Long sentences + Short attention span = Lost readers

When writing a story, whether it’s fiction or non, too much information confuses your reader.

The phrase write tight should be tacked up to the bulletin board in the back of every writer’s mind. Long sentences will make your readers work too hard, but an economy of words makes their ‘read’ a joy. Remember if they lose their train of thought, they’ll have to reread the sentence and that will break up the flow of your story. But if you give them just enough information to keep the story moving forward their interest will be maintained and your story (if a good one) will keep them turning pages.

You’ll have to judge just how much ‘back story’ or side information to give them, but use no more than one or two ideas in a sentence. Your readers will love you for it.

In the examples below, you’ll see just how the additions of each idea complicates the sentence, making your reader work harder to understand your work.

  • One idea

The pilot landed the crippled plane on the wrong runway.

  • Two Ideas

The pilot landed the crippled plane on the wrong runway, then slowly taxied to a stop.

  • Three ideas

The pilot landed the crippled plane on the wrong runway, then slowly taxied to a stop, as the passengers breathed a collective sigh of relief.

  • Four ideas

The pilot landed the crippled plane on the wrong runway, then slowly taxied to a stop, as the passengers breathed a collective sigh of relief, and gathered up their belongings to exit the aircraft.

The first two sentences are fine, giving enough information to keep the flow of the story moving along. But the third begins to be over-kill and the fourth sentence drives a stake into the heart of your story. Keep sentences short and sweet – unless you’re writing a technical manual (then, of course, your reader MUST finish it) – and you’ll find that if your story idea is a good one, short, concise sentences will take your reader from the first page all the way through to the last. And they’ll love you for it.

More Grammar Rules for FOOLS

16. Don’t use no double negatives.

17. Avoid excessive use of ampersands & abbrevs., etc.

18. One-word sentences? Eliminate.

19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake (Unless they are as good as gold).

20. The passive voice is to be ignored.

21. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words, however, should be enclosed in commas.

22. Never use a big word when substituting a diminutive one would suffice.

23. Don’t overuse exclamation points!!!

24. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.

25. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas

26. Use the apostrophe in it’s proper place and omit it when its not needed and use it correctly with words’ that show possession.

27. Don’t use too many quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations.. Tell me what you know.”

28. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a billion times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly. Besides, hyperbole is always overdone, anyway.

29. Puns are for children, not groan readers.

30. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

Even more Grammar Rules for FOOLS

32. Who needs rhetorical questions? However, what if there were no rhetorical questions?

33. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

34. Avoid “buzz-words”; such integrated transitional scenarios complicate simplistic matters

35. People don’t spell “a lot” correctly alot of the time.

36. Each person should use their possessive pronouns correctly

37. All grammar and spelling rules have exceptions (with a few exceptions)….Morgan’s Law.

38. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

39. The dash – a sometimes useful punctuation mark – can often be overused – even though it’s a helpful tool some of the time.

40. Proofread carefully to make sure you don’t repeat repeat any words.

41. In writing, it’s important to remember that dangling sentences.

41. When numbering in a written document, check your numbering system carefully.

The absolutely, positively, most assuredly, worst analogies EVER!

But first a word of advice..

DO NOT under penalty of death use any of the following analogies in your writing. If you do, you will be shot on sight.

  • They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.
  • He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
  • She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook latches that used to dangle from screen doors and would fly up whenever you banged the door open again.
  • The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.
  • McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty Bag filled with vegetable soup.
  • From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and “Jeopardy” comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30.
  • Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.
  • Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.

Wait…there’s more

  • He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.
  • The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.
  • Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie this guy would be buried in the credits as something like “Second Tall Man.”
  • Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
  • The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.
  • John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
  • The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.
  • His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

Chipping away at Writer’s Block

Often, in the life of a writer, self-doubt creeps in. A form of Writer’s block, it’s notorious for bringing writing to a screeching halt. Doubting our writing capabilities in the middle of a project often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the writing may, indeed, SUCK.

I find that when I’m ‘in the groove’ the words flow easily appearing on the computer monitor as fast as I can type them. But when writer’s block rears its ugly head, the monitor stares back, taunting me, laughing at me. And I stare back at it, then down at the keyboard, then back up at the monitor. But there’s nothing…

So how do you get rid of the block? What methods do I use to get back to writing?

Here are a few things that seem to work:

  • If you’re not locked in to a topic,  pick one that you’re passionate about, one that gets the creative juices flowing. I find if I’m interested in what I write about, it’s much easier to keep the words coming and to finish the task.
  • Try Free Association. Sometimes a writers tendency to edit as he/she goes along will bring on the dreaded ‘block’. Get rid of your “editor’s hat”…there’s plenty of time for that after you’ve done the draft. Relax, close your eyes for 10-15 minutes and think of things NOT pertaining to your writing.
  • After you’ve done that, try setting a timer for 10 minutes and start typing anything that comes into your mind…even if it makes no sense at all. A childhood verse, what you would do on vacation, words that rhyme…anything at all as long as it has nothing to do with what you’ve been writing. The idea is to free your mind of all distractions and just write what comes naturally. Then transfer that freedom to the writing task at hand. Works every time.
  • Another easy thing to try is to break your project up into smaller portions. When looking at the project as a whole, it can feel overwhelming and seem like a monumental task bringing on writer’s block big time. Cutting it into smaller chunks ie., a few paragraphs, a page, or a chapter, if it’s a book; or the headline and subhead if it’s an ad, will make it flow that much easier.
  • And exercise. Whenever your writing is blocked go for a brisk walk around the block, take a swim, ride your bike or use the treadmill. Physical activity increases the blood flow to the brain and releases nervous tension…and it’s been know to release a muse or two.

These work for me…I’d love to hear what works for you.

Grammar rules for fools

1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.

2. Never use a preposition to end a sentence with. Winston Churchill, corrected on this error once, responded to the young man who corrected him by saying “Young man, that is the kind of impudence up with which I will not put!

3. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.

4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They’re old hat.)

6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.

7. Be more or less specific.

8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.

9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies endlessly over and over again

10. No sentence fragments.

11. Contractions aren’t always necessary and shouldn’t be used to excess so don’t.

12. Foreign words and phrases are not always apropos.

13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous and can be excessive

14. All generalizations are bad.

15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.

Quotes about Writing – Part Four

  • I think it’s bad to talk about one’s present work, for it spoils something at the root of the creative act. It discharges the tension. ~Norman Mailer, Writers at Work, 3rd series

  • To withdraw myself from myself has ever been my sole, my entire, my sincere motive in scribbling at all. ~Lord Byron

  • If I’m trying to sleep, the ideas won’t stop. If I’m trying to write, there appears a barren nothingness. ~Carrie Latet

  • Words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes. ~Theodore Dreiser, 1900

  • It is the little writer rather than the great writer who seems never to quote, and the reason is that he is never really doing anything else. ~Havelock Ellis

  • The coroner will find ink in my veins and blood on my typewriter keys. ~C. Astrid Weber

  • Many books require no thought from those who read them, and for a very simple reason. They made no such demand upon those who wrote them. ~Charles Caleb Colton

  • Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good. ~Author Unknown, commonly misattributed to Samuel Johnson 

  • How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. ~Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 19 August 1851

  • I am a man, and alive…. For this reason I am a novelist. And being a novelist, I consider myself superior to the saint, the scientist, the philosopher, and the poet, who are all great masters of different bits of man alive, but never get the whole hog. ~D.H. Lawrence, preface to Shestov, All Things Are Possible, 1938

  • Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head. ~From the movie Finding Forrester

  • It is impossible to discourage the real writers – they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write. ~Sinclair Lewis

  • Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen? ~Friedrich Nietzsche

  • Writing is both mask and unveiling. ~E.B. White

  • Let’s hope the institution of marriage survives its detractors, for without it there would be no more adultery and without adultery two thirds of our novelists would stand in line for unemployment checks. ~Peter S. Prescott<!–, Newsweek, 8 November 1976–>

  • It’s not plagiarism – I’m recycling words, as any good environmentally conscious writer would do. ~Uniek Swain

  • True Ease in Writing comes from Art, not Chance, as those move easiest who have learn’d to dance. ~Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism”

  • Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself. ~Franz Kafka

  • An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere. ~Gustave Flaubert

  • If I fall asleep with a pen in my hand, don’t remove it – I might be writing in my dreams. ~Danzae Pace

  • There’s only one person who needs a glass of water oftener than a small child tucked in for the night, and that’s a writer sitting down to write. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, 1966

  • One ought only to write when one leaves a piece of one’s own flesh in the inkpot, each time one dips one’s pen. ~Leo Tolstoy

  • A man will turn over half a library to make one book. ~Samuel Johnson

  • What things there are to write, if one could only write them! My mind is full of gleaming thought; gay moods and mysterious, moth-like meditations hover in my imagination, fanning their painted wings. But always the rarest, those streaked with azure and the deepest crimson, flutter away beyond my reach. ~Logan Pearsall Smith

  • No author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published. ~Russell Lynes

  • A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end… but not necessarily in that order. ~Jean Luc Godard

  • Loafing is the most productive part of a writer’s life. ~James Norman Hall