There’s a reason people don’t read the dictionary—it’s boring. If your key word is unknown by your readers, or it needs to be defined for some other reason (perhaps a little-known use of the word), then work that into your text in an interesting way. If your word is more common, you don’t need to define it.

2. Keep your writing interesting in the body of the work. A lot of the things that make a story interesting will work for non-fiction, too.

a. use ‘salsa’ words

b. use object lessons and personal experiences—don’t allow your piece to be too academic or too abstract (I bought three widgets last week, and promptly lost them all…)

c. keep the paragraphs short, and vary your sentence structure

d. avoid passive voice and the use of ‘to be’ verbs: was, were, is, are. Whenever possible, use active verbs.

e. be mindful of ‘Christian-ese’—those expressions and phrases that we’ve heard from the pulpit thousands of times. As you’re writing, ask yourself have I ever seen or heard this before? If you have, find a new way to write it.

3. End your piece in an interesting manner. Many of the items above also apply to endings.

a. Don’t end with a block of scripture set aside from the text, or even worse, with a list of verses. Very, very few people will look them up. As I said above, incorporate your scripture into the body of your piece.

b. If you started with a personal story, you may want to end with ‘the rest of the story’.

c. Rather than sermonizing, end with an exhortation to action. (If you buy a widget this week, think of Mavka, toiling in the widget factory…)

d. Appeal to the readers’ emotions—make them cry, or better yet, make them laugh. There’s nothing that says non-fiction can’t be funny!

HOMEWORK: Pick one of the following subjects and write ONE PARAGRAPH about it. Make it interesting—I’m not looking for a school report.

1. a musical instrument
2. Lamentations 3:21-23
3. freedom
4. widgets


EXTRA CREDIT: Go here and vote for my brother’s book, THIN BLUE SMOKE. Make sure you tell me that you’ve done so, because I’m giving one random voter a copy of the book once the contest is over, whether he wins or not. For extra chances to win, ask people you know to vote, and let me know how many votes you registered. (Note—the text says that voting is closed, but it’s apparently mistaken, as people have continued to vote since that was posted). His book is in the bottom row, the next-to-last one. He needs your vote!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby srashmi » Mon Jun 14, 2010 11:34 am

I hear the word supposedly mispronounced a lot. People will replace the d with a b.

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Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 14, 2010 11:54 am

Oh, yessssss! That's a good one.

There was a 'Friends' episode where Joey got stuck on 'supposably'--he tried it several ways, then decided he was right after all. And I wrote a story here--for the "romance genre" challenge, I think--where my MC left a date in the lurch for saying 'supposably'.

Thanks, Seema!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby KatieScarlet » Mon Jun 14, 2010 12:23 pm

On TV I hear orientate or orientated (from the noun orientation).

The correct word is orient or oriented

Maybe it's just around here, but some folks say they have pain from
Arther-itis. Should be pronounced Arth-ritis

Oh...one more I hear (since we have a VA Hospital).

Veteran pronounced as Vetran


L~

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Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 14, 2010 12:39 pm

Linda, I'm definitely with you on 'orientate'.

For the last two--could that be a regional accent, rather than mispronunciation?

Either way--they would grate on my nerves, too.
Jan Ackerson

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Postby srashmi » Mon Jun 14, 2010 12:54 pm

Just thought of more. It's daylight saving time, not, daylight savings time.

Every February, I find myself having to teach the students that it is Valentine's Day, not Valentime's Day.

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Postby pheeweed » Mon Jun 14, 2010 12:58 pm

Here's a non-fiction paragraph that could be the opener for a devotional.

Every missionary kid plays the piano, so, of course, I took lessons. But unlike other MKs, I didn’t have any talent. I was stuck in the beginner book for five years before I finally gave up. I couldn’t sing either. My mother would gather my four siblings around the piano and they would harmonize while she played favorite hymns. I got to watch. So I was pretty excited when I learned Psalm 100:1; “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” I didn’t need musical talent to please God; all He wanted from me was joyful noise. That I could do.

Phee
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"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Philippians 4:8 NLT

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Postby KatieScarlet » Mon Jun 14, 2010 1:13 pm

Jan

You're right about the regional thing. Most of the times it's charming. I'm glad we don't all sound the same. Distinctions make us infinitely more interesting.

For example, I LOVE to hear New Yorkers! Generally, I don't watch TV drama shows, with ONE exception: the old Law and Order re-runs. Besides being a Sam W. and Fred T. groupie (so to speak) those real Brooklyn/Bronx/Queens accents just knock me out. :heehee If I was married to a New Yorker, I'd probably want him to talk non-stop (or maybe not). :shock:

When I lived in California, I was actually asked to say something southern! . All I could think of was, "Fiddle-dee-dee...y'all." :wink:


Having said all that, even with delicious accents of all kinds, there are still a lot of gross pronunciation errors everywhere. I'm so glad you're bringing this to our attention.

L~

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Postby Verna » Mon Jun 14, 2010 2:28 pm

One word I hear often mispronounced is realtor--(realator), and I used to cringe every time I heard the coaches talk about their the athAletes in their athAletic department. A word I used incorrectly for year was sacrilegious (sacreligious) :oops:
Verna

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Proverb 17:22

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Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 14, 2010 3:01 pm

pheeweed wrote:Here's a non-fiction paragraph that could be the opener for a devotional.

Every missionary kid plays the piano, so, of course, I took lessons. But unlike other MKs, I didn’t have any talent. I was stuck in the beginner book for five years before I finally gave up. I couldn’t sing either. My mother would gather my four siblings around the piano and they would harmonize while she played favorite hymns. I got to watch. So I was pretty excited when I learned Psalm 100:1; “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” I didn’t need musical talent to please God; all He wanted from me was joyful noise. That I could do.

Phee


Phee, I love this! It's got humor, and a voice that readers will relate to right away.

I should have mentioned voice in the body of my lesson. As your example shows, there's no reason for non-fiction to have a stuffy, formal tone. Well done!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 14, 2010 3:02 pm

Thanks, Verna--all I could do was nod, nod, nod...
Jan Ackerson

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Postby GracefulWarrior » Mon Jun 14, 2010 4:37 pm

Hi Jan,

Here's my shot at the homework. I hope three very short paragraphs are ok, because really if you squeeze them all into one, they would equal a normal size one. :)

Tears rolled down her face as she hung the 'Out of Business' sign on her empty store. Why had her prayers gone unanswered? Arriving home, she went to her couch and burried her face in a pillow, sobbing, till she fell asleep. The next morning she jumped up with that `late for work` feeling and remembered she had no where to go. Just as she was getting ready to have a pity party, the phone rang.

It was her youngest son Jeffrey. "Mom, I need your help! I can't handle all the work I am getting with my business and I need you. Can you have someone watch things there and come help me?"

"I dunno," she jested; "my schedule is pretty full." She looked toward heaven and whispered "thank you".

I hope this whole story isn't cliche' probably stories like this are a dime a dozen in christian circles.

One word I often hear used in the wrong way is wished. I have used it incorrectly without realizing myself, saying things like - - "I wished I had a horse." My husband would say; "when did you wish it?"

Lastly, I did vote for your brothers book.

Thanks,
Holly

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Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 14, 2010 5:37 pm

Holly--it's a great hook--it'd definitely want to read more--but it reads like fiction to me, not non-fiction.

Could be you were constrained by my 'one paragraph' requirement, and this is your way of opening with a personal anecdote. Is that it? Maybe you could give me an outline of where you'd go from here. Would this be a devotional? A lesson about answered prayer?
Jan Ackerson

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Postby GracefulWarrior » Mon Jun 14, 2010 7:30 pm

Oh shoot! You are right.. I misread it, I have been on a fiction kick lately and I guess that is all I noticed at a quick glance ... the word fiction.

But, even so, I did have a friend with a very similar circumstance. Where she lost a job and immediately was blessed with another one.

I guess unless the MC was a famous person that people would want to read about, I would end up using my friends story that was similar to this as the beginning for a devotional. I would expand on how sometimes we have to loose what we have to get something better, or talk about the Lord as provder or something like that.

Or, this is what I would have wrote for non-fiction.

It's pitch black and you reach out but you are completely alone and the fear is gripping. You realize things have gone really bad and you have fallen into a pit. The walls are so high that you cannot climb out. Then you feel it, a sadness that lingers and no matter what you do you cannot shake it. Don't despair, you are now in the prime spot for your hope to be realized. Desperation brings you to a place where you are ready to receive the fullness of the Lord's love and mercy. There is a joy and a feeling of freedom that can only be realized when He has lifted you up out of the darkness into the fullness of His care.

Sorry about that, I should have read it more carefully.

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Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 14, 2010 8:13 pm

Okay, Holly, now THAT read more like the beginning of a devotional! You might want to take a second read through the lesson, this time with NON-fiction in mind! Take special look at point 2e, I think.

I like that you wrote it in second person--that really drew me in. You might want to expand this one at some point.
Jan Ackerson

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