In a Wall Street Journal Wordcraft essay, Karen Thompson Walker, celebrated author of The Age of Miracles, observes that as a young writer, her sentences rarely did more than one thing at a time. It took her years to learn that they were meant to do more than “stand around and look pretty.” They must work hard:
–carry the plot, evoke images, and convey meaning through tone, meaning and voice. One more thing, “the best sentences surprise us.”
In her essay, she unpacks a few one-liners from great writers and explains that when sentences operate on multiple tracks, “the story begins to operate on multiple levels as well.”
I agree. Take a look at your sentences. Are they “bringing home the bacon, frying it up in the pan, and never ever, ever letting you forget you’re a man”? Now what does that sentence evoke?
Read the complete text of her essay, “Sentences Sentenced to Hard Labor” at:
Hello from the Dogpatch!
One time a college I was teaching for sent a photographer to my house wanting to take a publicity shot of me in my “creative space.”
The guy showed up to see where I work—I tidied up my little basement desk and even stuck a dried flower in a vase. He settled for a pic of me sitting in a rocking chair in my living room with a stack of galleys on my lap writing fake notes with a pencil.
“If you smile a little less, your eyes won’t be so crinkly,” he said.
I used to work a lot harder to decorate my writing space. During grad school, I hung giant sticky notes over my desk with important-looking chapter outlines for my culminating creative project. I’d use different-colored Sharpies to scrawl cryptic messages to myself, like “Juanita wouldn’t be afraid of the buffalo.”
Those big sticky notes really made me feel like a writer.
When I moved from the SF Bay area to Bellingham, I ended up with a little daylight basement to use as an office. The sticky notes of course came with, along with pics of cute Liv Tyler that I cut out of magazines and laminated, since Livvie is the closest visual approximation of the Juanita character in my mind.
One day a guy came to fix something broken and asked if the pictures of Liv/Juanita were pics of me.
I snorted. “For crying out loud,” I said. Or something like that. Continue reading
This just shot through the ether and landed on Dogpatch’s doorstep. Kristen’s post is guaranteed to muscle you into the writing zone. Enjoy!
“Two things to get straight from the beginning: I hate doctors and have never joined a support group in my life. At seventy-three, I’m not about to change. The mental health establishment can go screw itself on a barren hilltop in the rain before I touch their snake oil or listen to the visionless chatter of men half my age. I have shot Germans in the fields of Normandy, filed twenty-six patents, married three women, survived them all, Continue reading
Hello from the Dogpatch! We’re jumping out of our skins and very honored to present this guest post from Cecile’s Writers in The Hague—Sofia, Samir, Vanessa, and Cecile—an awesome foursome of bloggers and the editors of the upcoming Cecile’s Writers Magazine, a literary magazine for intercultural writers.
In general, the Dutch know and understand a certain level of English. And we’re all very happy to switch to English to make it easier for people who don’t understand Dutch. (Though most never consider the possibility that the other person is trying to learn the language.) Yet even though most Dutch people know English, there aren’t many who write fiction in English.
Luckily, there are a few who do. Editing their stories is an intriguing process. Ungrammatical sentences are easy to spot and to fix. However, there are plenty of sentences that aren’t wrong in the grammatical sense, but still don’t come across as natural. For example, as a teacher I often heard the phrase ‘How late is it?’ instead of ‘What time is it?’ It’s easily corrected, but whether I would change it depends on the voice throughout the story. The structure can reveal much about the origins of the author.
When I write, I try to avoid such sentences, but in the end, I’m not a native English speaker and that will remain evident in my writing. Now, is that a bad thing? It depends. Some people are put off by it. (Usually, these people tend to have heart attacks when they come across spelling mistakes in newspapers, etc.) Others don’t mind. When editing stories written by non-native English speakers, I can correct all those sentences (as far as I recognize them), but that’s not the objective at Cecile’s Writers Magazine. We like to keep the unique voice of the writers provided sentences make grammatical sense.
—Cecile Continue reading