Sentences – The Long And Short Of It -Revisited

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAiMAAAAJDg5M2Q4NGJiLTBhMTQtNDA5Ni1hNGVmLTM2YWRiZjczMDhjNQHave you ever read a sentence and thought that is way too long? The author lost you two commas ago, and now you have to go back and read the whole thing again to try and figure out what’s going on.

Or maybe you read a short sentence, followed by another short sentence, and another, and you’re thinking whoa, slow down.

There’s not a set rule for short or long. The sentence length you choose depends a lot on what you are trying to accomplish. There are good reasons for those long, lost me a long time ago sentences, and short, what just happened sentences. It’s up to you to decide when to use them, given the context of your writing.

What do short sentences do?

  • Create tension-When an author starts using short sentences, it’s usually a sign that something is about to happen.—-The dog growled. His teeth flashed. Jake turned. It was too late.
  • Call the attention of a reader to a significant detail—She walked past Central Park in Manhattan with her head held high. Gorgeous woman. Long blond hair. Blue eyes. Impeccable taste.
  • Present sudden events-Out-of-the-blue actions that no one was expecting.—-We sat quietly enjoying our meal at the local fast-food restaurant. Boom! “What was that?” I turned to see people rushing toward the gas station up the street.
  • To summarize the ideas presented in the long paragraph or sentence.

What do long sentences do?

  • Develop tension-While the short sentence is imminent, culminating with the actual event being acted out, the long sentence adds to the suspense, hinting at a situation in the process of developing.
  • Give vivid description-depicting a setting, love scene, or someone’s appearance.—Autumn came without special invitation coloring the trees in orange, yellow and red, whispering the cold in our ears and hiding the warm sun rays from our eyes.
  • Investigates arguments, ideas, or facts thoroughly.

Although long sentences have the smell of the old-fashioned 19th-century romantic prose, the usage of the long sentence in modern creative writing has its place. When it comes to writing artistic literature, fairy tales, ghost stories, or mysteries, don’t underestimate the effects of short sentences.

Hope this didn’t confuse you too much. To sum it up, there’s a time and place for everything 🙂

-Jan R

Sentences – The Long And Short Of It -Revisited

Write For The Masses!-Revisited

cha_647_020717110811Why do so many perfectly nice people make such pompous asses of themselves when they sit down at a typewriter? – Dean R Koontz.

Even if you’re not a fan of Dean Koontz’s, I would recommend finding a copy of his book, How To Write Best Selling Fiction. You won’t find it in book stores. It’s out of print but still considered one of the best resources for new writers. Check used book stores, or go online ( That’s where I found mine). Now back to the pompous asses.

What Mr. Koontz was getting at, was new authors and not so new authors sit down and try to write  A Tale Of Two Cities, The Scarlett Letter, or Moby Dick. The idea of sitting down and attempting to write ‘important and lasting literature’ is pretentious and self-defeating. Keep in mind, these books are seldom read these days.

If an author ignores the masses and refuses to write a novel with popular appeal, if he chooses to live solely or primarily by the grace of academe, then he will die by academe.

What’s the problem with Academe? The standards are considerably less stringent.

  • Academe views a plot as having little or no use. It is restrictive, impacting the writer’s imagination.
  • Academe does not worry about pace or filling a story with action.
  • Literary novels seldom have genuine heroes and heroines. The characters are almost always weak, flawed, and unlikeable.

Charles Dickens was considered a hack in his day. He was paid to thrill the masses by producing melodrama. His stories were entertaining and relatable.  They have been kept alive for so long by the masses, that the academe finally had to admit that he was a great writer.

Remember, the masses read storytellers. They don’t read academically-oriented novelists. They want stories that speak to them.

When you write to please yourself, you are writing to please and individual. When you write to please an audience, you are writing to please a lot of individuals. When you write to please academe, you are writing to please an institution.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Write For The Masses!-Revisited

Commas, Commas, And More Commas!

Lets-eat-grandpaCommas are an albatross around my neck. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but they are frequently my downfall in writing prose. Unfortunately, they are the most common punctuation mark within sentences, so you had better learn their proper use.

What’s the purpose of commas?

  1. Separate main clauses linked by a coordinating conjunction.                                     Example: The house was built, but it had no tenants.                                                                             The meal was cooked, and the kitchen was cleaned.

2.  Set off most introductory elements.                                                                                              Example: Unfortunately, the rest of the house was a mess.                                                                           Of course, I would love to go.

3.  Set off nonessential elements (phrases that could be removed from the sentence              and not affect its meaning)                                                                                                                  Example: The injury, sustained from the fall, needed to be taken care of. The words          set apart by the commas are informative but not necessary to convey the idea.

4.  Separate item in a series/list.                                                                                                           Example: She had eggs, grits, sausage, and bacon for breakfast.

5.  Separate coordinate adjectives.                                                                                                       Example:  She was an independent, hardworking woman.                                                                              The warm, cozy comforter was all I needed.

6.  Separate quotations and signal phrases( she said, he wrote, said Elsie).                          Example: “Knowledge is power,” wrote Francis Bacon.                                                                                    Lisa said, “Do not walk on the grass.”                                                                            There are some exceptions to this rule.                                                                                        Example: “That part of my life was over,” she wrote. “His words had sealed it shut.”                              “Claude!” Jamie called.                                                                                                                          James Baldwin insists that “one must never, in one’s life, accept…injustices                            as commonplace.” (It’s integrated into the sentence so a comma isn’t                                        necessary.)

7. Separate parts of dates, addresses, place names, and long numbers.                                 Example:  July 4, 1776, is independence day.  December 1941(doesn’t need a comma)                              Raleigh, North Carolina, is the location of NC State University.                             Do not use a comma between a state name and a zip code.

8. Use the comma to separate long numbers in groups of three. With numbers of 4          digits, the comma is optional.                                                                                                          Example: 1,000,000                                                                                                                                                    1000

Okay, now you know what I know. This exercise was as much for me as it was for you.       Hopefully, I can retain the information and use it during my next revision 🙂

Hope it helped.

-Jan R

Commas, Commas, And More Commas!

Are You An Overwriter?

eb54a872416ead7c0e1ca63e01d30416--writing-prompts-writing-tipsOverwriting is a result of our own effort to figure out what’s happening in any given scene. Only after we have discovered that core truth can we know what truly belongs and what doesn’t, based on a clearer knowledge of what we’re trying to say and what the scene requires. – David Corbett

So why do we overwrite? Insecurity. Annie Dillard describes one type of insecurity as “the old one-two.” You write your thoughts, feel like you have to explain yourself and repeat what you just said using different words. Remember you want to say it once, say it well, and move on.

Another reason for overwriting is the anxiety of feeling you didn’t give your reader a  clear, concise picture of what’s going on. The reader needs to know, right? Give your reader some credit. Maybe they already know what’s going on based on everything they’ve read so far, or maybe they don’t need to know everything. Leave a little mystery and give yourself fodder for upcoming chapters.

The good news is overwriting is the best problem to have. You just have to find that sweet spot where you give your readers just enough to allow their imagination to take control.

Don’t bog your reader down with needless words. Keep them engaged and moving forward with the thrill of finding out what lies just around the corner.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Are You An Overwriter?

Maybe It’s Not You!

Maybe-its.pngYou may have a great elevator speech/pitch for an editor, but that doesn’t mean it will be accepted. Don’t take it personal. There are many reasons your work is rejected,
and they have nothing to do with your writing or how it’s presented. Take heart and don’t give up.

Common reasons for rejection

  1.  The editor has too much on their plate. They are only human just like the rest of us. They may really like your work but just not have the time to pursue it. They could request that you wait until they have the time to give your work their full attention, but that wouldn’t be fair to you. In reality, they would be asking you to put everything on hold and inhibit you from pitching to another editor.
  2.  The piece isn’t a good fit for that particular editor. Know what they are looking for.
  3.  The Editor has insider info. In the past editors could post what they wanted, but these days, authors do surveys, interviews, and talk to focus groups. In order for a publication to be successful, the editor has to provide what their reader is looking for.
  4.  The concept lacks originality. You can do a simple google search to find out how original your great idea really is.
  5.  The editor may be afraid to gamble on your skills, especially if you’re new. Have that great pitch, but also have that article or piece of work complete so the editor knows you’re serious and can complete what you have started.

This list was provided by an editor at Writer’s Digest. Her focus was on magazine/publication articles, however, these reasons for rejection also apply to novels.

I would take a good look at that elevator speech to make sure I’m presenting my work in the best light. If the speech/pitch is sound, maybe it’s not your work. Consider moving on to the next editor on your list.

Something to think about.

-Jan R



Maybe It’s Not You!

How’s That Elevator Speech Coming?

images-2If you don’t have that elevator speech, you need to start thinking about it. Just because your plans don’t include a writer’s conference in the near future, doesn’t mean you don’t need one. I definitely don’t want you to fall into the same trap I did. Very embarrassing 🙂

I attended a work conference with my husband several years ago. It was a great getaway for me and a chance to focus on my novel without the distractions of home. Needless to say, I was enjoying myself and making some significant progress.

I was asked to join my husband and some of his peers for supper the evening before we were scheduled to leave. I was surrounded by men talking shop, so all I had to do was smile and display exemplary dining skills-or so I thought.

About halfway through the meal, one of the men looked over at me and said, “Your husband told us what you do during the day while he is at the conference. We would love to hear a little more about your book. What’s it about?”

Well, I froze. My mind went totally blank. It was all I could do to control my suddenly out of whack emotions, as I turned to face this man who had the audacity to ask me such a question.

I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t have an Elevator Speech. I didn’t think I needed one. My novel was complete, but it wasn’t ready for prime time.

I have that Elevator Speech now. I felt foolish and was totally caught off guard by men who were only trying to include me in the conversation. You never know when you’ll come across someone who’ll ask you what your book is about.

I’ll be prepared the next time. Plus, it will give me practice for when I do attend that writing conference or get the opportunity to speak to an agent/author I just happened to run into at the airport.

Some things to keep in mind :

  • Remember when you are crafting your speech, you are talking to another human being.
  • You only have 30-60 seconds. Don’t try to tell them the entire story.
  • Content is as important as delivery. It doesn’t matter if it’s well delivered if it’s boring and uninspiring. Make them want to hear more!
  • If you are attending a conference, you don’t want to accost agents/editors-wait for an invite or an appropriate opening. They know why you are there. Introduce yourself. Engage in small talk, they will usually ask.
  •  Practice, practice, practice. You don’t want to memorize every word and sound like a robot or like you’re reading a teleprompter, but you do want your Elevator Speech to flow and be cohesive. You want it to sound natural.
  • Always be prepared and show passion.

If you haven’t prepared your speech, you need to start working on it. It’s just a matter of time. Somebody is going to ask.

-Jan R


How’s That Elevator Speech Coming?

Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?

untitledOver the past few months, I’ve been focusing on word use. Are the words necessary or just taking up space in my work? My blogs usually relate to what I’m working on at the time they are being written. I like to think if I’m having questions about an aspect of writing, you are too.  The following blog is an older one I wrote a few years ago, but it is still relevant, and I figure a refresher is good for myself and you.

I ran into this question while doing some research this past week, and it made me stop and think. Is my prose to beautiful? In my case, I would say no. I never grasped that concept. I have to admit I’ve tried.

The most famous rule in the bible of writing hints, The Elements of Style, is “Omit Needless Words.” This should be the hallmark of every writer.

Some authors believe good language should be showy. However, using unnecessary words in an effort to be literary or write more beautifully, is a common error first-time authors make.

George Simenon, a Belgian author, once pointed to a sentence and said: “That’s a beautiful sentence, cut it.”

He explained: “When you come across such a gorgeous sentence in a paragraph, it stands out and disrupts the even tone of your narrative. It’s as if you’ve paved a road and had a rose bush spurt up in the center. It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t belong there and it impedes the flow of the narrative.”

This overuse of description can also bog down a narrative and make it more difficult for a reader to quickly grasp the meaning.

Jerry Jenkins calls it written-ese. It’s a special language we use when we forget to Just Say It.

He provided the following example from a beginner’s work he was editing. I know I’ve used this example in several blog posts, but it is such a good one.

“The fire drop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Now that was a pretty sentence, but you can’t tell me it didn’t slow you down and make you think about what the author was actually trying to say. If you are like me, you had to read it several times. That’s written-ese.

I’m not saying you can’t use description. Description is good and helps your reader visualize characters, settings and much more. But it should be used sparingly. It should add to and enhance your sentence, not distract and overtake it.

Trying to impress others with your words is not the way to go. Be natural, be yourself, and it would probably help if you closed the thesaurus as well 🙂

Something to think about 🙂

-Jan R

Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?