WHAT MIGHT BE SWAMPING YOUR SENTENCES
by Robert W. Walker
I see a lot of writing any given day as I teach English at the college level along with writing courses and literature courses, and sometimes I get feeling no pain and let this pass and that pass as there is only so much I can do about the dumbing down of American schools and curriculum....a situation that has been going on for decades now. When a student tells me she has in four years of high school not had to write one single research paper, it makes my jaw drop. "What did you do for four years?" Her reply -- Watched films.
The problem that manifests itself in the writing of such a one as this sweet kid is writing with a proliferation of non-words, leech words, words that suck the meaing out of all she wants so desperately to say and get out of her mind. Bloated sentences that are run ons, others that are fragments, but the worst crime to clarity is a preponderance of pronouns put into play. For example: Mary told her mother that she was fat and ugly.... No way to know who in that sentence is SHE...which she is fat, I mean. Another example of a waterlogged sentence, waterlogged with pronouns. We have three little girls in a short story and the student -- another studnent this time -- writes the following: The little girl was upset because the other little girl told the other little girl that she did not belong at the party as a guest but that the first little girl, whose mother was a servant at the party, was there to serve food and not to party with the other little girl.
Makes you want to say Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, I know....I know. Talk about a sentence that was dead in the water before it began. And it could all have been cleared up and made alive by a simple use of NAMES....Name each lil' girl. Rosari, Madeliene, Tasha -- thank you. Naming names, even repeating names thoughout your story keeps a reader focused; names have power and magic and are far, far more like a Kodak moment in the brain than she or he or we or they or it. Name it, name him, name her, and name the town, the river, the lake, the park, the cemetery. Names have resonance and meaning. We can connect with names of people, places, and things but not so much with IT or THEM, especially when there are more than one set of its or thems in the story or sentence for that matter. You can't go wrong with coming back to naming names, using nouns. The two most powerful words in any given sentence are the subject noun and the verb...followed by the object noun. If you replace the subject noun and the object noun think about what happens to the following: Mark looked sharply at Christopher where he stood leaning against the fencepost. NOW let's replace the names with pronouns and we get less definition and clarity and focus (more confusion): He looked sharply at him where he stood leaning against it.
Dead in the water. Pronouns cause all sorts of questions to be raised in the mind of the beholder. The power of a full name like Jack Buckland or Kelly Irvin or Milicent Carver is where it is at, especially in fiction and it sure helps in nonfiction and research papers as well. These are the things that try an English professor's soul and cause doctors of philosophy to pull out their hair. That and the missteps and missues of words like stuff, thing, alot a lot, get ( I dislike get); not to mention the failure to distinctly speak and understand such pronouns at THEIR as opposed to THEY'RE and THERE or Its and it's. Even hole and whole! Even roll and role! Worst yet the unnecessary overuse of prepostional phrases all over the place, and using thre prepositons when one will do the job, but that is another day....
All right I have ranted enough but let it be known that the majority of my students are sharp and intelligent and are learning better now that they are trapped in a classroom three hours a week with this teacher. THEY know now that Writing is Rewriting.
Rob is conducting a unique experiemtn at Dirty Deeds - Mystery/Suspense Author's Advice wherenin you can watch him write his next book in a Julia & Julia styled journal on How to Cook a Book in a year. Drop by and leave a comment or follow. A contest for a better title will soon be put up and you could win a signed copy of one of Rob's novels.
http://www.robertwalkerbooks.com/ will also guide you to the new blog.