Thursday, January 27, 2022

Random Writing Tips from Grade School

I was reading a friend's story the other week and, I can't help it, my eye sees typos. (When it comes to my own writing my eye refuses to see typos! lol).

So I emailed him with some suggested corrections. I don't do this with everyone. But he appreciated the heads up. I think most of us want a clean copy going out into the world, right?

Anyway, one suggested change was the use of a number at the beginning of a sentence. His started out with: 25 years ago... (Or something like that, the point being, this sentence started with a numeral.)

Now my mind went back to grade school to something one of my teachers taught me. (Yes, I remember a lot of things my teachers said back then - teachers make big impressions on kids!) And what I recalled was that if a sentence started with a number, it should be spelled out. 

Twenty-five years ago...

Did you learn this rule? I guess it's a matter of style, but it seems right to me. Threre's another rule of thumb regarding numbers and that is somewhere around 100 (maybe?) you can start using the actual number, but until then it's ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, not 99. This ring any bells?

This got me thinking about what else I learned in grade school. Like how I'm not supposed to use the words stuff and things when I write. It's lazy, my teacher said. But what if I'm actually referring to stuff? Pick another word, she said. So to this day I try to avoid using those words. Weird, eh?

Or, the advice to change up the words one uses to begin sentences with. (BTW, I end sentences with prepositions. It's okay, trust me. We're writing in English, not Latin. Plus, I like to start sentences with the words And or But on occassion. It's a matter of voice, people. Voice!)

What I mean by the above bit of advice is if you look at the first word of each of my paragraphs in all of my blog posts, you won't typically see a beginning word repeated more than once or twice. (Unless for stylistic effect.) My teacher hated it when I started each paragraph with the word The. Now I hate it, too!

(Oh, and there's another one. I have to put a comma before the word too at the end of a sentence. Heh.)

Visually, I have to make the reading experience pleasant. :-) Another way to do this is to use short paragraphs. Especially in fiction. Long paragraphs literally kill the reading experience. Literally. (Okay, not literally.)

During seminary, I would read these theological tomes translated from German and either the author or the translater did not believe in paragraphs. Some went on for 2 or 3 pages (or is it two or three pages? I'm confused now). Anyway, what a joy killer.

The opening paragraph in a novel almost requires something eye-grabbing to hook the reader, and shorter paragraphs can do that. I know it's going to be a slog when the first paragraph of some new book I picked up takes the first half of the page.

All this I picked up in grade school. Or maybe high school. Along with many others, of course. Now there are some rules I've abandoned, like starting a sentence with And or But. (I'm also looking at you, double space after a period. Though I can't let go of that second space between state and zip code.) 

But generally, the style "rules" I learned growing up have stuck with me and shaped the way I write today. What writing advice have you learned over the years that you've incorporated into your own particular writing style? 

Comment or message me, I really enjoy hearing about different approaches to writing.

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Keep it clean and positive. (And sorry about the word verification, but the spmb*ts are out in full force!)