Structure

self aggrandizing aaron

Welcome back, everyone. Last time we touched a little bit on the words would and could, and how they make writing sound weak.

This time, I want to touch on something a little bit different, yet it is still correlated to weak writing. I want to talk about the overall structure of sentences and paragraphs.

Once again, I’ve delved into the works of a “Best Selling Author”. I put it in quotations because this is an excerpt of the first few lines of Gary Lindberg’s The Shekinah Legacy. This is another author who simply says he’s a best seller, and he even goes so far as to photoshop a best selling award label onto the cover of his books, but if you check his books’ rankings, he’s far from best seller status.

That said, if he chose to misrepresent his books, he may have achieved Amazon Best Seller; it isn’t difficult to do. All you need is to choose an obscure set of labels for your book, like Free Masonry and Christian Murder. Then, you sell three copies, and your book is a “best seller”, for two or three hours, but long enough to snap a screen shot of your rank, and then you can show everyone how amazing you are, calling yourself a “Best Selling Author”.

Readers, however, see right through it. Readers take a look at the first pages of a book, and they know right away if the author has the makings of a best seller.

Best selling authors have great editors to translate the author’s dry account into a wonderful experience. This book either lacked an editor, or Lindberg used an incompetent editor.

As always, I have provided the original, published work—just a couple of lines, which any lookie-loo can scrutinize by taking advantage of Amazon’s look inside feature—followed by my inspection and rewrite, and the reason behind it.

Let’s take a look.

Some day you will read this, my dear, and see more clearly how things came to be. I pray to God that you will forgive me for not having had the wisdom or foresight to prevent the tragedies that befell our little family, though the great sweep of history was against us, as you know.

Alright, that’s not a terrible opener. It’s only two sentences, and paragraphs are normally a minimum of three sentences, but this is somewhat appealing; we know that someone has left someone else a note. We know there was some tragedy, but what is this business of a great sweep? The metaphor has eluded me. Furthermore, it is my belief that this should have been in italics; style matters as structure is more than the just the order of words, it is also the punctuation we see, as that punctuation changes the voice and tone in a reader’s head.

You may remember that I have always been a compulsive note taker; perhaps that’s why I was drawn to broadcast journalism where my notepad and digital voice recorder were my most faithful companions. My notes are serving me well now.

Okay, the monologue was originally referring to their little family, right? Tragedies befell them and all that; but now we see something strange. It reads You may remember that…. which begs the question; how can such a tight family forget? Obviously, they won’t, which makes that first sentence a little awkward, plus it goes on to say that perhaps, that was why he was drawn to journalism. People usually know why they enter a career field, especially one so complex and demanding as broadcast journalism, which requires years of schooling and internships. Moreover, I don’t really know what note taking has to do with broadcast journalism; they aren’t really note takers; they’re investigators, who might take notes.

I have never had trouble finding the start of a story except for this one. The real story, I’m sure, began thousands of years ago, but it seems now that the best lead-in to our story was in Iraq, so I will begin there. Every good news story starts with a teaser to grab the audience, and this one certainly got my attention.

Wait a minute! Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait! We just read a moment ago that his notes were serving him well. What happened? Also, the word our, which is italicized, was underlined in the original work. On top of that, we’re getting so many mixed messages that none of this makes any sense.

His notes are serving him well, but he can’t find the beginning of the story, yet he’s sure it began thousands of years ago. It’s all over the place and confusing. Let’s push forwards.

I remember that it was impossibly hot and dry on that Tuesday morning in Baghdad. The wind had stirred up a dust storm so thick that you could stare directly at the sun without hurting your eyes. Everything around us was eerily tinted orange. It was like being stuck in a block of amber looking out. I turned to my cameraman, Curt.

Hold the phone, Sally. Just a moment ago, we were told that every news story starts with a teaser to grab the audience, and that this one certainly got his attention. What’s the teaser? What’s happening? Has the internal monologue—the note—ended? Are we in the story now, or is this still the note that the person is supposedly reading? If it is, why is the weather important? What is it like to be stuck inside a block of amber? Doesn’t that cause death? Looking through a block of amber, perhaps, but this is just bad writing, bad story telling.

This is not best selling material…but it can be turned into best selling material by a real editor. I’m not questioning the appeal, ingenuity, or entertainment value of the story hidden between the poor structure; I’m questioning the value of the poor structure, but I think I can patch it up.

My rewrite:

My Dear, I hope that you read this one day and understand how things came to be. I pray to God that you will forgive my lack of wisdom, my lack of foresight, the very causes of the tragedy that befell our family. The great sweep of history, however, is against us.

(My notes: I still don’t know what a great sweep is, but I’ll leave it as it may be the author’s personal touch. You’ll noticed I italicized it all, which I’ll bet makes it sound like it’s echoing in your head now, right? It is also three sentences long.)

You know I’ve always been a compulsive note taker—it’s why I was drawn into broadcast journalism—my notepad and digital voice recorder, my eternal companions. My notes are certainly serving me well, or they were…now I find myself unable to pinpoint the beginning of a story, a story I’m sure began thousands of years ago, yet all the details point to Iraq, so I’ll begin there.

Look at that change. We know they know he was a compulsive note taker. He isn’t wondering what pulled him to journalism, his devices aren’t faithful, as that doesn’t make sense, but eternal companions, and we see that his notes were serving well, but now, there is trouble. Suspense has been built. We can practically hear the deliberation in his voice. We have been pulled in.

I cut the line about the teaser. That sentence bugged me to no end because the teaser is never provided, and I’m not going to come up with one. A real editor tells his writer to provide at least one or two lines if he’s going to mention the teaser at all. Also, I added a scene break between the previous set of lines and these following lines as I believe the note he left behind has ended, and now we are in the story.

That first Tuesday morning in Baghdad was brutally hot and dry. Such a dust storm whirled through the air; the sun was shrouded by an orange haze. It was amidst a coughing fit that I turned to my cameraman, Curt.

We still have the orange haze, we know it’s hot, we know it’s dry, and it’s so hot, dry, and dusty, that he has a coughing fit. Now, this is real. Now, this is a story, and no longer a dry account of things. This is the difference between showing and telling.

Below, read the original. Then, let’s read the rewrite and see how it feels.

Some day you will read this, my dear, and see more clearly how things came to be. I pray to God that you will forgive me for not having had the wisdom or foresight to prevent the tragedies that befell our little family, though the great sweep of history was against us, as you know.

You may remember that I have always been a compulsive note taker; perhaps that’s why I was drawn to broadcast journalism where my notepad and digital voice recorder were my most faithful companions. My notes are serving me well now.

I have never had trouble finding the start of a story except for this one. The real story, I’m sure, began thousands of years ago, but it seems now that the best lead-in to our story was in Iraq, so I will begin there. Every good news story starts with a teaser to grab the audience, and this one certainly got my attention.

I remember that it was impossibly hot and dry on that Tuesday morning in Baghdad. The wind had stirred up a dust storm so thick that you could stare directly at the sun without hurting your eyes. Everything around us was eerily tinted orange. It was like being stuck in a block of amber looking out. I turned to my cameraman, Curt.

Versus

My Dear, I hope that you read this one day and understand how things came to be. I pray to God that you will forgive my lack of wisdom, my lack of foresight, the very causes of the tragedy that befell our family. The great sweep of history, however, is against us.

You know I’ve always been a compulsive note taker—it’s why I was drawn into broadcast journalism—my notepad and digital voice recorder, my eternal companions. My notes are certainly serving me well, or they were…now I find myself unable to pinpoint the beginning of a story, a story I’m sure began thousands of years ago, yet all the details point to Iraq, so I’ll begin there.


That first Tuesday morning in Baghdad was brutally hot and dry. Such a dust storm whirled through the air; the sun was shrouded by an orange haze. It was amidst a coughing fit that I turned to my cameraman, Curt.

There’s a blatant difference in the quality of the two works, although they both insinuate similar ideas, the second version of the story reads far better. It is strong, assertive, and it leaves the reader no wiggle room to envision something else.

Thanks for reading. Comment if you agree or disagree. Share if you want.

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