Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Art of Writing

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

He reached with his hand for the doorknob.

He reached for the doorknob.

Inside of his head he was thinking, “What is going on with Fred?”

“What is going on with Fred?” he wondered.

John arrived at the farmhouse, where he found there were no vehicles in the driveway or parked out front, although he couldn’t say for sure if there were any in the barn, so he approached cautiously.

Arriving at the farmhouse, no vehicles were visible. The barn was locked shut. John couldn’t see in the windows. His spine crawled. It was too quiet and there was no guarantee the place was deserted. *

* The obvious conclusion here is that some words are simply unnecessary. It seems clear that more information is being conveyed using the same approximate number of words in the second example. Not so immediately obvious from the third example is ‘pacing.’ Look closely and you will see the story has advanced about the same amount. He arrives at the same place. We're getting a lot more work done.

What is different is the mood of the story. It is more ‘suspenseful.’ The impression is that the speed of the story is 'faster.' It's not--it just feels faster-paced when each and every word advances the story, describes, or sets mood.

‘His spine crawled,’ and ‘it was too quiet,’ are cliches. In the previous sentence there was no room to put ‘extra stuff’ in; because it was too wordy and poorly organized to begin with.

So now we have this:

Arriving at Fred’s place, the barn was locked shut. The half-rotten old plank door rattled in the breeze, despite the new brass padlock. He was almost sure someone was watching from the house.

Reaching with his hand for the doorknob on the door of the house, inside of his head he was thinking the thought, ‘I wonder what the heck is up with old Fred?” (Sorry. –ed.)

Next Time: semi-colons and where you can stick them.

Notes: First, I do edit online when I could simply use the preview feature. If the screen jumps on you, send me an e-mail at

Secondly, there is some method here. It is analytical. Look at the following sentence:

Brendan was angry and didn’t want to take it anymore.

I have a similar sentence in a blurb on and maybe a few other places.

Is 'anymore' a real word? I just typed it into a document file and used Word's 'spelling and grammar check' feature. The word 'didn't' was underlined in green because it is a contraction. The word 'anymore' was not underlined in green or red. Somebody somewhere thinks it is a word.

In a previous blog post I think I noted that Word's spelling and grammar check may become some kind of international standard. No doubt there will still be local the absence of any other quick help, it will have to do.

Note to Self: 'french fries' should be capitalized, i.e., 'French fries.'

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