Sometimes, I highlight a passage and then get all wordy about how awesome it is and how beautiful the writing is and how the author must be an angel of the pen.
Today, though, I won’t do that, even though I just kind of did.
Today, I present to you a passage from Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep–a passage completely out of context, completely foreign if you’ve never read the book. But, obviously, the passage provoked strong emotions in me or I wouldn’t be sharing it with you.
Here’s the passage:
I’m not trying to do that today, by the way.
I just thought, you know, that words are powerful, and a lot of us make instant judgments, both good and bad, after just a sentence or two or reading. First impressions apply to blogs too.
So what are some opening sentences that might turn your readers away quickly?
Let’s start today’s post with a few relevant stats:
- The average MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing at a public university costs in the neighborhood of $30,000, according to CostHelper.com.
- From what I’ve found on the internet (it’s very reliable!), and from my own knowledge of the freelance writing world, I would say a solid, well-connected, always busy freelance writer will make in the neighborhood of $40,000 per year.
So I guess Sinead O’ Connor recently wrote Miley Cyrus a letter about not prostituting herself to the music industry. Or something like that.
In response, singer/songwriter/independent hipster Sufjan Stevens got in on the fun, writing Miley a letter about some grammar issues in one of her new songs called “Get It Right.”
Okay, “mistakes” might be a little harsh. Some of this is subjective.
And I’ll admit that, when it comes to writing and words, I’m easily annoyed.
If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you might remember my lists of annoying and disgusting words.
Maybe I respect the English language in some weird way, which leads to projecting my expectations on to other writers. I don’t know. This isn’t a therapy session, though, so I’ll get on with today’s post, which, of course, is about writing techniques that annoy me.
I know you didn’t ask, and you probably don’t even care, but here I am sharing anyway.
Don’t do this stuff:
Outside of ghostwriting, copyediting has to be one of the most thankless jobs in the writing and publishing industries.
I’ve worked briefly as an editor in the past, and I’ve worked with copyeditors my entire career, and those guys and girls rarely get any love.
To me, copyeditors are the last line of defense.
They’re like the dudes at the top of the castle who swat back all the grunts climbing ladders. Throw that comma splice to the ground! Slice the neck off that split infinitive! Cut the ear off that run on sentence!
Writers, we kinda, sorta get grammar. We know enough about it to get by and fake our way through an article. But the editors are the ones who really get it. They’re not just parroting what their high school English teacher said—they actually know why she said it.
A few years ago, Ann Patchett opened an independent bookstore here in Nashville called Parnassus. And though I’ve never read one of her books, that instantly made me a fan.
After reading her writing tips, I’m even more of fan. So I pulled a few that appeared in her memoir, The Getaway Car.
These are really good.
Right now, as I write this blog post, I’m sitting in my “man room” with my legs propped up watching the Cowboys and Giants play on Sunday Night Football.
I’m barefooted, and I have on a white undershirt and old khaki shorts. I’m in my house, in the dark, and I kind of feel like falling asleep in my chair.
Sadly, a cabin in the woods overlooking a secluded lake is not in my world at the moment.
How many fictional characters in novels are based on real people?
I’d guess that it’s a large majority. I’ve never written a novel, so that’s just a hunch. Even if it’s just abstract or on a subconscious level, I think a lot of authors pull from their own experiences with other people when creating characters.
When The Paris Review interviewed E.M. Forster, author of A Passage To India, he said as much.