Friday, July 20, 2012

Structure is the Name of the Game

Let’s work on Syntax and Tighten the Writing. By doing the former you will achieve much of the later.

Syntax is the patterns of formations of sentences and phrases from words and the rules of the formation of grammatical sentences in a language.

Don’t you just love Webster definitions? They make everything so unclear.

In plain English, Syntax means the word arrangement and sentence structure.

Remember that old song by Tom Jones, and later Joe Cocker, “You Can Leave Your Hat On”? It was sexy, vibrant, and made you want to, ahh… er… leave only your hat on.

The phrasing is great for lyrics and dialogue, but oh so wrong for narrative. Why? You should never end a sentence with a preposition. Yes, it sounds right. Yes, we talk that way. Grammatically it is incorrect.

How should it read? “You can leave on your hat.” Sure doesn’t have the same impact does it?

Frequently, grammatical sentences don’t have the same effect and if you find this to be true save the prepositional endings for your dialogue. Sometimes you can’t help but use them in narrative because you need that force or dramatic effect. It’s okay but use it sparingly.

Here’s an example of what Redmond O’Hanlon, Into the Heart of Borneo, Vintage 1987, got away with in his novel;

“My companion, James Fenton, however, whose idea the venture was, enigmatic, balding, an ex-correspondent of the war in Vietnam and Cambodia, a jungle in himself, was a wise old man in these matters.”

I don’t know if Fenton did this as a joke on his editor, if it got missed in the edits, or he wanted this sentence to read as written. But I will guarantee you won’t get away with this type of writing with today’s editors. Be sure to read your work aloud and correct any sentences that are convoluted.

ALOUD is the key word here. Read your work aloud. I can’t stress this enough. It’s the only way to allow your ear to pick up the errors. Sure you’ll feel stupid doing it, even if you are home alone locked in your closet. Get over it. We all experience the same reaction. Here’s your option; let your book go to an editor with written garble and expect a nice form rejection in the return mail.

When you read aloud look for;

• Does your intent come across – action, suspense, romance, sorrow?
• Does something detract from your meaning?
• Fine-tune your sentences until they sound perfect, rhythmic, to your ear.

To further Tighten the Writing get rid of unnecessary words. It will make your writing sound stronger. Those expendable words are, but not limited to;

• A little
• Almost
• Anyway
• At the present time
• Began to
• By means of
• Certainly
• Considering the fact that
• Definitely
• Even
• Is/was/were
• Just
• So
• Some
• That
• Very

Be concise, don’t ramble on with your descriptions. Think about the sections you skim or avoid when you read a novel. Don’t allow that to happen to your reader. Make sure you haven’t flooded a section with so much back story or description you are boring the reader. Get rid of the excess because most of it won’t matter.

Please don’t write you book via Roget’s Thesaurus. Today’s editors want meat in a book, not fat. Readers do not want authors to written down to them. Use the everyday words of your speech and not some $20.00 word that has your reader reaching for their Webster’s.

Avoid clichés like the plague. Get the idea? You are a writer – so write something new.

I’m not being bitchy here. I want you to get published. We should have millions of new books available from the reliable E-publishers and on the shelves of every type bookstore. But, if you don’t do your job the numbers will be low and our future generations won’t have the role models they need.

Have a wonderful weekend. I'll be back Monday with The Immortal Tux. Until then...

Happy Writing!

Sloane Taylor


  1. Thanks, Sloane! I am guilty of using the word just way too often. But now that I recognize that fact, I do a find and replace and get rid of most of them after the fact. Great post and one I will have to reference many times.

  2. Enjoyed this. :) Just found your site.

    1. Hi Kirsten, thanks for stopping in and I'm happy you liked the blog.

  3. Reminders like these are sooooooooooo helpful... always! I just found your blog and loved this post. Thanks for sharing the wisdom!

    1. Welcome, Rebecca, and thanks for finding me.:) It's my pleasure to share the bits and pieces I've learned.

  4. Nice reminder to just write what you want to convey and don't get all "flowery" about it. I tend to gloss over descriptions that go on and on about what a room looks like or whatever. Sometimes I think simple is better.

    1. I agree with you, Patricia, simple is better. The reader has an imagination and only needs a guide to see it all.

  5. Thanks for your sage advice, Sloane! Now if you could make suggestions to tighen my body? Wink.

    1. LOL!!!!!!! If I could, I'd have done mine years ago!!

  6. All good advice, Sloane. I try to write as cleanly as possible, but I'm guilty of overwriting sometimes. (Thank goodness for Ellen Brock who knows exactly how to rein me in!)

    1. LOL Got to love a good editor.:) I've read some of your work, Margaret, and don't believe you need as much reining as you think.:)