Tag Archives: literary

Letters on Literary Devices 10: The Hard Period.

To all those who “go hard”:

 

When I first started writing, a certain “fiction writer” confronted me with a problem, well, he thought it was problem, with my overuse of the “hard period”. For those of you who haven’t heard of “hard periods” take my advice and resist the urge to search google for a definition. You won’t find one. You will, on the other hand, find several websites offering advice for women suffering from “hard periods” (We’re talkin’ menstruation here – not grammar…yea).

Anyway, the “fiction writer” said I used too many periods and should use more commas. He had a theory. His theory was this:  “There are different schools of proper grammar and writing style.  Some prefer periods, others commas.  I’m of the school of the latter, not only in my writing, but also my reading.” Having read his writing, (we had agreed to read each other’s manuscripts and offer advice), I knew that he was also a student of these other fine schools of literary thought: “The School of mind-numbing over-explanation”, “The School of telling everything and showing nothing”, “The School of boring the reader instead of entertaining him or her”, etc. etc. etc. The dude couldn’t write. Sure, he could string a sentence or two together, long, boring, painfully consistent sentences with no change in length or rhythm. But he couldn’t create suspense. He couldn’t create a book worth reading.

Now look, I’m not writing this to hate on the fella. He sucks. Whatever. It was fun while it lasted, but I have a point here: the hard period has a solid place in fiction writing. Sure, some critics will describe writing as choppy or “not flowey” when an author utilizes short, telegraphic sentences in abundance. But that doesn’t mean a writer should be afraid of “goin’ hard” when the occasion demands it.

Let me break this down for you. Typically, longer sentences are used for slowing down the pace of a novel. Longer sentences, particularly sentences whose subjects are disconnected from their verbs, disconnected perhaps by a string of phrases, disconnected by description after meaningless description, whose main point is obscured by clause after pointless clause, whose point still hasn’t been made,  which are so convoluted that you have to read them over and over to understand, cause the reader to read each word very carefully. Well, at least according to theory. But is that always the case? Look at that sentence I just wrote. Look at the one that started with “Longer sentences.” Did you actually read it all? Technically, it’s without grammatical error. Technically, it should make sense to you. But did you read it? Did you read it or just skim over it because it would’ve been a pain in the ol’ ass to read? (I just counted. There were 53 words between the subject “sentences” and the verb “cause”)

And that shows the obvious benefit of “going hard” and using the “hard period”. Shorter sentences are easier to read. The subject connects directly to its verb, its action (Like in that last sentence. The subject was “subject”. The verb was “connects”), which makes the narrative easier to follow because who and what each sentence is about is always clear.

And yes, this speeds up a narrative. But that ain’t gotta be bad. Short sentences are great for moving a plot and are particularly useful when describing action.

But wait folks, there’s more. Telegraphic sentences with “hard periods” can be used for changing up the pace, making strong points, or dropping the punch line on a joke. Just check out the second paragraph in this blog post. Check out the variety in sentence lengths. And check out that telegraphic sentence towards the end of it, “The dude couldn’t write.” EJO “goes hard”, that’s all I’m sayin’ (Please pardon the shameless self-promotion).

So, for all you writers out there who’ve been “goin’ hard” but ashamed to admit it; for all you who’ve tried to make your writing “flowey” afraid to embrace your inner “hard” self; don’t let your face turn red and don’t be overcome with fear. “Go hard”.

 

Sincerely,

Eric James-Olson

 

Oh, and one other thing. All four novels in the series are still on sale. They are priced between 2.99 and 3.99.  Check out these links if you’re interested:

 

But_the_Angels_Never_Cover_for_Kindle

 

Farmers_and__Canniba_Cover_for_Kindle

 

 

Just_After_the_Fall_Cover_for_Kindle

 

 

The_Church_Peak_Hote_Cover_for_Kindle

 

 

 

 

 

THANKS!!!!!!!!

 

 

 

 


Letters on Literary Devices 9: Incomplete thoug…

To all the incomplete thoughts out there,

A few weeks ago I stumbled across an article (I can’t remember where, when, who is was by, or what the title was) explaining the conventional differences between good ol’ American English and the slightly different, slightly more refined version of that same language on the other side of the Atlantic. No, it wasn’t about how American Standard English (AmSE) is the best and British Standard English (BrSE) is the worst or anything childish like that. Rather, it was about one of the most fascinating, intriguing subjects that man has ever conjured: punctuation.

Yea, that’s right folks. I’m talking periods, commas, and yea, that’s right, even the old semi-colon.

The article went on to explain how differences in usage are often cited as typos by readers educated under the opposing standard language. What? Let me explain with an unnecessarily awkward, convoluted sentence: So Brit readers reading American author’s might see a comma “misplaced” that is actually in a standard location according to AmSE, and an American reader reading a British author might see a comma “misplaced” that is actually in a standard location according to BrSE. Yea (1). I know. Crazy (2).

This got me thinking. Yea (3). I know. Scary (4). When a reader posts a review, what other assumptions does he or she make about typos?

Well, I racked my brain. I thought real hard and then had a milkshake. After that, I went to the gym. I lifted some weights. Did a little cardio. Checked myself out in the mirror when it seemed like no one was watching. Did some more thinking. And drove home.

As I drove home I still had nothing. Honestly, I couldn’t think of much. But that’s when it hit me.  Sentence Fragments (5). The bane of secondary school teachers everywhere (6). Sentence fragments (7).

Despite the threats, brow-beatings, scare tactics of English teachers globally, the sentence fragment has always had a home in literature. I would start to name author’s but that would be silly. Everybody does it. Open a book. Read a few pages. You’ll find one. Guaranteed (8).

Right now, you’re probably thinking this: But why? Why? God, Why!?! Mrs. Bonebreaker told me that if I put another incomplete sentence in my paper she’d snap my pencil in half, and I don’t think she was talking about the one I write with.

Relax (9). It’ll be ok. Deep breaths (10).

Let’s go back to the basics. What’s a sentence? Easy (11). It’s a complete  thought. That’s why they’re so good for writing with. It’s good to have complete thoughts. So, what’s a sentence fragment? An incomplete thought (12). Not too useful in an essay (13). That’s why ol’ Bonebreaker threatened to snap your pencil in half. You were probably writing an essay.

In fiction, however, the incomplete thought can be fairly useful.

The most obvious and probably most common use of incomplete thoughts  is through character dialogue. People don’t always speak with completely formed ideas, so  a lot of author’s imitate this when writing dialogue.

Another common use of the sentence fragment is in the imitation of real human thinking. Think about it. Do you think in complete sentences? Unless you’re really weird, you probably don’t. So a common way to show this, to show a characters thoughts is through the employment of sentence fragments. Most of the time you wouldn’t even notice that you’re looking at fragments. Check out this excerpt from a novel I’m working on:

 

I’m just stuck here. Stuck here watchin’ the old man take a swim every now and then. Stuck here watchin’ ol’ Linda read trashy novels and stroke the armrest of her beach chair. Stuck here bored as hell wantin’ nothin’ else but a chance to meet some chick young enough to take me seriously.

That’s the problem though. All the girls around here are so stuck up and full of shit and three or five years older than me. Sucks being fifteen.

 

For those keeping track at home, that’s four fragments and only three complete sentences. All those “sentences” starting with “stuck” are without subjects. There’s no subject in the sentence starting with “sucks” either.

So, what does this do? Well, it makes the ideas seem less organized. It makes the ideas feel as if each runs into the next. It makes the ideas sound like, well, thoughts.

Now, do all readers know this? No (14). An author takes a chance anytime he or she uses a sentence fragment or any other break from convention when writing fiction. There is the chance that the break with convention won’t be seen as an artistic choice, but rather, will be seen as a clumsy error.

So what? Good question (15). I’ll try to answer it in three sentences. Complete ones (16). Here it goes: with the explosion of self-published authors into the mainstream of fiction, a huge amount of poorly written, poorly edited, poorly proofread novels have hit the market causing readers to notice unheard of quantities of conventional errors in “published” books. This trend has raised awareness to the possibility of typos in independently published fiction. My point is this: although there may be a preponderance of typos in “indie” fiction, not all typos are typos; some writers are better than others; some writers have the literary knowledge to make artistic choices that bend the rules of convention.

In a free society where everyone is empowered to be a critic, a society that encourages all customers, all readers to share opinions on an authors work, there will always be those who critique without requisite knowledge, without adequate understanding. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s much better than the alternative. But it is a fact for which we should be cognizant.

I don’t know about you, but the next time I see a break with convention, I’ll think twice before I assume it’s a mistake.

 

Sincerely,

Eric James-Olson

 

P.S. If you were wondering about all the numbers in parenthesis, the explanation is simple. I was keeping track of all my sentence fragments. No, I didn’t include the fragments from the excerpt.

 

 

 

 

 


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