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  • Richard Crum

The New Year

Hi EFE Writers,

Historically, the best art has been produced during the worst of times. So the turmoil that's kicking up in our nation promises that 2021 might be the year for us to do our best writing.

Toward that end, let's look at Clumsy Writing Flaw No. 5: Lack of variety in sentence length and structure.

The flow of sentences in your manuscript should be like a melody, ever-changing in pitch and pace. Like Johnny-one-note songs, sentence flow that plods along at the same length and structure is boring. For example: She is beautiful. She is rich. She is blonde. Thus, she is boring. One of many ways to fix this flaw would be: Beautiful, rich, and blonde she is.

Keep a careful watch on the length of your sentences. Avoid back to back sentences of the same length or structure. When a string of sentences begin to run long, they should immediately be interrupted by a shorter sentence. Look how Harper Lee does it in To Kill a Mockingbird:

After my bout with Cecil Jacobs when I committed myself to a policy of cowardice, word got around that Scout Finch wouldn't fight anymore, her daddy wouldn't let her.

That was not entirely correct. I wouldn't fight publicly for Atticus, but the family was public ground. I would fight anyone from a third cousin upwards tooth and nail. Francis Hancock, for example, knew that.

See how Harper Lee throws in a short five-word sentence right after a long, 30 word sentence. This short sentence is then followed by two medium long 12-word sentences. And to avoid monotony, Harper Lee throws in another short sentence, this one only six words long. Masterful variety.

And pacing. Look how Harper Lee avoids repetitive structure in the two back-to-back 12-word sentences. The first 12-word sentence is a compound structure sentence. The following 12-word sentence is of simple structure. Had the back-to-back sentences been the same structure, the effect would be as flat as a musician playing the note of C when a C sharp was called for. Critical readers notice such flaws and hold you the author accountable.

Thus, keep a careful eye on the flow of your sentences. Are they running in an ever-changing variety of length and structure?

& & & & & & &

Other musings: Are you actual writing or just thinking and talking about it? Yes, writing is thinking. I agree with that as far as it goes. Thinking and talking about writing is easy. But until you turn your thinking and talking into words on paper (or digital screen), you are not actually writing. You are not a writer; you are a thinker and talker.

So as this New Year gets underway let's commit ourselves to be writers. Let's carve out a private place where we go on a scheduled basis to do nothing but write. This place can be anywhere, a nook at home, a table at Panera's, a seat on a subway. Wherever. Any place works if it allows us to spend an uninterrupted span of time doing nothing but putting words on paper or screen.

It's critical that we set a specific time to spend at this place. And it's critical we adhere to our writing schedule without fail. For example, my place is my office at home. My set writing time begins at 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. I try to spend at least three hours each writing session. Sometimes it is less, sometimes more. On weekends I take a break from writing.

Where is your designated writing space and how many hours a day do you spend there writing? If you have no such space and have no hours devoted to working at writing on a specific timetable, perhaps you need to ask yourself. Do I really want to be a writer?

Be honest with yourself when you answer that question. If the answer is "no", that's okay. There are much easier pursuits in life. Find one you are passionate about. But if the answer is "yes", welcome to the world of inspiration and perspiration!!

Until next time,

---Richard




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