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.
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
4. widgetsEXTRA 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!