3 Sins of Bullshit Writing

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from Charles Euchner’s KEEP IT SHORT: A Practical Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (click on title to read more)

If you don’t know what your ideas are, if you haven’t flushed out details or set your purpose clearly, you might commit one, two or all three sins of bullshit writing. And that, says Euchner, is when “things get ugly. When we try to bull our way through sentences and paragraphs.”

The 3 deadly sins of bullshit writing are:

•We repeat ourselves.

•We use vague phrasing – adjectives and generalizations – instead of clear crisp logic                and details.

•We ramble, piling words and phrases, with a hope we will discover some telling detail  or concept, but usually moving further and further away from the point.

 

When you feel any of this creeping in, you know you’ve lost the grip somehow. Backtrack and flush the idea, plotting, character development, background research and how you are going to tell you story. We suggest beginners start with the beginning, move on to the middle and then give us the end.

If you see any of those those 3 deadly sins popping up a lot in that book in your hand, you may want to put it down and go get another. Life’s short and there are just too many great books to read.

Join us every Thursday on Twitter with the hashtag

#ThursdayWrites and tell us what you’re working on. 

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WRITERS: LEARN THE ART OF #YO-YO

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/BethWareham

In Charles Euchner’s fine new book on writing, KEEP IT SHORT: A Practical Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, he talks about the #yo-yo, a device for moving between physical action to backstory then backstory to action and so on. #Yo-yo back and forth to keep it interesting and surprising for the reader.

“If you don’t give your reader variety, you will get stuck in long and overwhelming passages. So yo-yo from long to short, specific to general, physical to cerebral,” writes Euchner.

Think of a garden. “I hate a style, as I do a garden, that is wholly flat and regular,” said William Shenstone, an English poet and also one of the first landscape architects. “It slides along like an eel, and never rises to what one can call an inequality.”

To understand what he means, go to Central Park. You’ll see hills and fields, a lake, rock outcroppings and copses throughout the land. It varies from high to low, open to forest, dry to wet.

That’s what your writing should do. Sentences should vary in length between powerful subject and verb, one-two punches, and longer, more expository sentences. In short, keep it interesting. #Yo-yo it.

The best writing moves back and forth, from the density of exposition to the openness of narrative. We need the pack of information the exposition gives us. But we also need the journey that stories give us. As Frank Sinatra crooned about love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other.

#yo-yo it. Your writing will soar.

To order, click on the title here: Keep it Short .   You’ll find step by step #yo-yo instructions along with everything else you need to be an enthralling writer in this brave new world.

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Pitching the Undercover Boss

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In a wide ranging series of questions for uber-agent Sandra Martin, author of SNAPSHOTS, comes this hilarious story of following your heart and getting a show on the Discovery Channel. Not bad for a dreamer, Sandra.

1. A part of your career included television. What did you produce?

Early on I realized the power of television. I rarely watched it then, and rarely watch it now. I always had a good book that seemed far more interesting than television. But I’d listen to friends go on and on about a television series they were “caught up in” and worry about characters and what was going to happen next week.

When I had my first television series in Norfolk, Virginia, I always over compensated on research, then I worried about appropriate questions or smart meaningful questions. Sometimes, I knew more about the subject than the person I was interviewing. Generally, they’d written their book years before and I had, most often, read it that very week, so was really up on the subject.

Overcompensating, as usual. I prayed that whatever I said or asked would be enlightening and entertaining to the audience. That first interview, I was nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. We taped on Tuesday and the show aired on Thursday nights at 7. I never watched it. I was already onto the next guest and research. I did get over being nervous. In fact, I totally enjoyed it.

Having my face on television was something that took me a while to get used to-as I guess it does everyone. People would stop me on the street and launch into a discussion about last week’s guest and I’d fumble along. It was strange. I loved the research, I loved the process, I wasn’t all that crazy about everyone knowing who I was.

Dreams had always been super important in my life and after my turn at my own series, I decided I’d rather develop documentaries. My Mom was an excellent dream interpreter and I was surrounded by Edgar Cayce expects on dreams. Dream researchers, Henry Reed and Bob van de Castle often spoke at ARE and I was the sponge gathering dream knowledge.

I started writing up a treatment about dreams while still living in Virginia Beach and once I thought it was ready, I pitched it to the networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC. They all said no.
During this time, I had a long series of dreams about Ted Turner.

I thought, what the heck, I’ll call Turner Broadcasting and see who the head of development is and send in a proposal.

Even though I was dreaming about Ted, I never thought I’d talk with him or even ever meet him. Dreams were about symbols and he was my TV symbol. He’d come out of left field and created an entirely new television channel-mostly Atlanta Braves baseball games and old movies. Not big money documentaries, but who knows, maybe TBS was up for something new. He was very successful-obviously-and I hoped to be the same.

One morning, I got my nerve up and dialed the number, asked for the head of development, and after a few strange exchanges, I was put through. A voice that seemed familiar answered and I jumped in-one of my vices in life, don’t hesitate, and spewed out my idea for a long series on dreams. I told him about how General George Patton dreamed about battles plans and how Abraham Lincoln dreamed about his own death – and on and on.

He said very little, just listened. After I was done and had wound down, and he had a tiny opening to jump in, he said,” That sounds interesting. Come over and show me what you’ve got.”

I asked, “Who do I ask for?” and he said, “Ted Turner, you’re talking to him.”

Our appointment was for the following week and I was an anxiety filled as any one person could be for the entire week. Plus I was going to be staying with my in-laws, who were not all that fond of me. Just one anxiety on top of another.

I flew down to Atlanta, my in-laws picked me up and I stayed with them overnight and drove their big Mercedes downtown to Turner Broadcasting. In Virginia Beach, my car was a Toyota Starlet: a roller skate on weeks. That Mercedes was big.

Turner Broadcasting was in a big anti-bellum house converted into offices. The entire drive down I was praying, reciting positive affirmations and hoping for the best.

I’m not sure why I was so nervous about meeting Ted, Mr. Turner, since I’d been dreaming about him for months. Or maybe I was nervous because I’d been dreaming about him-in one dream we were sailing, in another we were signing contracts at his desk surrounded by models of sailboats and another dream, we were eating fried chicken, in another we were dancing and I was amazed at how strong he was – very positive dream images.

Finally I was standing at the front desk. I was so nervous that I broke out in a total body sweat. I was dripping water off my chin. I had never and have never since had that happen to me.

The poor receptionist was trying to be helpful. She gave me a tissue, called up to Mr. Turner’s office and an elegant and beautiful woman came down the curved steps with a puzzled, questioning look on her face. She asked my name and asked me why I thought I had an appointment with Mr. Turner. I poured out my story of our conversation.

She and the receptionist looked at each other and then back at me and said, “Mr. Turner let his head of programming go the day before and Mr. Turner thought he’d sit at his desk to see what he’d been doing.”

So, I said, “I happened to call that one day he was sitting there?”

“Yes.”

She said that’d she’d ask “someone” to come and listen to my proposed series and she was very sorry that Mr. Turner had been called away for the day. She said, “Sometimes he is so busy that he forgets to give…”

I told her that was okay, she didn’t need to call anyone to talk with me, but she was determined. About twenty minutes later, two men came down those same steps, and escorted me to a conference room, where I pitched my Dreams series. They were polite, and non-committal.

I gave them my fancy proposal. Then they were determined to take me around and show me the entire office complex, the CNN set, meet people that might be interested in my subject. Throughout I protested that all of this wasn’t necessary because I understood what had happened. On top of everything, these two men, the vice president of TBS and the vice president of CNN took me to lunch.

On the drive back to the in-laws, I heard on the radio that Raquel Welch was in town promoting her yoga video and that Ted Turner was escorting her around.

Oh.

A few weeks later, I received the nicest letter from the VP of TBS saying “Your proposal on dreams is fascinating, but it is not right for Turner Broadcasting.”

I put the dream proposal on a back burner until I moved to New York City and started pitching it again. Eventually Discovery committed to produce it.

Of course, that is a long story, too, but with a happy ending.


To order more of these great stories with some recipes thrown in (stories need to be told with food), click on the title: SNAPSHOTS: Memories and Recipes 

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Sentences Need 2 Words

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In Charles Euchner’s new book on writing, KEEP IT SHORT: A Practical Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, he reminds us that powerful sentences come from a noun and a verb. You can’t make a sentence without these two little guys and with them you can generate quite a boom.

Consider the master of the noun/verb, perhaps its greatest practitioner in recent history.

from Keep It Short:

#SENTENCING

Get right to the point—usually. Sometimes, to orient your reader or provide variety, you can provide background or “setup” information first. But get to the point before you lose your reader.

The classic advice for all writers goes like this: Say who does what to whom. In other words, tell the reader the subject (who or what), the verb (the action), and the object (the person or thing acted upon). Or: Subject- Verb-Object. Or: S-V-O. Not every action has an object, so we might simplify the idea thus: Who does what? That’s S-V, in shorthand.

The subject and verb create the core of your sentences. Athletes know they need strong cores—the abdomen—because they need to transfer power from the legs and butt up to the upper body. If the core is weak, the athlete cannot use his limbs powerfully. The same concept applies to writing sentences. Without a strong core, the rest of the sentence falters.

Take a look at the masters of prose and how often they start sentences with the subject and verb:

You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was
as though a young person died for no reason.

—Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

 


Join us next week for #theparagraph

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