So You Want to Be a Writer? Part II
edited: Thursday, August 01, 2002
By Kimberley J. Wilson
Posted: Thursday, August 01, 2002
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So You Want to Be A Writer?
Technique and Presentation
Kimberley Lindsay Wilson
(Part II of an Occasional Series)
Grammar. Did you just groan when you read that word? Well, relax. Thanks to the really poor way this subject is taught in most schools thatís the typical reaction. I loved English all through school and majored in it in college but even I canít say that I really enjoyed my grammar lessons.
Some would-be writers complain that they are artists and not technicians so grammar rules should not apply to their work. Thatís a weak excuse and Iíll explain why. Who are you writing for? Thereís only the two of us here, so be honest with your answer. Is it for yourself or for publication? Thereís nothing wrong with writing for yourself. This form of authorship has an honorable and ancient lineage. The diaries of many great people throughout history are fascinating and numerous brilliant artists, such as Emily Dickinson never intended for the things they wrote to be published in their lifetimes, but if publication is your goal then you have to bring technique and presentation to your writing desk. Talent is not enough.
When I say technique Iím primarily talking about grammar. Even if you hated it in school you probably understand more about basic grammar than you realize. If you capitalize the first word at the start of your sentences, are able to form a complete sentence and can pretty much tell that something is wrong with a sentence just by glancing at it then youíre pretty much on track. Here are three sentences:
The words are exactly the same but the end of the sentence (the period, the question mark and the exclamation point) makes the meaning of each one different.
Grammar is important because itís the first building block of a sentence. That sentence will become a paragraph and that paragraph will hopefully become something that someone will want to read. Occasionally Iíll come across a book where the author obviously was being ďcreativeĒ with grammar. I leave those books alone. Grammar rules may seem boring and anal retentive but if you canít communicate your idea in written form then you have no business calling yourself a writer.
I just read a novel from the street life genre that failed to hold my attention because of excruciatingly poor technique. The book takes place in a modern-day ghetto so of course the characters didnít talk like English lords and ladies. That is as it should beódialogue by characters should be realistic but the talented young author blew it by continuing to use misspelled words, sloppy sentence structure and slang that was unique to this particular city in the narration and descriptive scenes.
For example, most of the book read something like this: ďLisaís kitty and azz had Fat Lukeís nose wide open so the stupafied nigga couldnít see the bitch was just after his paper. Fore she kicked him to the curb she got a fine ride and much ice.Ē Readers who donít know that this means Lisa used sex to manipulate Fat Luke into giving her a fancy car and diamond jewelry would be lost. If your readers are lost then your book has failed. A whole book of sentences like this got tiresome so I put it down for good.
When youíre writing your first draft the most important thing is to get your thoughts down on paper. Donít worry about technique at this point, just keep writing. Technique comes into play when you get ready to work on your second, third and yes, even a fourth draft. Thatís when your work should be read and read again with a college level dictionary, a thesaurus and Strunck and Whiteís Elements of Style close by.
Presentation also matters. No-one; not an agent, not an editor, and certainly not a reader is going to waste time on your book if it looks bad. Paragraphs should either being aligned to the left or in block form. Either indent all your paragraphs or none of them. Your manuscript must have page numbers and they should appear either at the top right hand side or on the bottom of your page. Itís also a good idea to have your last name on the top right hand side of each page. If you arenít sure how you should prepare your manuscript pick up any book you admire. Study the way it looks. Follow itís style or go out and buy the best book Iíve ever read on this topic, How to Prepare Your Manuscript for Publication by David L. Carroll.
Although I hate to use this analogy talent really is like a huge rough diamond. If you were to go poking around in an African diamond mine you could pass right by a priceless stone and never know it because it looks to the untrained eyes like an ordinary rock. Once some trained person finds that diamond they can polish it and refine it so thatís itís brilliance can be seen by everyone.
Thatís what technique and presentation can do for your writing. You have to bring your joy, your passion and the beauty of your words to the page of course but technical skill is the key to presenting all that so a reader will understand what youíre trying to say.
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|Reviewed by Cam