More Big Words!

Hey, everybody! New episode of That’s a Big Word is up on Youtube! Check it out if you’re interested in English language learning, know any one who is, or just enjoy general silliness.

If you enjoy the video, please like, subscribe, share, and all that jazz. It really helps freelance creators like myself out!

Rhetoric is Not a Four-Letter Word

It’s literally an eight-letter word. But you know what I mean.

Politicians like to throw the word rhetoric around like it leaves a bad taste in their mouth. They pair it with adjectives like hateful, divisive, or violent. They use it to talk about why their opponents are wrong or bad.

These are not incorrect uses of the word rhetoric. But here’s the thing. Calling out someone else’s rhetoric is, in and of itself, an example of rhetoric.

Academics (and recovering academics, like myself) like to quibble about definitions of rhetoric. They’ve been writing about it pretty much since writing became a thing. Socrates didn’t care for it. Aristotle thought it was a core component of civic life.

But what is it?

Aristotle said that rhetoric was all about persuasion, but I think it’s more than that. Rhetoric is about the choices we make whenever we communicate, not just when we’re trying to be persuasive.

If you believe that, then you start to see rhetoric everywhere around you—and that’s a good thing. Learning more about rhetoric can help you become a better communicator. It can also make you a savvier consumer of contemporary media. It can help you see when you’re being manipulated, and it can help you identify fake news.

It’s also a great at removing warts! Just kidding.

Rhetoric 101

Hopefully by now, you’ve been persuaded by my rhetoric to keep reading and learn more about, well, rhetoric. There’s a lot to cover, so while I’ll give an overview of a few concepts in rhetoric in this post, it’s just the beginning of a whole series on rhetoric. I’ll do some deeper dives into particular topics, and I’ll dissect rhetoric as I come across it in the wild.

To start with, in this post, I’ll cover the rhetorical situation and rhetorical appeals.

The Rhetorical Situation

Any time you communicate, you find yourself in a rhetorical situation. A rhetorical situation consists of four main parts: an author (or speaker), an audience, a message, and a context. Let’s take this blog post as an example. I’m the author, you’re the audience, and you’re reading the message. The context is that I want to talk about rhetoric to people outside of academia.

Let’s take another example, though. Say you’re writing a cover letter for a job you want to apply for (incidentally, something I can help you with). You’re the author, and the message is the contents of your letter—the experiences you share to illustrate your qualifications for the job in question. But who’s the audience?

That’s actually a more complicated question than you might think. You’re probably trying to get it on your future boss’s desk, but before it makes it there, it makes a few other steps along the way. First, it might go through an ATS, or automated tracking system. ATSes skim application materials and use machine-learning algorithms to select a few candidates out of several hundred to be forwarded on to HR. Then, someone in HR will likely look at it, and then finally, your cover letter might make it all the way to your (hopefully) future boss. So, your audience is not just your future boss, but also the HR department. You could even consider the ATS to be part of the audience!

So there’s more to the rhetorical situation than meets the eye. I’ll talk more about each component of the rhetorical situation in future posts, so stay tuned!

Rhetorical Appeals

If we think about rhetoric as persuasion, then one problem we have to solve when communicating is how to persuade. Rhetorical appeals are tools for persuasion.

In his Rhetoric, Aristotle talks about three rhetorical appeals, using some Greek words to describe them. These Greek words have stuck around since his time, so I’ll use them here, too:

  • Logos: Appeals to logic
  • Pathos: Appeals to emotion
  • Ethos: Appeals to credibility

As examples, I’ll talk about some popular commercials that use each appeal. Analyzing commercials is a great way to hone your ability to spot rhetorical appeals, by the way. And getting better at spotting them helps you get better at using them yourself.

Logos. Verzion makes several appeals to logos in this commercial. They say switching to Verizon makes more sense than “settling” for less 4G coverage.

Pathos. Old Spice has been the king of comedic commercials for awhile. Here’s an example of an Old Spice commercial appealing to pathos, or emotion.

But joy isn’t the only emotion that can be appealed to. The SPCA used to have a commercial featuring sad animals set to Sarah MacLaughlan’s song “Angel.” To this day I can’t watch it; press play at your own risk.

Ethos. Trident uses two main appeals in this commercial. It’s a funny commercial, so they’re appealing to pathos, but the phrase “four out of five dentists recommend…” is actually an appeal to ethos, or credibility. Dentists know what’s good for your teeth, so if four out of five dentists recommend it, then it must be good!

Rhetoric is an Eight-Letter Word

To recap, rhetoric isn’t inherently a bad thing. It can certainly be used for causes we disagree with, but it can also be used for good. Have you ever donated to a cause you care about after seeing a post on social media about it? That’s rhetoric at work!

Rhetoric and communication exist to get things done in this world. If you want to get things done, stay tuned for more discussions of rhetoric!

The Science of Good Writing: Taking Action

This post is part of a series on the “science” of good writing, based on the article “The Science of Scientific Writing” by Gopen and Swan. Want to start at the beginning of the series? That’s cool. Otherwise, keep on reading!

What’s the difference between these three sentences?

  • I baked a cake.
  • The cake was baked by me.
  • Did you even notice that I baked a cake?

The first sentence is active voice; the second sentence is passive voice. The third sentence is passive-aggressive voice. *cue rimshot*

Okay, okay. “Passive aggressive voice” isn’t a thing. That one was a joke. But passive voice is real, and it plagues a good many writers. A lot of writers have a general sense that passive voice is bad, but they have trouble identifying it, explaining why they shouldn’t use it, or fixing it.

I have some news for you, writers. What I’m about to say may shock you. It may fly in the face of everything you’v ever been told about passive voice.

Passive voice isn’t inherently bad.

Shocker, I know. But it’s true!

Getting rid of passive voice is one of the techniques Gopen and Swan suggest for improving your writing. In most cases, I don’t disagree. There are a few instances where you, as a writer, may find passive voice to be useful. In this post, I’m going to explain passive voice–talk about what it is, how to identify it, and how to get rid of it. Then, I’ll talk about those times that you should consider using it.

Why is it called passive voice?

Okay, so what is passive voice? For that matter, what is active voice? Well, let’s think about the meaning of those two adjectives–passive and active. What does it mean to be active? No, not active in the, like, exercise sense, but if the analogy helps, let’s go with it. To be active means that you… do things. You take actions. You run, you swim, you hike, you bike.

Now, what does it mean to be passive? Being passive means that you don’t take actions. Things happen to you, things that you don’t necessarily have control over because you’re not acting.

Consider the following sentence:

Screenshot of Pokemon Go mobile game. The screen shows a black and yellow pokeball with the caption, "Bidoof was caught!"

So, who caught this Pokémon? In other words, who did the catching? Who completed the action? I did, but you wouldn’t know that from this sentence, because it’s passive voice. I’m not saying the Bidoof didn’t do anything while I was catching it. Actually, it was rather annoying, jumping around on the screen and hopping out of the ball the first two times I caught it. But I was the one who did the action “catch.”

This is an extremely petty gripe, I know, but I do not understand why the screen doesn’t say “You caught Bidoof!” Maybe it’s a translation issue? Oh, well. I’m (mostly) over it.

Subjects and Verbs and Voices, Oh, My!

Enough Pokémon chat already. What exactly are active and passive voice?

Here are the textbook-style definitions:

  • In active voice, the subject does the action expressed in the verb of the sentence.
  • In passive voice, the action expressed in the sentence is not done by the sentence’s subject.

Fun fact, those sentences are also in active and passive voice, respectively.

While Gopen and Swan talk about passive and active voice in terms of action, another book talks about active voice in terms of both action and characters. In their book Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, Joseph M. Williams and Joseph Bizup ask you, the writer, to think about a sentence in terms of it possible actions and characters. Actions are things that can be done, and characters are people, places, things, or ideas.

The way to write in active voice, say Williams and Bizup, is to make sure that characters are the grammatical subjects of sentences, and that actions are the verbs of sentences. Here’s a quick refresher if you need a reminder of what’s a subject and what’s a verb.

Okay, so let’s consider the two cake sentences from before:

  • I baked a cake.
  • The cake was baked by me.

In both sentences, both I and the cake are characters. The action is baked. Which sentence is active, and which is passive?

The active sentence is the sentence in which the grammatical subject is a character who is doing an action: I baked a cake.

Finding and Changing Passive Voice

So, then, how do you find passive voice and change it into active voice? Here’s a quick five step guide:

  1. Find all possible characters in the sentence.
  2. Find all possible actions in the sentence.
  3. Locate the grammatical subject.
  4. Locate the verb.
  5. Is the grammatical subject a character who is doing the action located in the verb? If yes, great! You’ve got active voice. If not, you probably have passive voice.

What’s great about this five-step process is that changing passive voice into active voice takes only one more step:

  1. Find an appropriate character-action pair in the sentence and make sure they’re the grammatical subject and grammatical verb.

Active vs. Passive Voice: Ultimate Showdown

Okay, so now you can define, identify, and change passive voice. Great! Here’s a question you may still be asking:

Spongebob Squarepants holds an rainbow between his hands and asks, "Why"

In many cases, active voice is easier on the reader. For one thing, active sentences usually have fewer words than their passive counterparts, which means they’re quicker to read. But Gopen and Swan also point out that it can be much easier to understand the “story” of a sentence if its “players” (Williams and Bizup’s “characters”) are doing the actions.

But is it ever appropriate to use the passive voice? Yes, actually! I can think of at least a couple.

Connecting Sentences with Passive Voice

One reason to use passive voice is to improve the connections between two sentences. Another reason might be to make sure that you’re putting old information in the topic position and new information in the stress position, like I talked about in a previous post.

Consider following passages of micro-fiction:

  • “Oh, no!” I said, pointing to the four-tier cake with yellow icing and marzipan decoration on top. “I baked that cake.”
  • “Excuse me,” I said, interrupting the baker who was trying to take all of my credit. “That cake was baked by me.”

In the first passage, I want to put the emphasis on which cake I baked, so I put “that cake” at the end of the sentence. In the second passage, I want to make sure no one is taking credit for my work, so put “me” in the stress position. These are examples from fiction, but the same principle applies to nonfiction writing as well.

Shifting Blame with Passive Voice

There’s something else you can do with passive voice, too.

A couple of months ago, I got a notification from Netflix:

Your monthly subscription rate is rising.

Funny how they don’t mention who’s raising it.

Now, pedants will argue that the verbs “rise” is not the same as the verb “raise,” and that the first sentence isn’t technically passive voice because the sentence is expressing a state of being in lieu of an action. FINE. How about this one:

A data breach was discovered, and your data may have been compromised.

Both parts of this compound sentence are passive voice. Who discovered this data breach? And who compromised the data?

This is a hypothetical example, but companies that have experienced data breaches may choose to use passive voice to obfuscate a few things. If they say, “We discovered a data breach,” they may have to acknowledge that there was a period of time that they did not know the data had been compromised. And if they say, “Hackers may have stolen your data,” they have to acknowledge the presence of the hackers. By using passive voice, they can just… leave those things out.

This is a strategy I myself have recommended in my technical and professional communication classes, but I’m considering changing my stance. Maybe I’ll write a whole post about this one day, but a better PR strategy these days may be to just accept blame and work to write whatever wrong has been committed. And the first step might be using active voice.

And that’s it, folks! We’ve made it to the end of the mini-series on Gopen and Swan’s The Science of Scientific Writing. Which tip do you think will be most useful in your own writing? Let me know in the comments below!

If you want, you can also revisit the other pieces in the series:

That’s a Big Word!

When I was young (we’re talking, like six or seven), I had trouble remembering how to spell my middle name. To help me out, my mom made up a little acronym:

  • Danny’s
  • Elf’s
  • Nose
  • Is
  • So
  • Elongated

That’s right, folks. To help me remember how to spell a six-letter name, Mom taught me a nine-letter, four-syllable word. And it worked! I’ve remembered how to spell “Denise” ever since, though I no longer need the acronym, of course.

My point is, I was a precocious little snot, especially when it came to language acquisition. I was thinking about this story recently, and I had a brainwave.

Introducing: my new Youtube show targeted at kids age 3 – 7, That’s a Big Word!

There are plenty of precocious little snots out there just like me who may be stuck inside with their parents all day thanks to COVID-19 (or, you know, just thanks to summer). Why not help them bolster their young vocabularies with a show that’s simple, fun, and educational? So I made a pilot and threw it up on Youtube.

It was a lot of fun to do, and I think I’m going to produce a few more at the very least. If there’s enough interest, I’ll possibly branch off and give the show its own channel and Facebook presence. So let me know what you think about it! Comment here or like the episode on Youtube. And, of course, give it a share if you know someone who’d enjoy it!

Fight for Racial Justice

Serious post time, and a call to action. Help me support organizations fighting for racial justice and anti-racism work. If you donate to one of the organizations listed in the comments and send me a screen shot of your donation, I’ll provide one of the services to you at no (additional) cost:

  • $10: Copy edit of a resume/CV, cover letter, or other one-page (>800 words) document
  • $20: Copy edit of a resume/CV AND cover letter, or other two-page (>1600 words) document
  • $25: Complete reworking/revision of a resume/CV OR cover letter, or other one-page document
  • $40: Complete reworking/revision of a resume/CV AND cover letter, or other two-page document
  • $50: Write resume/CV or cover letter from scratch, given you provide the info
  • $100: Write resume/CV AND cover letter from scratch, given you provide info. Includes (if desired) a 30-minute video conference call to discuss how to target resume and cover letter to a specific job.
  • >$100: Just PM me. We’ll work something out.

Organizations to support:

In order to prove you donated and get the conversation started, find me on Facebook and send me a message.

The Science of Good Writing: What’s the Missing Piece?

This post is part of a series on the “science” of good writing, based on the article “The Science of Scientific Writing” by Gopen and Swan. Want to start at the beginning of the series? That’s cool. Otherwise, keep on reading!

There’s this Youtube series from food magazine Bon Appetit called Gourmet Makes. In it, Claire Saffitz, a pastry chef, attempts to make gourmet versions of pre-packaged, shelf-stable treats–everything from Pop Rocks to Pringles. Through trial and error, Claire comes up with a recipe and procedure for that week’s gourmet treat. It’s a wonderful series and you should go watch it–after you finish reading this post, of course.

But why am I talking about Gourmet Makes on a writing blog? Because the whole crux of that show is Claire’s ability to guess her way into creating a recipe. She has this uncanny ability to try something, taste it, and then say, “It still needs X.”

In my last post, I wrote about how you can meet reader expectations by putting certain information in certain places–you put old information in the topic position and new information in the stress position, and you keep your subjects and verbs close together.

But sometimes, writing isn’t confusing because of how we arrange the sentences, it’s confusing because of what’s not in them. It still needs… something, but how do we know what it needs?

Take this sentence, for example:

I needed to go to the grocery store, but it was the day after Halloween.

Depending on your particular cultural context, your first thought may have been, “So what?” What about this sentence, though:

I needed to go to the grocery store, but it was Christmas Day.

If you’re from a country like the United States, where most stores are closed on Christmas Day, you immediately understood the problem of the second sentence. But if you’re from the United States, you may not have understood why it would be a problem to go to the store the day after Halloween.

In the United States, where I’m from, it typically wouldn’t be a problem to go to the grocery store on the day after Halloween. But in Luxembourg, where I currently live, it is. Luxembourg is a majority Catholic country, and November 1st, All Saint’s Day, is a federally recognized holiday. And most businesses, not just grocery stores, are closed on federal holidays. To fully understand the first example sentence above, you have to know all three of those things: that I live in Luxembourg, that the day after Halloween is a federal holiday, and that stores are closed on federal holidays.

When you write for an audience, there will always be some things your audience already knows that you don’t need to tell them. But it can be hard to know precisely what they do know and what they don’t know, especially if you’re an expert writing about a topic.

Luckily, sometimes we can figure out when something is missing–just like our hero, Claire–just by using the strategy we learned in the previous blog post. If we make sure that old information comes at the beginning of a sentence, in the topic position, and new information comes at the end of a sentence, in the stress position, we can figure out what information is missing.

Let’s take a revised version of the paragraph above, where I explained about November 1st, and see if we can figure out what’s missing. I’ll put old information in italics and new information in bold.

I currently live in Luxembourg. Luxembourg is a majority Catholic country, and November 1st, All Saint’s Day, is a federally recognized holiday. I can’t go to the store on All Saint’s Day.

Can you spot what’s missing? In each sentence, I used old information in the topic position and new information in the subject position, but that last sentence can still be confusing if you don’t fill out the missing logical leap–that most stores are closed on federally recognized holidays, unlike most holidays in the States.

These logical leaps can be confusing, and they can also be hard to spot! One way to find them is to look at all pieces of new information in your paragraph and to ask yourself, have I given enough context, enough old information, so that the new information will make sense to the reader?

Unfortunately, sometimes you can do all of these steps and still not spot a logical gap. And that’s why it’s important to have other people read your work when you can. But that’s a blog post for another day.

So, what do you think of the strategies from The Science of Scientific Writing so far? Have they helped you in any way? Let me know in the comments, and maybe share this post as well! Or maybe check out the other posts in the series:

Enjoy, and happy writing!

5 Reasons You Should Stop What You’re Doing and Go Read Steel Crow Saga Right Now

I knew I would love Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger from the book’s very first scene, not even five minutes into the audiobook. A character is moping because the boy he has a crush on is interested in a girl, and his younger sister brightly reassures him, “But you can like both! I know kids at school who like both!”

But the book’s extremely good LGBT+ representation not the only reason I continued to love this book the more I listened to it. Hell, no. It has amazing CHARACTERS. Strong THEMES. Outstanding WORLDBUILDING.

But that’s not all. It also has FASHION. And FOOD. And WORDS. Lots and lots of good ones.

And, like all good books, it will give you FEELZ. So, so many feelz.

My goal with this review is to convince you to go read it for yourself. Whether you go bug your local librarian for it, support your local bookstore, grab it from a big box store or online retailer, or listen to the audiobook like I did, I don’t care. Go gitchu a copy so we can nerd out about it together.

Oh, and I should mention, this post has no affiliate links, and I did not receive a free advance copy for review. I’m writing this book because I want, no, need, other people to go read it so we can squee about it together.

And because that is my goal, I’m going to try to write a spoiler-free review. Maybe in the future I’ll write a spoiler-filled review so that you can know precisely what made me squee the most.

For now, though, you can read my spoiler-free squees. So, without further ado, here are the TOP 5 THINGS I loved about Steel Crow Saga.

THE PEOPLE

There are four protagonists in Steel Crow Saga: Tala, a soldier with a secret; Jimuro, the crown prince of a recently-crumbled empire; Xiulan, twenty-eighth princess of a neighboring kingdom; and Lee, a thief with pretty much nothing to lose. Tala has been tasked with escorting Prince Jimuro back to his country’s capital safely, while Xiulan recruits Lee into trying to kidnap the prince. She wants to present Jimuro as a gift to her father in order to win his favor and perhaps a future seat on her own throne.

Each of these characters is a fully realized creation, with their own beliefs, goals, interests, and flaws. They have distinct personalities, which are reflected in their mannerisms, their internal conflicts, and even their dialogue. And despite their flaws—or because of them?—I found myself rooting for each and every one of them, even though most of them are literally working against each other throughout most of the book.

What’s more, as I mentioned before, these and other characters in the book represent a wide spectrum of genders and sexualities in a way that felt natural and not at all tokenizing.

THE WORLDBUILDING

Author Paul Krueger has described Steel Crow Saga as Pokémon meets Fullmetal Alechemist. And it is definitely that, but it’s also so much more (with no shade meant to either Pokémon or FMA).

 It’s a fantasy epic in a world very much but also not at all like our own. The book opens almost immediately after the once-again sovereign nations of Sanbu, Shang, and Dahal have joined forces to overthrow the colonialist rule of the Tomodanese Empire. Each of these four nations—as well as the still-subjugated people of Jeongson—have their own distinct cultures, beliefs, customs, languages, and prejudices.

Krueger paints this world—these worlds—with a thousand tiny brush strokes, small details that make for a gorgeous bigger picture, like a Monet or a Van Gogh. Cars don’t work the same way in Tomoda as they do in Shang. Tala, a Sanbuna, repeatedly laments the lack of coffee in Tomoda throughout much of the book; the Tomodanese are tea-drinkers. The cultures blend and clash in other ways, as well—in greeting customs, in fashion, and, perhaps most interestingly, in food. Don’t read this book while hungry.

One of the biggest ways that these cultures differ is their use of magic. The way Krueger describes these magical systems and the ways the magic looks and feels is magical in and of itself.  

The magic of the peoples of Sanbu and Shang is called shade pacting. A shade pact is a magical agreement between a person and an animal wherein each being promises something to the other in return for a piece of their soul. The animal becomes the person’s lifelong companion, living inside them until they are called.

The people of Tomoda find shade pacting to be… problematic, to put it lightly. Their magic is called metal pacting. They are able to manipulate metal in a number of magical ways—like heating it to make it hotter or moving or guiding it through space. The Dahali, meanwhile, manipulate magic more directly, casting hexbolts made of soul energy.

These distinct, unique modes of magic are deeply entwined in their respective cultures and, in universe, have been used in more than one way to colonize and subjugate—but also to revolt and rebel.

Which brings me to my third favorite thing about this book:

THE THEMES

There’s no way around it, Steel Crow Saga is about empire, and the long, slow, painful process of decolonization. And not just at the macro level, though two of the four main characters are royals whose countries have a history of colonization and the other two are members of colonized nations, only one of which has been recently liberated.

Steel Crow Saga is also about unlearning the internalized biases and personal prejudices that are one of the most harmful tools of empire. It’s also about responsibility, both on an institutional and an individual scale. And on a more personal level, it’s about forgiveness.

THE WORDS

I wish I could be more specific in this review about what I mean when I say, “Krueger does words good.” But I listened to the audiobook, and I’m not in the habit of bookmarking audio segments in Audible, though after listening to this book, I wish I were. But Paul Krueger does words so good that I’m planning on getting at least one text version of the book. I’d prefer print, both because the cover art is divine and so that I can shove it into other people’s hands to make them read it. But since the closest all-English bookstore is a half hour away, I may just go ahead and get it on Kindle now and then buy a print version once I visit the States in December.

What I’m saying is, I’d like to be able to share the specific sentences that made me literally pause the audiobook just to whisper, “Damn, that was good,” to myself while my spouse eyed me with raised eyebrows, but I can’t. At least not yet.

THE FEELZ

Whoo, doggy, the feelz. And boy, do I mean all of them. Steel Crow Saga is a roller coaster of emotions from start to finish, in the absolute best way possible. Hope, despair, betrayal, guilt, joy, sorrow, that little hitch in your stomach when you haven’t quite figured out you like someone yet but they do something and it just hits you in that waySteel Crow Saga’s got it all.

Let me put it this way. I am not ashamed to say I cried in public a little bit as I listened to this book, and I’m also not ashamed to say I outright sobbed at the end, awkwardly and silently because my spouse was on a video call with his adviser in the other room and I didn’t want to disrupt them. I couldn’t help the very loud sniffles, though, so maybe I should have just wailed.

And I think that’s all I can give you without being too spoiler-y. I’ve also droned on for almost 1500 words now, so I’ll start to wrap things up. As a bonus, though, I want to give you the sixth thing I really loved about Steel Crow Saga:

THE REFERENCES

Krueger has been open about a few of the book’s references—Pokémon and FMA, obviously—but those aren’t the only two IPs he pays homage to in the book. And each one I encountered was so delightful, I laughed out loud when I heard it. The first time I heard one, I was like, “Wait, did he just—” but by the second one, I knew it was intentional. Maybe there were more, too, that I didn’t catch, which is another reason I’m so eager to give the book a re-read.

All right! What about you? Have you read Steel Crow Saga yet? If not—what are you waiting for? Let me know in the comments!

Also, if you liked this review, and want to read more of my Book Opinions, you can follow me here or on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @claysad.

The Science of Good Writing: The Structure of Reader Expectations

This post is part of a series on the “science” of good writing. You can read the first two posts here and here if you’d like, but you can also just dive right in!

As I discussed in my last post, one key to good writing is to meet reader expectations. If you don’t meet reader expectations, it can pull the reader out of the text, like plucking a long strand of hair out of your spaghetti bolognese. Yuck.

So how do you meet reader expectations?

It can be really hard, and I mean, really hard to know exactly what your readers will expect. Luckily, though, Gopen and Swan give us a few suggestions based primarily on the structure of our prose.

What do I mean by structure? Really, what they’re talking about is sequential order. In fiction, we talk about stories having a beginning, middle, and end. Often–but not always–things happen in chronological order. The beginning of the story tells what happened first; the middle describes what happened next, and in the end, we find out what happened last.

But we can talk about sequential order of nonfiction prose, too, and on an even smaller scale than beginning, middle, and end. We can talk about the order of sections, the order of paragraphs, or even the order of sentences.

These are all very important. But we can also talk about the order of the information and words in our sentences. And that’s where Gopen and Swan focus several pieces of their advice. They essentially have three things to say about sequential ordering within sentences:

  • The first part of the sentence is called the topic position. This is where you put the topic of the sentence, which is usually old information.
  • The second part of the sentence is called the stress position. This is where you put information that you want to stress, or emphasize. Often, this is new information.
  • You should put the sentence’s subject as close to its verb as you can.

I’ll use the bullet points above as examples. I’ll italicize the topic position and bold the stress position.

The first part of the sentence is called the topic position.

In this sentence, “The first part of the sentence” is old information. You know that I’m about to talk about sentence ordering, so the phrase “The first part” is expected information. However, “topic position” was new information at that point, and I wanted to emphasize that piece of jargon. So, I put it in the stress position.

In addition to using the topic position and the stress position in ways that readers expect, you want to keep subjects and verbs as close together as you can, as often as you can. Unfortunately, this does mean you need to be able to identify subjects and verbs. I don’t have a blog post on this topic just yet, but you can check out this quick refresher from grammarbook.com if you’d like.

So let’s use the last bullet point above as an example. I’ll italicize the subject and bold the verb.

You should put the sentence’s subject as close to its verb as you can.

In this case, the subject is right next to the verb. That makes it easier on the reader than, say, this sentence:

The subject of the sentence you, the esteemed author, are carefully writing, with all its great importance to the comprehensibility of the sentence of which it is a constituent, needs to be as close to the verb as humanly possible.

I’m not going to lie. That sentence was as fun to write as it was confusing to read. There are a whole twenty-six words and four commas in between the subject and the verb! Yeesh!

In theory, those rules are pretty easy to follow. But they can be difficult to put into practice. Why? Because they require you to take a step back from your writing and think about the structure of each sentence, which takes time. But if you do take that time, you can make your writing that much better.

Stay tuned for more writing tips from Gopen and Swan! Next up: figuring out what’s missing in a piece of writing. And here’s a preview of past and coming attractions, otherwise known as the other posts in this series:

Happy reading!

New Episode of Gig Hunters Out!

Hey, did you know I publish a serial novel weekly on Tapas? Well, I do! And as of yesterday, episode Nine of Gig Hunters is out!

What is Gig Hunters?

Think Supernatural meets True Blood in the gig economy. Freelance monster hunters Chris Carroll and Loyalty Stevens don’t have a ton in common, except a love of used-to-be-mythical creatures and a need to pay the bills.

Check it out today, and let me know what you think in the comments!

Revise and Resubmit… Again.

Remember like two weeks ago when I posted about the revising and resubmitting process in the short fiction market? And how I said it was frustrating because I never got any feedback?

Well, now I have to eat my words because I did get some feedback! Mmm, tasty words.

I didn’t get a ton of feedback, but a little bit of feed back is still feedback, so today I worked on applying it to the story.

And you know what?

It’s a better story.

Big shocker, I know.

I didn’t use all of the feedback, for two reasons. One, I wasn’t sure I agreed with part of it. The editor said a part of the story felt a bit rushed, and I rather liked the pacing of that section. Two, expanding that section would have taken up even more space in 2700-word story I am planning to submit to a journal that seeks stories of 3,000 words and under, and I wanted to expend those 300 additional words at the end of the story. The editor said the ending was rushed, and that, I definitely agreed with.

And I like this ending much, much better than my original ending.

So, I’m going to let it rest for a bit and submit it somewhere else soon. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe they’ll say the same thing, that the part I didn’t change was a bit rushed, or just reject it without giving a reason. Then I guess I’ll give that section another look.

We’ll see how it goes.