On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Since and Because

A global problem I run across in critiquing is the amorphous sense that the writer is writing to himself and not to me, the reader. The writer often skips information (not explaining a specialized term, personal event, or relationships to people they refer to, for example), or else dumps seemingly unrelated facts together and assumes I'm telepathic enough to just understand what they're trying to demonstrate to me.

This happens in both fiction and nonfiction. I am frustrated when reading this sort of writing, especially because it's difficult to point to exactly what is wrong with it. It's more of an attitude, not an error. It's as if the writer is trying to show me something, but is unable to communicate exactly what it is.

This, I believe, is a developmental stage for writing. In other words, *everyone* is going to go through this unfinished completion stage. And why not? I believe writing is the formal distillation of thought, and we all (or at least I do) usually don't bother to finish every thought. WE understand what we're trying to say, so can use shorthand phrases and don't need to rigorously articulate to ourselves the point we're trying to prove. So when we start writing our thoughts, it's easy to fall into that shorthanding habit.

When I was writing my dissertation, my advisor kindly spent time every day reading what I'd written and making comments. She was frustrated with my prose, and one day said, "I can't stand it! Let me show you." She then rewrote a paragraph.

In this paragraph I'd said something like, "A showed XYZ. In my experiment I only found J% change in this variable. However, B showed QRS."

My advisor wrote, "SINCE A showed XYZ, I expected to see XYZ with my own experiments as well. Unexpectedly I found only J% change in this variable. However, BECAUSE B showed QRS affected XYZ, it could be that QRS was also affecting these results."

Next paragraph: " I wanted to eliminate the possible involvement of QRS, and so controlled my next experiment in these ways..."

Do you see the difference? Instead of just throwing a bunch of information out, I'm *telling a story* in a sense. I'm leading the reader by the hand in a sequential fashion, so that he can understand exactly what's going on: First I learned what to expect from a particular experiment. Then I did it. It didn't work the way I thought it should. However something else could have been affecting my results. I decided to control for this factor.

The magical factor was using relational words: Since. However. Because. In contrast. and on and on and on.

Try sequencing your thoughts, and relating them to the previous thoughts. Don't refer to something unless you've already defined it. And most importantly, before you begin figure out exactly what you want the reader to understand after reading what you've written.

1 comment:

  1. A powerful insight, Amy. So simple and so necessary. Often the ways and means for the writer are like that.

    I think it helps to keep in mind that when we write we should always check our words "through the eyes of our reader," that is if we mean our writing is more than self expression. Key questions are: Will she (my reader) get it, particularly they way I want her to get it? This is challenging and takes work.

    You're right, of course, as usual. Those relational words are key, not just using them but thinking with them. It's never just the facts but how they are connected, how the related, inter-depend, cause and effect, action and reaction.

    I think, too, that a lot of the writing we do is intuitive, following our instincts. That's not bad. Einstein was intuitive as well as mathematical. but we need to be whole-brained in our approach. And it can help to get back to the basics of what we are doing when we put words on the page and string together sentences.