Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ordering Your Words

I've been noticing something lately. It makes a difference in clarity, sound, and rhythm—depending on what order you put your words when you have a list of things or a pair of items.

Example 1 
A. Lanai went shopping and brought home boxes of cereal, lettuce, and red radishes.
The main problem with this sentence is CLARITY. If you're not careful with constructions like this, it'll sound like Lanai brought home boxes of all three things: cereal, lettuce, and red radishes. Watch out when you use prepositional phrase structures like this (of cereal, in his hair, on the fence, etc). It's best to put those phrases at the END of a sentence:
B. Lanai went shopping and brought home lettuce, red radishes, and boxes of cereal.
Notice I didn't put the red radishes first—because that might cause the same problem as above. The adjective "red" might be erroneously applied to the lettuce and the boxes of cereal (red radishes, red lettuce, and red boxes of cereal).

The second version is also better, in my opinion, for RHYTHM. I've been noticing lately that things in series often sound better when the items are ordered from simple to complex, and also fewer syllables to more syllables. Even when clarity is not an issue:

Example 2
A. The last time I hung out at the club, I danced with Bertoldo, John, and Marty.
B. The last time I hung out at the club, I danced with John, Marty, and Bertoldo.

--Is it just me, or does the B sentence flow better here? That line starts with the shorter name and progresses to the multi-syllable one. Simple to complex, a natural build-up. Although it might make a difference what the consonants are in each word; things may not flow as well. Another good reason to read your manuscript ALOUD

Example 3
A. She stretched out her arms, twirling madly and closing her eyes and laughing.
B. She stretched out her arms, laughing and closing her eyes and twirling madly.
C. She stretched out her arms, laughing and twirling madly and closing her eyes.

--What about these lines? To me, the A and B ones sound okay, but not as flowing. 
--The C line seems to flow the best to me, which meshes with the simple-to-complex theory I've been experimenting with.

Example 4
A. I couldn't figure out which sweater to wear, the burgundy or the purple.
B. I couldn't figure out which sweater to wear, the purple or the burgundy.

Example 5
A. With the dye, he turned his hair frizzy and black.
B. With the dye, he turned his hair black and frizzy.
C. With the dye, he turned his hair ink-black and frizzy.

Example 6
A. The only things he forgot to bring were xylophones, grapes, and scissors.
B. The only things he forgot to bring were grapes, scissors, and xylophones.

--In Example 4, the B sentence flows better to me (unless I read them over too many times in a row and they ALL start sounding weird/fine, ha!)
--Example 5 flies in the face of my simple-to-complex theory, because I actually think I prefer the A or C sentences. Perhaps it's the consonants, the overall sound of the words?
--I can't decide on Example 6. The B line sounds smooth, but I have to admit A has a certain rhythmic charm all its own. 

I'm sure there are other exceptions to my general theories here.

At any rate, the point is to consider what you're writing—don't just plop those words down in a series or list of things and be done with them. When you're done with your first draft and wearing your editing hat, contemplate your words. Listen to the sounds! Practice your "poetic" ear. Tweaking the order might improve the flow of your sentences.

And at the very least, check for CLARITY in your series or lists of things.

Have you ever thought about the order of your words in a list or series?
Do you agree with my "ear," or do other lines sound better to you in these examples?
Which line sounds better to you in Example 6, A or B?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Fresh Goals for 2014

Whether you make specific New Year's resolutions or not, it's good to have goals for life and writing. For one thing, it can make you feel really productive at the end of the year! Reading counts too, because it's important for writers to expose themselves to what's current and what else is out there in Published Land.

My 2013 Re-Cap
1. Substantially re-edited my agented novel SHAPERS. It's growing stronger!
2. Finished a light fantasy novel and got critique partner feedback on it.
3. Critiqued others' manuscripts with detailed feedback.
4. Started a new light fantasy novel, and am 2/3 done with it.
5. Attended the North-California SCBWI holiday event and met new writer friends.
6. Read more YA books than I ever have in years past. Goodreads said I read 20, but those were just the ones I actually remembered to write down.  
7. Actually did some artwork: Etch-a-Sketch drawings, sketches, a painting.

My 2014 Goals
1. To find a publisher home for SHAPERS (somewhat out of my control, but still).
2. Finish the last 100 pages of my WIP, probably before March.
3. Attend the Big Sur Writing Workshop March 7-9: intensive event with critique groups led by editors and agents! Spendy, but may take my writing to the next level. Link: HERE.
4. Attend the April North-California SCBWI conference in Sacramento.
5. Exercise, stretch, and move around in between writing sessions!
6. Don't neglect relationships in my life because I'm writing.
7. Keep reading YA books, especially in my genres (fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian).

What are your writing or life goals for 2014?
Have you heard of the Big Sur Writing Workshop before?
If you're a picture book to young adult writer, are you a member of SCBWI?

Happy New Year 2014!
I value your friendship, and wish great things for you and your writing this coming year.