Sunday, March 25, 2012

Timeless Advice

So sorry reader and writer friends, I missed my blogging date. I'm two days late.Too many things on March's calendar and I never noticed that March has 5 Fridays. I do have some notes to share from a critique partner of long ago.
I was writing my first children's book  and he offered some much needed advice for three areas of my writing which needed help. I believe they are still relevent today.

Offering too much explanation, Using the power position, and Changing tense.
Here's what he had to say:
Offering too much explanation: As Brown and King point out you must Resist the Urge to Explain (RUE). You belabor points and that steals zest from your prose while clobbering your readers with unneeded explanation. Hearts always beat in chests. Nodding is a sign of agreement. You simply don't need to amplify.Not only will this quicken the pace(let's face it, between the explanations and ponderous language, the story moves rather slowly). Leaving out detailed explanation will force your reader to think.  Remember RUE as much as possible.

Using the Power Position: While not every fiction author knows it,books on essays and language point out that every sentence,paragraph, and chapter have a Power Position. A chapter's power position is the last paragraph. A sentence's power position is the last word or phrase before a mark of punctuation.
               "God bless America," cried the bishop.
                The bishop cried "God bless America.
The emphasis is clearly on the the last three words, but we don't want to emphasize "cried the bishop" unless it is meaningful to the story context. It's possible, on sentences that have internal commas to use them as power positions, as well as the sentence's final punctuation mark. Pretty advanced stuff, but someday you'll do it instinctively. Don't juggle phrases and sentences to put everything in a power position. Make flow and readability your first priority, then look for ways to move/sneak important stuff into more powerful positions.

Changing Tense One of my biggest gaffs is changing tense, moving words from past tense to present tense to add immediacy and drama. I'm trying to break myself of the habit and you should too.There are times when the change is acceptable ( according to Janet Burroway,FSU fiction professor, these moments are few and far between), but the shift sometimes works in peak drama: Mary swung back and forth on the thin rope, grabbing at the clif's rock face, trying to arrest the sickening feeling of the free-fall. Most of the time you and I need to keep tense consistent within a sentence.

My critique partner would like that I shared his help to me in this blog.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Mary,

I just found your excellent post.
Wonderful advice and reminders for writers! I've experimented with changing tense in a new novel. One speaker, a boy, writes in the present tense first person, alternating chapters with his mother who is written third person past tense.

Mary F. Schoenecker said...

Thanks Jacqueline for thinking so positive about my "advice".I'm glad you found it. I wasn't sure it would publish in AE, because I didn't follow all the steps, being late with the blog. I just hit Publish after I composed.