MOVarazzi

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

773. MOV's Rules About Writing

The most important rule of writing:  There are no rules.  Seriously.  I write in first person, second person (you might like writing this way if you tried it) and even third (Queen Virgo has a thing for third person).  I write long, demented, deranged run-on sentences that twist and turn and convulse then back up only to turn around and lead nowhere but then seductively circle back and make no sense but then mysteriously provide a crucial key that unlocks a joke in a later part of the post.  Yeah, I write that.  And fragments. 

I love fragments.  So much!  Fragments audition for my blog.  They stand, waiting patiently on the side of the desk.  Hopeful.  Frisky.  Nonchalant.  Nervous.  Indifferent.  I see them there, primping, straightening out their letters, standing all alone, moving away when another word tries to be polite and make small talk.  Sometimes I just abandon them, tell them I don’t need them, but they grin because they know I’m lying.  They know.    

Surprise!  One will show up. 
Here is another rule:  Show, don’t tell.  My very disheveled 9th grade English teacher would run around the classroom, tapping an imaginary ruler in her hand, then she would cry out, “Show, don’t tell!”  I had no idea what she was talking about.  I didn’t want to look stupid though, by asking the question that the other 99% of the students already knew the answer to, so I would just nod-nod-nod.  Of course, of course, Mrs. Bowles (with your unflattering bowl cut hairstyle), of course!  Show, don’t tell!  I get it! 

I didn’t really get it.  Not then. 
Twenty years later, I had my Oprah Winfrey lightbulb moment when I was explaining to my younger cousin my definition of good writing. 

“Elyse, you should say, ‘I forgot my coat and it began to snow,’ not ‘I am cold.’  You write, ‘The neighbors had a party and blared heavy metal through the paper-thin walls until 3 AM, and of course I had to be up at 6 for work.  No pot of coffee is large enough for me today,’ not ‘I’m tired.’  You write the situation without spelling it out for the reader, you let them make the connections, do the translations, for themselves.” 
Wait—this was what Mrs. Bowles must’ve meant!  Egads! 
Now I felt like Christopher Columbus when he discovered President Lincoln lied about being shot.   

Huh? 
Yeah, there’s another one of my rules:  don’t do the expected thing.  Avoid clichés.  Don’t say, “Raining cats and dogs” (unless you are a cartoonist and you’re going to provide the visual—then by all means!).  Don’t type “It was pouring outside.”  Find a new, creative way to say it.  How about, “The sky growled, it seemed the black clouds were angry at me personally, and then they released their violent gray pellets of water directed maliciously at my pristine new silk dress.  Yes, the one with the rainbow ribbon at the hem.  The irony was not lost on me.” 

How much more interesting than the pedestrian “cats and dogs.”  The reader has read cats and dogs a million gazillion eleventy billion times, he is sick and tired of cats and dogs.  He feels like he was stampeded by a wild herd of clichés, ugly ones with rabies and matted fur.   

And people don’t like to read more than 500 words.  So stop there. 
MOV

48 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. where have you been, Véronique?????

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    2. I was here, just humbled by all your blogger followers.

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  2. Great, entertaining post about writing. I adore fragments as well. I also love to start sentences with And and But. Annoying to some. A pleasure to me!!!

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    1. Me too! But not all the time.

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    2. I don't use rules when writing, other than to not maul the English language too badly. You won't catch me saying "there is fewer peanut butter in the jar cause Mikey ate it". Fragments are good. Sometimes. And if I concentrate and get to 501 words, I'll just end it like "it was raining cats and...." ":))
      GREAT post MOV.

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    3. Thank you, Gina!

      And Youngman!

      But don't forget Raymond! Thanks to all of you. :)

      best,
      MOV

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  3. Wait til you read my post for tomorrow. I definitely do weird stuff in that one, as far as "rules" go.

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  4. Splendide. Magnifique. Six years of French tumbled out of my mouth as two French fragments. Mon Dieu.

    Susan
    http://travelbug-susan.blogspot.com

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    1. Oh, those French words. They make me swoon.

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  5. Great post. Entertaining but also had some really helpful tips in it. Especially the "show don't tell"! (Bozo - had to change my name)

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  6. Terrific! Great advice.

    "He feels like he was stampeded by a wild herd of clichés, ugly ones with rabies and matted fur." -- That cracked me up! Such a crazy mental image I have now.

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    1. Thank you, Couse. You seem to always pick the line that was my favorite, too. ;)

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  7. The words, humbled by the twisted fates of billions before them, refuse capture. Resigned to their plight, they bubble just near the surface, tantalizing the tongue, yet evading the very air that gives them life.

    Or, I'm speechless.
    Well done.

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  8. I love this! You have given me renewed inspiration with my newly-begun WIP! Thank you.

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  9. I love this so much. Spot on and wonderful and funny. But... but... but... I think a working knowledge of the rules gives us liberty to break them, no? It sometimes is the difference between creative writing and illiterate writing? Or am I just a fusty writing snob? I never can tell. Regardless, this is a great piece.

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    1. Hi Tangled Lou,

      I agree. A fragment? Or purpose? Yes. A fragment that. Was obviously an accident and literally makes no. Sense whatsoever, well that looks dumb.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  10. I break every one of these every single day or minute. And every second. When pigs fly or when it is raining cats and dogs I won't.

    Or will I?

    You have most undoubtedly conformed to my great expectations of injecting sheer brilliance into the heart of every post you magically cast onto the internet world while you weave tales of your paralyzing knowledge and daily duties as a domesticated servant to the wee little people you commonly refer to as "Tall" and "Short."

    That means "This is great!"

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    1. And this means ditto to what CYW said. "This is great" and funny too. Rules are meant to be pushed to the limit, stretched, transmogrified and diddled endlessly. That's the fun part, doing it with style as MOV does. CYW, you're not so bad at it yourself....eh. ":) ~R

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    2. Tracie, I am liking the "magically" part. No one ever called the way I write "magical." THANKS!!

      Raymond, I appreciate your very kind words!!

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  11. This is a pretty good summary of rules. I use most of these, and I looove fragments.

    The one rule I don't use is the 500 words - I hadn't even thought about that until now. Went back and checked my latest piece, and apparently it's 2,500.

    Whoops.

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    1. That's okay. I read it in its entirety.

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    2. Ash-Matic, You made her read it FIVE times? and she did not break up with you? On another note, SO glad your dissertation is over and you can get back to blogging!!!!!! The Blogoverse missed you!

      Erica, It was worth the 2500 words, eh?

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  12. I'm a huge fan of sentences that start with And and But. And also irony. I find that - as I improve at blog-writing - I get worse at writing other stuff!

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    1. Ooooh, Irony is my middle name! Or Ophelia. The birth certificate might say Ophelia.

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  13. I break every rule taught by an English teacher. I blog for a different reason though, mine is a form of therapy. I come to blogs like yours to learn =)

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    1. Thank you, Elsie. That is really sweet of you to say. (*note to self: send Elsie flowers)

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  14. My cousin was working on a college essay this year and her professor told her that she needed to show not tell, basically. I'm going to send her this post.

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    1. Thank you, Erica! (*note to self, send Erica flowers)

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  15. Can I put excerpts from this on the top of a creative writing assignment for my Grade 11 English class? I'll reference your blog, of course. Let me know!

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    1. YES! I am so flattered. :) I wrote another piece a while back that you might also like for your students, here is the link:

      http://mothersofbrothersblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/322-it-is-time-for-some-punctuation.html

      Hope your students are inspired!

      best,
      MOV

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  16. That was amazingness encircling a bowl of awesomesauce. Perfection.

    ~The G is Silent

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    1. Thanks, Kim! Not sure what a bowl of awesomesauce is, but if it has caffeine in it, I am totally onboard.

      Thank you for the nice compliment! (*note to self, flower bill is getting expensive)

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  17. Stop picking on me.

    xoxo Favorite Co-Author

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  18. I like to do this...those periods, right there...I don't remember learning about them in grammatical education sessions, but I like them. They have replaced - as my fave incorrectly made up punctuation! I hope this falls under the umbrella of the rules you have laid out for us...please!

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    1. Hey Andrea,

      FYI, I had an editor correct me on those ellipsis. I know I use them wrong all the time.......... (that was wrong, so don't copy me there!)

      The correct way to use them is this: You write your words, then ... there are three little dots separated with a space on either side. If you are finishing your sentence with them, then four dots (one is the final period) to look like this ....

      If the ellipsis are inside of quotes, do this: "I left the store early, thinking he might already be home ..." (that last space went away because we are inside of quotation marks).

      Hope that helps! If not, come back tomorrow ....

      best,
      MOV

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    2. Uh-oh, now I will feel guilty for using them incorrectly...because I think I still might!

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  19. Hi! I'm new to your blog. I love this post. I think it's fun to make up your rules. I look forward to reading more your blog! :)

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When you write a comment, it makes me feel like I won the lottery or at the very least like I ate an ice-cream sundae. (This has nothing to do with the fact that I did just eat an ice-cream sundae.)