Monthly Archives: June 2014

Please.Stop.Doing.This.

This post will likely offend many of my writing colleagues and friends who use this technique, but I cannot hold it in any longer. There is a stylistic technique in vogue these days that bothers me to no end. I see it in novels. I see it in articles. I see it in blog posts. I see it on Facebook. It is the breaking up of dramatic sentences into a series of one-word sentences. Consider this: I. Can’t.Take.It.Anymore. Does that sentence read as badly to you as it does to me?

Writers know they are not supposed to use incomplete sentences or sentence fragments, but they also realize that’s a rule they can break from time to time. “The one-word sentence, or more generally the incomplete sentence, is a tool you can use for emphasis,” author and blogger Christine Amsden writes. “Like this. It’s short, to the point, and easily digestible. It calls attention to itself and its brief content, making that content stand out. When done correctly, it is a way to shamelessly exploit a reader’s emotions. Bam! Right there.”

As Amsden points out there is a time and a place for incomplete or one-word sentences, but what I am seeing again and again is very different. It is taking a complete sentence and breaking it up into a series of one-word sentences.

I believe writers use this technique to ratchet up the drama by giving the reader a dramatic signal. Wait for it. Wait for it. Okay, here is comes. The sentence broken up into a series of one-word sentences. You might as well add the words, “This is really important, reader.” For me it has the opposite effect. It’s like the sort of faux drama you see on reality television.

It is akin to the overuse of exclamation points. The legendary Elmore Leonard wrote that a writer gets to use about three exclamation points for every 100,000 words. Why? The words themselves should convey the emotion intended by the writer. The.Same.Applies.To.One-word.Sentences.

If I were to write this post and put a period after every word, how annoying would you find that?

I’m truly sorry if I have insulted my writer friends. Many of you who do this are much better writers than I will ever be. And, having gotten this off my chest, I am willing to admit I could be completely wrong about this.

What about you? How do you feel about this technique? Am I completely wrong?

27 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Effective Beginnings: The Secret Ingredients

On the popular blog, Writer Unboxed, Ray Rhamey offers a recurring piece called Flog a Pro. Rhamey identifies six key ingredients that the opening page of a novel must feature: story questions, tension (in the reader, not the character), voice, clarity, scene-setting, and character.

Here he breaks down the opening page of the runaway best-seller Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn.

While it’s not a requirement to have all six ingredients, Rhamey writes, an author has a better chance of hooking a reader if many of these elements are present.

I am in the midst of refining the beginning pages of my work-in-progress and this effort got me thinking about effective beginnings. In researching this topic, I found a lot of advice from agents and editors about what not to do in the opening page of a novel:

–Start too slowly

–Dump a lot of backstory about the main character

–Include too much exposition

–Introduce the story with a dream sequence

–Begin with slam-bang action, mayhem, maybe even a few deaths. Action without context will only confuse the reader.

Here are more types of bad beginnings from agent Chuck Sambuchino:
Chuck Sambuchino

Rhamey’s list is a solid starting point, but it needs elaboration. There’s one more essential ingredient and it relates to one of his ingredients, character. One inviolate rule about effective opening scenes is the writer must make the reader care about the main character. What does that mean? To me, it means the writer must create an emotional connection between the reader and the character. This is by far the most challenging aspect of crafting an effective beginning.

I found a lot of great advice about opening scenes and I want to share it here:

This post is a fantastic mashup called the 21 best tips for writing your opening scene

Here are more tips from the Editor’s Blog. Here’s a post on how to hook your reader.

And some tips on opening sentences from the blog Fuel Your Writing.

Will Greenway offers eight rules.

Chuck Wendig, 25 things to know about an opening chapter is irreverent, funny and true.

To these many words of wisdom I add one more and this I cannot stress enough: spend whatever time is necessary to make the first scene sing. If you are not spending more time on the opening scene than on the rest of your manuscript, you’re not trying hard enough.

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Book Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

J.K. Rowling’s murder mystery novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, written under the name Robert Galbraith, caused a major stir when it was revealed that the Harry Potter series author penned this work. Stories followed about the difficulties of getting a publisher interested in the manuscript and the sluggish sales of the book until the identity of its celebrated author was made public.

All of this publicity obscured the fact that Rowling had written a first class mystery novel, featuring a larger than life protagonist in the form of down and out private investigator Cormoran Strike. While the Potter series is about good and evil, the cruelties of adolescence and the power of love to overcome bigotry and intolerance, The Cuckoo’s Calling can best be described as an indictment of the lifestyles of the rich and famous and the media culture that surrounds them.

This story has it all: celebrity models, a chic fashion designer, a rapper with a rap sheet, a troubled rock musician, an egocentric movie producer and various hangers on and paparazzi. Rowling brilliantly sprinkles red herrings throughout the narrative as each of these characters seems to have an angle and a scheme going. Amid the colorful cast of the glitterati, the most striking character is Strike.

A military veteran who lost part of his leg in Afghanistan, Strike is a bear of a man. How is this for a physical description: Strike has “the high bulging forehead, broad nose and thick brows of a young Beethoven who had just taken to boxing.” When we meet Strike, he has just dumped his longtime girlfriend, Charlotte, he has no clients, he is near bankruptcy and he is forced to sleep in a camp bed in his dingy office. He is doomed, until two saviors show up in his office on the same morning. The first is Robin Ellacott, a young temp worker walking on a cloud since her boyfriend has just proposed to her. Robin is wise beyond her years and yearns for a meaningful job. The second is John Bristow, scion of a wealthy family who is convinced the death of his adopted sister, superstar model Lulu Landry, was a murder. The case was covered extensively by the media. Police believed Lulu jumped out of a window of her luxury condo to her death on a frigid London night. Bristow hires a reluctant Strike to investigate.

Strike methodically disassembles and reassembles the sequence of events, with each new revelation casting light on Lulu’s troubled life and the people in her circle of friends. It all leads to a shocking conclusion.

Rowling skewers many of the same targets she went after in the Potter series: the rich and powerful, gossip obsessed media, rigid bureaucrats, and self indulgent pop culture stars. In Strike and his young assistant, Ellacott, she has created an appealing chemistry, not sexual but based on mutual need and respect. I cannot wait to read the next installment.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized