Writing Tips: Avoiding Sentence Fragments.

We all know the basic elements of writing a sentence  in English: starting with a capital letter and finishing with some kind of ending punctuation appropriate to the form of the sentence, be it a statement, a question or an exclamation.

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Most people have mastered the fact that each sentence should communicate one key idea, and that they can use punctuation and conjunctions to extend that idea.

However, the use of sentence fragments is a problem I notice frequently, both as a teacher and as an avid reader. They are not the sole domain of people still learning to write: a novel I read over the weekend was littered with them, which frustrated me so much I was sorely tempted not to finish it.

A sentence fragment is a little bit of a sentences that don’t make sense on its own, and really needs either additional information or to be attached to the previous or following sentence in order to make sense.

It’s one thing to speak or send a quick text message using sentence fragments. We do it all the time without thinking twice. When writing for someone else to read our work, though, it’s important to express complete thoughts and to make sense on the first reading.

Example: I have been busy today. Writing this essay. It’s hard going.

This example sentence  fragment can be corrected it in any one of the following ways:

  • I have been busy today, writing this essay. It’s hard going.
  • I have been busy today. Writing this essay is hard going.
  • I have been busy today: writing this essay is hard going.

While it’s true that some writers use sentence fragments for stylistic effect, and may do so very effectively, it’s also true that they need to be proficient in constructing sentences and paragraphs so that they are able to make that technique work for them.  They are useful in writing conversations, communicating a train of thought, tacking on afterthoughts, or reflecting a nervous, excited or angry character.

Most people who write sentence fragments are, alas, painfully unaware that they are even doing it. Their sentence fragments don’t work for them, because they don’t communicate ideas clearly and effectively: in fact, it tends to have the opposite effect.

As writers, we should avoid anything that frustrates or confuses their readers, particularly if they hope to develop a broad and loyal readership.

This highlights the importance of careful proofreading and editing in the writing process.

One of the most effective strategies for finding sentence fragments is to read your work aloud. Your voice and ears will alert you when things don’t sound right, much faster than your eyes will discern it. This is because your brain already knows what you intended to say, and tends to make written errors almost invisible to the eye when reading silently.  

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Avoiding Sentence Fragments.
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Free Short Reads

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It’s Valentines Day on the weekend, and while I don’t pay a lot of attention to the day, I do think it’s a good opportunity to offer something to my readers. Think of it as a small token of my appreciation, if you will.

Among the numerous short reads over  at wordynerdbirdwrites , you’ll find the romantic poem Beloved, a romantic short story titled Montpelier, and a macabre little tale called A Curious Valentine’s Day

There are lots of other poems and stories there too, and it is all free to read. I would like to think there’s something there for every taste.

However you celebrate, or don’t celebrate, Valentine’s Day,  I hope you’ll take some time this week or over the weekend to read something that makes you smile.
I’d be super pleased if that happened to be something I wrote.

Free Short Reads
#WhatToRead #FreeReading #readAwrite

Fairy Lights: A Reflection on Brokenness at Christmas Time.

I wrote this poem a while ago, but it seems so relevant at this point of 2020. Every time my Christmas fairy lights flick on lately, I think of this poem.

It’s the time of year when people want me to attend parties and end of year gatherings for work or other groups. They want me to sparkle, but I feel as though I am still so tangled and frayed and broken, I just can’t.

Yet again, I find myself ‘faking normal’ and smiling and nodding while wishing I could go home and go to bed instead. It’s a well-practised skill that, quite honestly, I wish I had never had to learn in the first place.

Hence my choice of new Christmas decoration, hung lovingly on my tree in honour of the mess that 2020 has been.

It’s fair to say I enjoy this bauble far more than I have enjoyed this year.

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Just like a bundle of fairy lights, stowed carelessly,

I am a mess of entangled emotions

A jumbled catastrophe, knotted and messy,

Some parts are missing, some coloured glass broken;

Synapses misfire in slightly frayed wires:

There’s danger in causing my power to surge,

I don’t always light up the way others desire

But I can be quite lovely when I have the urge.

©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam

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Regarding Reality.

Today, while I was updating my professional development log for the year — a required activity that is about as exciting as it sounds — I discovered a quote in a note I had written a while back. 

My first response that I really like the quote. Then, I wondered why I hadn’t written down who said it. I usually do. 

The next step was, of course, googling it to find the source. 
I googled the whole thing. 
I googled key phrases. 
Surprisingly, I couldn’t find it anywhere. It’s just not out there. 

“Reality is what’s left over of the known universe for those who don’t read books.”

Possibly… me?

Is it possible that I said this? Is it possible that the person who came up with the term “face pants” for a mask has actually had more than one episode of lexical genius in her lifetime? 

As soon as I asked that question, cynical self interjected with the observation that I can’t be much of a genius if I said something this good, and then forgot about it. My optimistic self then reminded me about the existence of absent-minded professors and those super-clever scientists who forget about everything except what they are working on at the time. 

So, the reality is that I may have said this, and written down my own quote, or I may not. My genius may be transient, or subtle, or so ingrained that I can’t recognise it, or largely non-existent.

Given that this is the kind of reality that is likely to do my head in, I am rather glad that I am one of those who reads books. 

Possibly said by me. In the absence of any other options, I’ll claim it.

Regarding Reality.
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Horror-ween Week

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It’s one week today until Halloween. The shops are full of costumes, accessories, and big bags of treats to hand out.

Australians are once again protesting about it being an American thing (it’s not) while they gladly binge-watch American TV series on Foxtel and Netflix, listen to predominantly American music on commercial radio, and argue about whether Coke or Pepsi is better. (It’s definitely Coke.)

Despite the protestations of those Aussie nay-sayers, it’s a week that I quite enjoy. It reminds me of my first Halloween season in Canada, where I learned more about the background of the holiday and started to appreciate it in a different way. I like seeing kids and families out together, dressed up in costumes and walking around my small town, spending time together and having fun that doesn’t involve a screen.

It’s also a time when, like many other horror authors, I’m hoping to put my books in front of people and maybe get a sale or three.

I write spooky short stories, among other things. I work hard to build the right atmosphere, to lure the reader in, and then shock them with a macabre turn of events. I try to appeal to different senses so that they hold their breath while their skin crawls. It’s not splatter for splatter’s sake, and the monsters generally don’t hide under the beds or in the wardrobes of little kids. The monsters I write about are, more often than not, people who seem ordinary in most ways— until they prove they are not.

So, why not try a creepy story? You might enjoy it more than you think!

All in ebook and paperback. Signed copies available.

Horror-ween Week
#Halloween #horror #Halloween2020

Is It Okay To End A Sentence With A Preposition?

The practice of leaving a preposition at the end of a sentence, often referred to as preposition stranding, has long been considered to be “against the rules”. Generations of teachers and grammarians have condemned it as a grammatical taboo. 

That isolated, lonely preposition, separated from its noun, is known as a terminal preposition, and may also be described as danging, hanging or stranded.

Albeit with the best of intentions, this was drummed into me as a child, so I simply accepted it and tried to avoid doing so in whatever I wrote. 

As I got older, though, I came to realise that it’s something we do very naturally in speaking. In fact, avoiding it in spoken English can make what one is saying seem very formal and stilted. 

When I was in high school, one of my History teachers told us a story about one of Winston Churchill’s famous comebacks. On receiving a correction about finishing a sentence with a preposition in the draft of a speech, he responded, “This is nonsense, up with which I shall not put.”  

As it turned out, it probably wasn’t Churchill who first made the joke. I don’t know if he ever did, despite numerous and varied attributions. It has also been attributed to various other people, and there are variations on the line that was said to have been delivered, so it’s hard to know who said what, and when. 

Either way, the story demonstrates that the rule is actually a bit ridiculous. 

So where did this rule come from? And is it something we still have to abide by?

Back in the 1600s, a grammarian named Joshua Poole developed some principles about how and where in a sentence prepositions should be used, based on Latin grammar. 

A few years later, the poet John Dryden, a contemporary of John Milton, took those rules one step further when he openly criticised Ben Johnson— another great poet— for ending a sentence with a preposition. Dryden decreed that this was something that should never be done. Nobody bothered to correct or oppose Dryden, and Ben Johnson certainly couldn’t because he had been dead for years, so Dryden’s strident and public protestations popularised the principle into a rule. Over time, strict grammarians and pedants began to actively oppose the practice, and the rule became widely accepted and firmly established.

Ironically, despite all the wise and clever plays, poetry and essays written by John Dryden, it was his consistent complaint about the terminal preposition that became his most enduring legacy.

Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, published in 1926, calls it a “cherished superstition that prepositions must, in spite of the incurable English instinct for putting them late… be kept true to their name and placed before the word they govern.” Fowler goes on to assert that even Dryden had to go back and edit all of his work to eliminate the terminal prepositions in his own writing. 

In the last century or so, people have become progressively less fussy and worried about it, but some still seem determined to cling to the rule no matter what. 

I advise my students that in formal writing such as essays, speeches, official letters and submissions, it is best to avoid the terminal preposition just in case their reader is someone who might judge them for it. Any other time, in keeping with standard spoken English, they are free to use their prepositions wherever they feel most natural and make the most sense. 

Nobody in the 21st century is going to naturally ask someone “On which char did you sit?” rather than “Which chair did you sit on?”, nor will they say “I wonder for whom that parcel is intended” Instead of “I wonder who that parcel is for.” 

In the 21st century, that really is nonsense up with which we do not have to put.

Sources: 
Quote Investigator
Merriam-Webster
Fowler, H.W (1926) A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford Language Classics, OUP, Reprinted 2002.

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Is It OK to End a Sentence with a Preposition?
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Having Dropped — And Temporarily Lost — The Ball

I’ve been absent.

It seems that I haven’t just dropped the proverbial ball when it comes to blogging regularly, I’ve gone and lost the jolly thing.
I last saw it a couple of weeks ago, when it bounced a couple of times before rolling away through some very prickly bushes and falling into a seemingly bottomless hole.

The thing is, life since that drafted virus unleashed itself on the world has been tumultuous.

I could tell you I haven’t written anything, but that’s not true. I have written some really great lessons and three entire new units because what I had planned (and written) previously wasn’t going to work in an online learning environment.

I could tell you I didn’t have a quarantine project, but that isn’t true either. I’ve had two, both of which happened by necessity rather than design.

Project One: reinventing my career
Initial Observations: Teaching from home is a whole lot more work than it sounds. All that extra time online is very tiring.
Final Observations: Challenging and exhausting, but enormously satisfying. Most students engaged really well. More positives than negatives.
Verdict: Aced it.

Project Two: supporting my father as he spent a couple of weeks in hospital before transitioning into residential aged care.
Initial observations: Lots of phone calls. Mountains of paperwork. Huge emotional adjustments.
Further Observations: Decisions are hard, even when you actually have no choice. Emotions are hard. Being on one mental and emotional roller coaster while your dad is on a completely different one can only be dealt with by hanging on for dear life and completely faking any appearance of knowing what you are doing.
Verdict: Aced it. Especially the part where I looked like I knew what I was doing.

It should also be mentioned that these two significant challenges occurred simultaneously. I didn’t have time to scratch myself, much less spend any more personal time online than I did.

So really, I’ve achieved far more since mid-March than is apparent from my nonexistent output of either blog posts or fiction.

I admit that I have seriously contemplated walking away from writing and/or blogging. Even while considering that, I knew that was the stuff of emotional and mental exhaustion, because I still have ideas and plans bubbling away in the back of my mind. I am not ready to quit, and I would be letting myself down if I did.

I will get my mojo back, even if I’m not sure when that might happen.

Stay tuned, folks. I’m not dead yet.

Why Indie Authors Should Have Their Books on Bookbub

BookBub presents a great opportunity for authors to put their books in front of readers.

There is massive irony in authors complaining that they can’t reach readers or find an audience while failing to list their books on a site where readers will actively look for books in their genre.

Sure, BookBub began as niche marketing, but it has very quickly become mainstream to the point where it’s becoming as popular among readers as GoodReads. There are good reasons for that: BookBub is very user-friendly, well organised and easy on the eye. Sharing a book from BookBub to other social media is straightforward, achieved simply by clicking a couple of buttons. 

As a reader and reviewer, I’m always dismayed when I read a great Indie book and find that I can’t review it on Bookbub because the author or publisher hasn’t listed it there. 

Not only are those authors missing out on free promotion, they are overlooking a place where readers flock to find something new to read. 

As an author, I love BookBub. 

When readers mark one of my books as “Want to Read” all their followers see that. When readers review or recommend one of my books, everyone sees that.  

I get a weekly email that tells me how many profile views, recommendations and new followers I’ve had that week. And it’s completely free to be an author on BookBub. You don’t have to pay for promotion there if you choose not to: that’s totally optional. 

If you’re an author and your books aren’t on BookBub, that’s something you should probably fix sooner rather than later. Unless, of course, you’re happy with lower visibility and fewer opportunities to reach readers. That’s a choice that is entirely yours to make. 

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Why Indie Authors Should Have Their Books on BookBub #IndieAuthorsBeSeen #IndieBooksBeSeen #authorlife #bookmarketing #IndieAuthors #BookBub

Why Friday the 13th Is A Good Day

Far from being unlucky, Friday the 13th is a day that I have reason to enjoy.

Happy Friday the 13th!

I suppose most people are superstitious about something, but for me, this one is a matter of perspective.

My fictional black cat, Friday, leapt into existence on a Friday the 13th. From that first creepy story, he grew into a creature with a mind of his own — like all cats, really— and a killer sense of justice that springs into action whenever someone is behaving very badly. With a twitch of his tail, magic happens and horrible people get what’s coming to them in the most macabre ways. It’s all very satisfying… but of course, punishing people fictionally is like that. 

I so wish Friday was real. There are days when I wish I had someone like that to deliver a dose of poetic justice to someone who particularly deserves it. “This looks like a job for Friday!” has become a catchphrase between my best friends and myself, which comes in quite handy at those times when you can’t express how we feel about someone or a situation as honestly as we might like to. 

I don’t really believe in luck, and I certainly don’t think certain days or black cats are bad luck.

I enjoy Friday the 13th because it reminds me that sometimes great things grow out of chance ideas. And, it’s fair to say, it beats most Mondays hands down. 

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Friday appears in Curious Things and Curious Times by Joanne Van Leerdam. Widely available in all online stores in paperback and ebook.