Writing is, of course, composed of sentences. Stringing words together in a particular order conveys meaning so that we can relate to one another and communicate, and it is as simple (or complex... or compound... or compound-complex!) as that.
Every sentence contains a subject and a verb (if a sentence doesn't contain a subject and a verb, it ceases to be a sentence and is instead a phrase). The subject in the sentence describes the who or the what. It is frequently a noun (which is a person, place, or thing). The verb in the sentence describes what is happening or it links the subject to another word. In the sentence "Jane ate", Jane is the subject and ate is the verb. However, if the sentence instead reads "Jane is eating", then Jane remains the subject but is becomes the linking verb. This also means that the linking verb indicates the tense; Jane either already ate in the past or she is eating right now in the present.
Sentences are either active or passive. In an active sentence, the subject performs the action of the verb; in a passive sentence, the subject receives the action of the verb. "Jane ate an apple" is an example of an active sentence. "The apple was eaten by Jane" is an example of a passive sentence. We are encouraged to most often write in the active voice as it tends to be more interesting for the reader and because it reads more clearly.
There are four kinds of sentences:
1. Simple sentence: contains one independent clause (a subject-verb combination), so there is one subject and one verb.
2. Compound sentence: contains at least two independent clauses which are linked by one of the following seven coordinators: and, or, but, nor, yet, for, or so. That means that a compound sentence is two simple sentences strung together.
3. Complex sentence: contains an independent clause plus at least one subordinate (or dependent) clause. There are dozens of subordinate clauses, but a few of them include when, until, after, because, and which. Therefore, a complex sentence is a simple sentence with an explanation or more complex description.
4. Compound-complex sentence: contains at least two independent clauses and at least one subordinate clause.
A word of caution
Beware of run-on sentences! Although it's fun to play around with different lengths of the different types of sentences listed above, it is not necessary to carry on line after line without taking a breath. Shorter, snappier sentences are easier to read and they get the point across quicker. This makes our brains do less work while still receiving the same amount of information.
So why use it?
If you don't use sentences, you'll probably have rather a lot of difficulty in getting yourself understood! Besides the importance of communication, knowing how to write a good sentence can be useful in all manner of business and public relations. Poor sentence structure tends to be associated with being uneducated and can severely undermine your prospects for progressing and succeeding in our society. To be taken more seriously and to be viewed as a professional, pay attention to how you write your sentences. Are you conveying the information that you intend? Is your meaning getting across to others? These questions are vital to ask.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, if you have something you'd like to add, or if I have horribly misused my own sentence structure (this is, as ever, a learning process for all of us).
Every kind of writing requires a different sort of style to represent it. A newspaper column is different from a film script is different from a self-help book is different from classic literature is different from a cookbook... the list goes on. Indulging in one style of writing more frequently than another certainly enhances our abilities with that particular style, but neglecting other forms of writing can also hinder our growth and development as a writer in other areas.
As accustomed as I have become to writing the informal, short articles posted on my blogs, I find that with every day that passes it is easier to come up with ideas and put them to paper. Experience generates both creativity and confidence. But I have also been feeling a distinct lack in other departments of my writing style as my focus has zeroed so closely in on blogging as my preferred mode of expression.
When I was younger, fiction was my genre of choice. I reveled in short stories and novels both. Creativity flowed from the imagination. Now that my passion for health has an outlet for writing at Living Healthy in the Real World and at The Uniter, I have been neglecting the imagination and taking more of an interest in "the real world", as it were. But even with my blogging, I have been plugging away at a short novella over the past couple years, picking it up and writing a page or two here and there when I got the chance. This summer I finally decided that it's about time I really sit down and work hard on completing my novella so that it can be shared with others. For the past few months I have been hard at work on tightening and expanding it, editing out what doesn't fit and editing in what does.
Before I send the completed copy of my work to publishing companies, I like to ask those closest to me to read it over and let me know what they think. Honesty and constructive criticism are my best friends at this stage. More than ever, the response that my story received this time around was that my writing style has developed considerably in the years since I last wrote fiction.
I was also immensely pleased when one friend returned my manuscript to me with approval but also with about six extra pages of edits. It is, quite possibly, the most constructive of criticism I have ever received, and because of the editing that she has done for me I know that I will have to work incredibly hard if I want to have the story completed within the next couple months. I could not be happier! Without that kind of brutal honesty, the story would be more likely to be tossed aside and dismissed by publishers. In fact, it is because of her editing job that a dozen more ideas have come to mind which will be incorporated into the story, making it something far different from what I had intended but countless times better.
I know that my overall writing has improved from blogging, but I also know that my story really needed the help of my friend's editing job to be something worth reading. Because I haven't been writing fiction for such a long time my writing in that style is not as strong as it could have been otherwise. Another set of eyes helps to guide the writing, reminding me of all the tricks and techniques of style that I can employ which I do not normally use when I am blogging or writing my Living Well column.
No matter what your preference in writing is, as long as you keep at it, your writing cannot help but improve. Writing in a style different from the usual, however, can broaden your perspective, allowing for a multitude of possibilities in improving your writing skills. When we write in a few different styles our capabilities expand and our writing can see much more of its true potential. As writers we can evolve and gain so much from playing with our writing. An extra pair of eyes always helps, too, especially when it comes to finalizing our piece and presenting it to the world in a way that most accurately gets across what we are trying to express.
What type of writing do you enjoy the most? How can you improve your writing so that it can reach its full potential?
Kenneth Burke's Dramatistic Pentad goes hand in hand with the Narrative Paradigm because of the focus on human motivation and theatrics. The kind of language that we use and the way we express ourselves are strategies to convince others of our viewpoints. If the speaker has the ability to identify with the audience, they can then elicit sympathy.
The Dramatistic Pentad is made up of five elements:
1. Act: what happened.
2. Scene: where it happened. This includes circumstances, location, and time (temporal, spatial, and environmental).
3. Agent: "who"; the actor. Co-agents and counter-agents are also involved.
4. Agency: how it happened and the instruments and methods used.
5. Purpose: why it happened.
Although these five elements are combined in a narrative, usually only one or two are dominant in the story. Scenes and acts are the most commonly used. Agents are sometimes at the core of the story but purpose rarely is. In news stories, for example, we often hear what happened and how it happened, and who it happened to, but the reason why is not so crucial to the telling. This in itself is an interesting note to make on how our society is run.
By placing emphasis upon the scene we can deflect the responsibility of the agent. Scene is frequently used as the scapegoat so that the agent is not at fault. Any story can be twisted to shift the emphasis from one element of the pentad to the next: "The criminal robbed three banks in one night" conveys a different image than "In just one night, three banks were robbed". When a newspaper wishes to victimize a criminal, they will discuss the criminal's history and the awful experiences that they have been subject to rather than their criminal acts, thus causing the audience to feel more compassionate.
Burke did not intend for Dramatism to be manipulated for persuasive purposes. Rather, he believed that we should be aware of persuasion so that we can do our best to avoid it. In this way he never meant for the pentad to create communication but was of the opinion that purging ourselves of guilt is a key part of the motivations behind public speaking.
How we use the Dramatistic Pentad and our decision in which element becomes central to our narrative is a good indicator of our perspectives on life, our commitment to factual information, and our ability to take responsibility for our actions. Which element takes center stage in the stories that you hear? In your own stories?
From movies to video games to theatre plays to books, varying forms of entertainment can offer an interesting perspective on the human condition and a fascinating examination of our interactive behaviours. These are a few of my favourite films which have characters and dialogue that are not only enjoyable to watch, but are also incredibly interesting to study from a rhetorical point of view:
- Before Sunrise/Before Sunset: These are two of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. They consist of two people wandering around European streets and having a conversation. That's the extent of it, and it is genius. The ideas presented are inspiring.
- Coffee and Cigarettes: As with Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, this is a film which focuses on conversations between people and little else. Somehow the interactions are incredibly stimulating; there's something about watching everyday conversations being played out that is really wonderful from both an entertainment and an analytical point of view (the success of the TV show Seinfeld is evidence enough that the everyday is not synonymous with boring).
- Intolerable Cruelty: I adore the Coen Brothers. This movie plays with double-crossing, persuasion, seduction, and sneaky manipulation and deception techniques. Their portrayal of how everything is twisted by the lawyers in the film provides plenty of humour as well.
- The Darjeeling Limited: Everyone in this movie is completely selfish. They are each convinced that they are special and that they alone make a difference, and that their experiences have changed them. But in the end, even after everything they go through, their core selves remain the same. Depressing? Maybe. Real? I think so.
- The Third Man: Screenplay (and novella) written by one of my favourite authors, Graham Greene, this is a movie which retains the writer's essence of clever ideas combined with class struggles and quick tongues. It is thought-provoking and full of memorable lines.
- 12 Angry Men: This is the perfect example of the Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion. It demonstrates how human attitudes can be swayed and the rhetorical techniques that can be used to alter perspectives. In this case, set in a courtroom, it shows the power of intimidation and the effects of objective points of view with twelve jurors arguing whether or not the accused is guilty.
What are some of your favourite films from a rhetorical point of view?
As Fritinancy pointed out in The Practical Guide: What is a comma?, I made a mistake in my placement of an apostrophe. This blog is just as much a way for me to learn as it is for you, so I think it's about time we brush up on our punctuation skills with regards to apostrophes.
For some reason apostrophes are one of the most common mistakes that writers of any kind make. Here are the basic issues that most people have:
1. Possession. If a thing belongs to someone, write the apostrophe before the "s': Sally's roof leaks when it rains. When a name already ends in an "s", just add the apostrophe to the end of the word, after the "s": James' car was bright red. The rule is the same for groups, and this is where I went wrong in my previous post. For groups of things- such as peoples- the apostrophe should be placed before the "s". To correct my mistake from the Comma article: include people's names.
2. Making short forms. We tend to write in as short a form as possible for easier reading, and that means that words get cut down. In these situations, an apostrophe indicates that a letter is missing. We are becomes we're; will not becomes won't; who is becomes who's.
3. It's and Its: just as with the rule above, the apostrophe in it's shows that a letter is missing. It's stands for it is or it has. On the other hand, the apostrophe-less its can be thought of as the words his or hers. When we use its, that means that something belongs to "it".
A word of caution
Don't use an apostrophe for plurals! The word bananas does not need an apostrophe.
Use an apostrophe if you are doing something (you're), but don't use an apostrophe if something is yours. Similarly, the use of an apostrophe to string words together can be applied when we consider the various forms of there, their, and they're: only use the apostrophe when they are doing something (they're)- not if it belongs to them (their) or if someone is standing over there.
So why use it?
Apostrophes are very useful for shortening a piece of writing. Because of this, they are most commonly used in informal pieces. They are fairly simple to use as long as you just take a moment to think about what you're writing and the meaning that you intend to convey.
Let me know in the comments if I've missed something or if you have any questions or something you'd like to add!
I live downtown. Some would say that my area is a little sketchy, but I love it (even if I have to be careful not to walk around by myself late at night). There is a small neighbourhood within the downtown area, however, which is inhabited by the upper middle class- a sharp contrast to the poor starving students which surround them. This neighbourhood is known as the Gates, and it is most definitely not sketchy.
Distinguishable by the tall trees, luscious foliage and old manor houses, the Gates is a beautiful place to go for a stroll. Last week as I was riding my bike home from work I decided to take a slight detour and pass through the Gates to enjoy the quiet tranquility, when I came upon this sign on the side of the road:
The notion that healthy communities don't idle is far more likely to be found in an upper class neighbourhood than any other. Our society is driven by the concept that we should always be on the move. Anything less than doing three things at once is looked down upon and viewed as lazy. Here, the sign is being used to prevent cars from parking on the street. Because clearly the "loading" parking sign right above it was not enough.
The street that I found this sign on is rarely used by anyone who doesn't live in the Gates. Part of the reason why it's perfect for enjoying a nice walk/run/bike ride is because there are so few people on the road. It's quiet and there is always plenty of parking on the streets because everyone who lives there uses their garage or driveways to park their cars. In fact, I don't believe I've ever seen a car parked along the stretch of road where this sign has been placed. So why the necessity of the sign?
An important part about a sign like this is the connotations of our reactions to it. It implies that idling is bad; it implies that this gated community is a healthy one and that the lack of idling is what sets it apart from the rest of the downtown area. It's a way to inform the people living here how they should act if they want to fit in. It's a way to inject a little suburbia into the heart of the city.
Something else I found interesting about this sign is the image on it. The bright colors seem warm and friendly so as not to offend. The picture itself- a smiling family of four- suggests that a "healthy community" is built of a mum, a dad, and two small children (and their minivan). The picture shows what is accepted and what is expected, glossing over the kinds of families which are not encouraged (ie. anything that varies from the stereotypical mum/dad/two children/minivan).
A sign like this serves to prevent people from parking their cars directly under it, but it also acts as a reminder of the definition of a "healthy community". Those people who can identify with the image will have their values confirmed and will be more likely to abide by the idle free policy. Those who do not identify will feel out of place. Thus, these kinds of signs ensure that people who do not belong in the neighbourhood feel uncomfortable enough to stay out of it.
A sign is not necessarily just a sign. What do you read into when you see a sign like this?
Living as a successful freelancer is no walk in the park. There are a lot of benefits to that kind of lifestyle if you are passionate about your writing, but there are some drawbacks as well. Key among these includes the meager paycheck and the lack of available work. As a freelance writer himself who has dabbled between journalism, ghost writing, and author of both fiction and non-fiction, Andrew Crofts delves into the secrets of what you can do to establish yourself as a part-time of full-time freelancer.
Crofts is realistically encouraging, using examples of the work he has done to achieve his current position. He does not gloss over the trials and tribulations that a freelancer faces, and points out that those people who have less responsibilities and commitments are better suited to choosing the route of a freelance writer: less responsibilities equates to less risk in this profession. Crofts asks questions at the very beginning to ensure that the reader knows what they're getting themselves into; he appears to want you to read his book only if you're sure that this is the job you want. Furthermore, he asks the reader what they want from the writing experience, and offers scenarios of what a person could potentially write about (yes, the possibilities are indeed endless). I very much liked his frequency of questions, inviting the reader to seriously consider their options and think about inventive ways to reach their goals.
Some of the best advice that Crofts gives is to "be comfortable" and "be your own marketing guru". These are two really important elements of being a freelance writer. If you are uncomfortable it will show in your writing. Find a space that you can write in without interruptions and invest in equipment that inspires you. Until a few weeks ago, I was typing on an Eee PC 900. A cute laptop and highly portable, yes, but the 9-inch screen and tiny keys were not very practical for a writer. The small laptop is still useful for traveling, but I now have a proper 15-inch laptop for all of my desk work. This means there is less strain on the eyes and less of a possibility of hands cramping. When we talk about comfort, this also includes the chair you sit in and the orderliness of the room you work in. Tidying up or opening a window can completely change the environment.
I like Crofts' advice about being your own marketing guru because there are so many ways that we can personally promote ourselves. Getting yourself out there and involved in the community can make a big difference. The phenomenon of Twitter is the perfect example of this.
There are many mediums that you can try freelancing for and Crofts outlines each one of them separately in his book: newspapers, magazines, non-fiction, business writing, travel writing, speech writing, fiction, children's books, ghostwriting, film/television/radio, and online writing. With each of them covered, you can peruse his book to figure out which type of writing suits you the best. This handbook concludes with suggestions on how to deal with copyright and payment issues and how to get involved with the publishing process.
Overall, I enjoyed The Freelance Writer's Handbook immensely. It has some great tips for anyone just starting to make their break into the freelancing world. Even if you aren't being paid to write yet, if you write for the pleasure of it you will absolutely improve your style and voice. Experiment with different kinds of writing; begin your own blog, approach local newspapers or small magazines and offer to write for them, enter writing competitions. Practice is essential to becoming a better writer. There's no better time to begin than right now.
Are you a freelance writer or have you been involved with freelance work in the past? Share your advice and thoughts!
There are many charity organizations around the world. Fighting for human, animal, and environmental rights, fighting against disease, fighting for better education... the list goes on. Charity Navigator lists 5,400 charities and those are just ones found in America. Although many of them are for good causes, they have to compete with one another for our money. How do they do it? How does one charity organization make itself more appealing than another?
There are many strategies that they can use. World Vision is one charity which I personally find to be incredibly persuasive. When I get a letter in the mail from World Vision, like the one I received last week, I know that I'll be signing a check later that day- never mind that I just spent over $2,000 within the space of a couple days on a new laptop and covering both my roommate's and my rent for the month. The rhetorical devices that World Visions uses are excellent for convincing me that my donation will be worthwhile and that I can more than afford to help out.
Take, for example, the most recent letter that I received from the organization. Enclosed with the letter and the tear-off reply form was a large photograph of a mother and her son standing in a farmyard field. They both have expressions of utter joy on their faces, clearly because they have been provided food by World Vision. Also enclosed was a small packet of seeds.
The tear-off reply form is incredibly simple to fill out. Write in your credit card number, sign it and check off the box beside the amount of money that you wish to send and you're done. All that's left to do it pop it into the envelope that World Vision provides along with the packet of seeds, slap a stamp on there and mail it off. A few seconds of your time can help feed three families, according to the coordinators at World Vision.
Quoting the people that need help ("For three days now, we have not eaten"), giving them names and ages and a geographical location, all contribute to making us- the readers of the letter- realize that these are people that could easily be our friends and family. And they are dying of hunger. And we can make a difference by handing over a couple of twenty dollar bills.
The letters are not very long; usually only about a page. The paragraphs are short and there are phrases in bold lettering throughout to draw your attention quickly even if you're just scanning the contents. Words and phrases such as "generous", "life-sustaining", "racing to help", and "desperate" repeated throughout the letter inspire an impassioned desire to help those in need.
The organization's effort to join with the Word Food Programme is another convincing attribute. For people who are familiar with the World Food Programme, they might be even more inclined to give a donation when they find out that these two charities are working together to help starving families.
World Vision tactfully discusses climate change in their letter, appealing to people who are interested in environmental issues. The packet of seeds that the organization includes is a way to bring you closer to the starving families, as well: you can more easily identify with their struggles and be inclined to help when you can give them something besides "just" money. It seems warmer and, in a way, more useful, especially when you find out what kind of seeds these ones specifically are (such as carrot seeds).
World Vision states exactly where your money will go to and notes that they need to "raise $500,000 immediately to help over 42,000 hungry children and families in Africa and other regions around the world". By putting a number to it we are aware of just how dire the situation is.
The technique of having a deadline is crucial to this letter. It would be simple to read the letter, think to yourself that you'll write a cheque later, and then toss it aside and forget about it. However, World Vision only gives you a time frame of a less than a month to donate to the specific cause they address in the letter. The pressure of a time frame brings home how urgently these people need help, making it more likely that you will respond promptly and generously.
Closing the letter with a statement of expenditures within the association is beneficial to an organization like World Vision which gives over 80% of the profits directly to the programs. You can see it all laid out for you that a large part of your donation will in fact go directly to helping the people. This, combined with the promise that your donation will triple in value, is really demonstrative that it requires very little effort on our part to make a very big difference.
What kind of techniques do you see used in pleas for donations? What, to you, is an effective rhetorical device? Are there any charities that you simply cannot say "no" to? Have you made use of similar devices when requesting aid from others?
Communication theorist Walter Fisher created the Narrative Paradigm in direct contrast to the Rational World Paradigm. The Rational World Paradigm, rooted in the sciences, states that humans are essentially rational beings and goes on to explain the reasoning behind this assumption; the Narrative Paradigm presents the alternative humanistic view which takes a step further and states that humans are essentially storytellers. In Fisher's own words, the Narrative Paradigm refers "to a theory of symbolic actions- words and/or deeds- that have sequence and meaning for those who live, create, or interpret them" (Narration as a Human Communication Paradigm: The Case of Public Moral Argument, 273). From this definition, we can understand the Narrative Paradigm to be applied to real-world situations.
The basic premise is that everything we do is and can be laid out as a story. Fisher would argue that we cannot, in fact, do anything without it attaining some kind of narrative structure. The main points involved in the Narrative Paradigm are the following:
1. Humans are essentially storytellers
2. Decisions that humans make are based off of "good reasons" rather than proofs
3. What we do and how we think is swayed by history, biography, culture, and character
4. Our rationality is determined by our sense of narrative probability (the coherency of the narrative) and narrative fidelity (whether the story rings true with what we already know to be true)
5. We are continually choosing the stories that we keep company with, and these stories are constantly changing
As you can see from the above points, narratives are a selective reality. We choose what we want to believe, which is influenced by external factors. Journalism and the media are perhaps one of the best examples of the Narrative Paradigm as a selective reality. Journalists gather information, hopefully from a wide variety of differing perspectives, and present their research to the public so that we may form our own opinions on the matter. However, no matter how hard the journalist tried to remain as an objective voice and to present all of the facts, undoubtedly in the end something will be left out or someone will not have their position heard. Moreover, if what we read in the newspaper reinforces our preexisting notions, we will have our own select viewpoints and we will choose what parts of the story we want to believe (because it "rings true" with what we already know: this is narrative fidelity, as mentioned above) and what parts we wish to ignore.
Using narrative is also highly descriptive. It brings people together. Communicating in the narrative enables us to share our understandings of how the world works and allows us to identify with one another, particular if we are party to similar beliefs. In this way, the Narrative Paradigm demonstrates that our attitudes can be directed by narratives and can move us to sympathy. Fisher recognizes that to some degree we have a desire for drama. Combined with our quickness to pass judgment when we can identify with a story, the Narrative Paradigm is an incredibly effective form of rhetoric as both a communicative technique and a persuasive tool. It helps us to create meaning and connect with others. We can use it to consider moral constructs and increase our knowledge of any situation.
Fisher is of the belief that narrative coherency and narrative fidelity are what make one story better than another. What do you think? What is it about a story that captures you? Share your stories in the comments below!