A Hint Will Do

May 18, 2013

Novices sometimes fall into shorter lines that only tell where their characters are standing. They only tell the reader ways that characters are moving. It’s all very stage direction-ish. These underwritten shorter lines don’t help tell the story.

There are conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet & so), and there are punctuation marks (commas and semi-colons) that you can use to make a simple sentence more robust.  These revision helpers bring more story to your stories.

These three revision helpers take two or more like-minded ideas and let them appear (grammatically correctly) in the same line.

But, these three things that help shorter stage-directing lines (conjunctions, commas, and semi-colons) have to make sense in your revisions and be correct grammatically. For me, when it comes to fiction the only type of un-grammatical writing I allow myself are sentence fragments–but that’s another post.

You can stuff any old things idea-wise in a long line. Doing that ends up with what’s called a comma splice or maybe you’ve written a run on sentence. It’s either because the two or more thoughts aren’t connectable, or because you’ve mis-used these three revision helpers. Mis-use comes from over use, or incorrect placement.

If you don’t use those conjunctions–remember them with the acronym fanboys– or punctuation in your longer lines then there’s a chance you’ve written you sentence wrong.

The things you typically want to connect with and are two nouns.

A heavy heart and stubborn mindset kept Jane from speaking that morning.

Through more novices tack on and  anywhere like it was a way to continue their narrative, or a description.

 She ran to the gate and met the stranger there and for a moment had a thought and she was sure she knew him.

Those commas or semi-colons can help with your and-heavy lines. You can switch out some of those and conjunctions, leaving only the ones that help the flow of the line when you read it aloud.

She ran to the gate, and met the stranger there, and for a moment had a thought; and she was sure she knew him.

The first and was switched out for a comma. The last one for a semi-colon. The middle one we kept, because reading the line out, it sounded funny without it.

When it comes to using commas, the things you typically want to connect are much more than just two nouns.  In our line above

 She ran to the gate, met the stranger there, and for a moment had a thought; she was sure she knew him.

That first comma connects her actions of running (ran) and meeting (met). The second one is used to connect the next action which is thinking (had a thought).

The novice might have started out writing much more simple lines:

Jane had a heavy heart. Her mindset was stubborn. Both kept her from speaking that morning. She ran to the gate.  There Jane met the stranger. For a moment she had a thought. Jane was sure she knew him.

Revising doesn’t have to mean ripping out all your precious words. Just moving and re-shaping them from where you’ve first set them on the page. If you notice we’ve only lost 5 words: had and was among them.

7 original lines, 39 words, with an average sentence length of 5.6 words. Short telling lines with little storytelling.

vs.

2 edited lines, 34 words, with an average sentence length of 15 words, less choppy. Much less stage direction-ish. Even more storytelling-ish.

 A heavy heart and stubborn mindset kept Jane from speaking that morning. She ran to the gate, met the stranger there, and for a moment had a thought; she was sure she knew him.

Your writing needs to move from first drafts where you’ve given us mostly stage directions, and into revised lines that flow well, telling your story in stronger (but, grammatically correct) sentences.

Don’t tell us how, or that, Jane moved.

As George Will advised with his aptly placed semi-colon,

 I don’t have to draw you a picture; a hint will do.

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2 Responses to “A Hint Will Do”

  1. Karlie Says:

    Hmm…it certainly is a noticeable difference. I can clearly see the benefits of cutting the extra words…thank you for another clear, concise post!

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