Word count: 738 words
Reading time: About 3 minutes
I provide the next issue of my “Please edit” feature, in which I give advice and counsel for a short piece YOU have written….
Today is the next installment in my regular “Please edit” feature. Once a month, I invite you to send me a piece of writing that’s somewhere between 150 and 200 words. After the deadline I select one piece by draw and provide editing advice.
This month’s winner, Carey, from Gembrook, Australia, submitted the beginning of an article he wrote for a local magazine. Here is what he sent:
The handwriting on the letter was unfamiliar. Ian was puzzled. The only letters he received were from his mother. She wrote regularly, as you would expect of a mother to her first born of six who was away at war. He opened it eagerly. It was from a young lady, Freda, whom he’d not seen for some years. The last time he saw her was about 1934 at a dance at Flinders. They had the last dance of the night together, after another chap had asked her. He was dressed like gangster Al Capone. Freda avoided dancing with him by saying she’d agreed to dance with Ian, who was standing nearby. Ian was touched by the letter. Freda had heard he was in New Guinea and obtained his mail address from his family. Ian replied and more letters were exchanged before he returned to Australia. He rang Freda on return, arranging to visit her at Hastings where she worked on her family’s farm. He caught an early bus then hitched a ride with the milk truck. It was a clear, sunny morning. The countryside was idyllic, so contrasting to the debilitating humidity and stench of the tropics and war where he’d been.
Thanks, Carey, for submitting this article. I started my own writing life at a weekly newspaper and remember being assigned to write many similar types of pieces.
I ran your writing through a readability statistics site and wasn’t surprised to see that it earned rankings largely in the grade 7 range. (If you’re unfamiliar with readability stats, see my previous article on the subject. A low grade is usually a good sign rather than a bad one, but here, I’m afraid, it highlights some of your writing challenges.
Too many of your sentences are simple. They contain a subject and verb and express a complete thought. It’s always good to have some simple sentences in any article but having nothing else will turn off many readers. Effective writing is all about achieving balance. Not only do you want some long sentences — to offset the shorter ones –- you also want some complex structures to throw the simple ones into relief. Make sure that at least some of your sentences begin with dependent clauses. For example, you might write something like: “Although he hadn’t seen Freda in some years, he remembered her fondly from their dance in 1934.”
As well, work to add more connectors to your sentences. Bridges or connectors are the words, phrases and stylistic devices that help direct the reader through your article. Sometimes I even like to imagine them as a cable that helps pull your reader along. Here is a list of connecting words to keep in your back pocket:
Contrast: but, however, though, nevertheless, still, yet, on the other hand, conversely
Comparison: likewise, similarly, as well, besides, also, too
Example: specifically, for instance, here, there, for example, to illustrate, in fact
Time: now, then, in the past, soon, later, after, meanwhile, following, preceding
Sequence: first, second, third, next, last, finally
Cause & effect: as a result, therefore, because, hence, thus, consequently, so
Addition: moreover, furthermore, besides, in addition, also.
Have a look at a short piece on Sidney Lumet from the current New Yorker (it was the first free piece I pulled up this week). It’s filled with connectors, both obvious and subtle.
You’ve made a grammatical error near the end, where you’ve used the wrong preposition (it should be “contrasting with” rather than “contrasting to”). But the entire sentence is awkward. I’d suggest rewriting to something like: “The idyllic countryside on such a clear sunny morning offered a stark contrast to the debilitating humidity of the tropics where he’d been at war.”
I know you’re a novice writer, Carey. Remember, one of the best ways to become an experienced writer is to become a really experienced reader. Read as much good writing as you can and strive to imitate it.
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