Kurt Vonnegut Jr. on Good Writing

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. on Good Writing

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Price's Write: Ending a Sentence With a Preposition

This ongoing series entitled "The Price's Write" features tips I have found or discovered myself through my years of writing and teaching writing. They are offered as suggestions to help you become a better writer. Our explanations will be brief, but I think if you follow these tips you can improve your writing. And more importantly, your audience will notice that improvement.
In our last post, we talked about knowing the rules of grammar and then breaking them if it makes for better writing. In our next few posts, we'll talk about some of the older rules that have become outdated and you actually should be breaking right now.

Of course, your audience, your topic, your content, and your context should determine how flexible you should be with any rule.

For example, if you're writing a scholarly article for an academic publication, you will want to write not only in an appropriately formal tone, you will also want to be more careful in following the rules of grammar and language. The opposite is true is you're writing an informal piece. But the rules we're going to be talking about in our next few posts actually apply to both categories.

Never end a sentence with a preposition

Writing this way actually makes your writing sound stilted and artificial.

The must famous example of how bad this can sound comes from Winston Churchill, who as we know had a pretty fair command of both spoken and written English. When questioned about using prepositions to end his sentences, Churchill supposedly sarcastically uttered: "Ending a sentence with a preposition is something with which I will not put up". Sounds pretty uppity, right? And as a man of the people, uppity was the last way Churchill wanted to sound as he rallied all of Britain in its fight for survival against the Germans in World War II.

Here are a couple of my own examples:
  • I don't think you realize who you're talking to vs. I do no think you realize to whom you are talking.
  • Who are you going with vs. With whom are you going?
I think you get what I'm saying here. 

Most times I want my prepositions at the end of my sentences. Unless there is an object following them like this: The boy, to whom I gave my money, has disappeared into the night.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Price's Write: Know the Rules Before You Break the Rules

This ongoing series entitled "The Price's Write" features tips I have found or discovered myself through my years of writing and teaching writing. They are offered as suggestions to help you become a better writer. Our explanations will be brief, but I think if you follow these tips you can improve your writing. And more importantly, your audience will notice that improvement.
Know the Rules Before You Break the Rules
There are no rules in writing that are sacrosanct. I promise you won't be condemned to Writer's Hell if you opt to not follow any of them as long as 2 (See I just broke one here; numbers 1 through 9 are supposed to be written out) conditions are met. They are:
  1. You know the rule you are violating
  2. You are doing so because it makes your story or article sound or read better.
If you know your grammar and language rules great. If not, there is always the world wide web.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

And What Type of Writing Do You Do?


Saying you're a writer is like saying you're a teacher. You'll probably be asked - well, what type of teaching (or writing) do you do?

For teachers, you might answer pre-school, or elementary, or middle school, or high school, or vocational school, or adult education, or community college, or university professor. You could further narrow it down by offering a grade or subject or some other speciality.

For writers, there are 2 main categories, although many writers move back and forth easily between them. Your writing will either be classified as fiction or nonfiction.

For me, my answer is always the same. I have been, am now, and will always be a nonfiction writer, specifically the type of writing you see in newspapers and magazines. It's what I did for a decade as a reporter and it's what I'm doing now in my new freelance career.

It's not that I don't like fiction; I do. But I don't have the talent for it. I had one poem published in high school and I don't remember anything about it other than the ending - "like children playing in a love park. " (In my defense, it was the 60s and there were a lot of drugs around).

In the late 1970s, I composed 5 pages of the worst novel ever attempted in the history of writing. As many 1st novels are, it was going to be a coming-of-age story based loosely on selected events in my life. I remember the opening scene - 5 white teenagers in a car waiting outside a black bar for someone to come along and buy them alcohol. After reading what I had written, I threw away the pages. I think they also destroyed the Underwood typewriter that I wrote them on just to be safe.

So with the fiction closed to me, that left nonfiction. And while I still consider the actual act of sitting at a typewriter (or now a computer) and coming up with a piece of work that reads well, has a message, and makes its points with preciseness and clarity extremely difficult, I do admit to liking several of the steps in the nonfiction writing process.

As for my process, there is nothing really original in it. I have begged, borrowed, and stolen from others to come up with a way to write nonfiction that works for me. Let me introduce you to my 7-step process, which I call the 7Rs of 'Riting Nonfiction. (And you thought the 3 Rs of schooling were tough).
  1. Read (to gain points in style and gather writing ideas)
  2. Research (find out all you can about a topic you're going to write about in the time available)
  3. Reorganize (take all your notes and put them in some kind of order. This may or may not involve an outline)
  4. 'Rite (or write as it should be written) a 1st (or what some people call a rough) draft
  5. Revise (this is where, as Paul McCartney sang in "Hey Jude" you try to make it better)
  6. Rewrite (this mean going back and forth between steps 5 and 6 as many times as possible and also involves another R word - frequent rereading)
  7. Rinse (writing is hard, dirty work) and then repeat.
I'm sure that over the life of this blog, I'll have much more to stay about each of these steps, but for now you have an idea of how I write nonfiction.

I hope you like what I write, but even if you don't, be grateful I didn't become a poet, short story writer, playwright, or novelist. Reading any of those type of works by me would be excruciating and would probably cut at least 7 years off of your life.

Anyway, if you don't like my tips, don't think they apply to you, or would rather check out what a great writer thinks, just go back up to the tips from John Steinbeck at the top of this post. Steinbeck may have known what he was doing, but I bet he never ended any of his writing with "like children playing in the love park."