We’re new guys here at Romance University. We met met in journalism school and have been talking about writing ever since, so it’s possible we’ve had an actual conversation like this one:
MJ: Remember when we were first married, and I’d ask, “Do you need the car tomorrow?” And you’d get annoyed.
Dave: That was thirty years ago.
MJ: There I was, trying to be polite, to figure out what you wanted.
Dave: Thirty years.
MJ: Eventually you explained the problem: you felt like I was trying to make you guess what I wanted. And you told me to say what I wanted up front, like, “‘I’m thinking about going to a church rummage sale tomorrow. Do you need the car?’”
Dave: Which would make me think, “Not if it means I don’t have to go to a church rummage sale.”
MJ: It’s all about starting with the right words.
Dave: Is this marital advice, or writing advice?
MJ: Both. Writers, like married people, need to start sentences and paragraphs with a powerful opening that drives home the meaning. In other words, you need a good engine.
Dave: Like a Mercedes AMG 6.2L DOHC V8 with variable valve timing and four valves per cylinder?
Dave: 563 hp at 6,800 rpm.
MJ: Impressive, Mr. Guy Who Writes a Column About Cars, but I’m talking about driving your writing.
Dave: Like, make sure you’re not starting too many sentences with the heroine’s name. Vary the way you open paragraphs. Sometimes start with dialogue, sometimes with action.
MJ: Exactly! The way you did it here, in Fast Lane, where Tiffany, the personal assistant, helps Lara settle into her new digs, which include a luxurious bathroom.
Lara looked up to see her barefoot assistant marveling over a glass-encased stall big enough to hold three, or maybe four, people.
“You can make it do all kinds of wild things by turning this knob,” Tiffany said. As she rotated the control, jets of water shot out of the wall from various angles.
Lara stuck her arm into the stream. Tiffany turned the knob to make the water pulse. “As good as a waterfall, for sure,” Tiffany said. She turned off the water and scooped up her boots and hose.
“I hope you don’t mind me taking them off,” she said without guilt. “I just love the way natural stone feels on bare feet.”
They moved back into the bedroom. Lara stared at the comically high pile of pillows burying the bed. “Are there enough pillows?”
“Why? Do you want more?” Tiffany tucked her boots and hose under one arm and typed a note on her phone.
“I was being facetious.”
“Oh.” Tiffany stopped typing. “Because I can get you more pillows.”
“No. These will be fine.”
Tiffany shrugged and put her phone away. “So, the room is cool?”
“I like it very much.”
Dave: Score one for the man!
MJ: Tell our readers why I chose this passage.
Dave: Because sometimes the dialogue starts with the quote, sometimes with the action.
MJ: And, in one case, the order is quote-action-quote. The scene is more interesting because variety is more interesting than predictability.
Dave: Score two for the man!
MJ: Score three, because you taught me about engines. But I taught you about cabooses.
Dave: Did you say “butt?”
MJ: Eyes up here! I’m talking about ending your sentences with the right words. Let me rephrase that: I’m talking about putting a sentence’s most important words at the end.
Dave: Ah, yes. Your rewritten sentence emphasizes END. No extra words trailing after.
MJ: The important words stand out, like a caboose.
Dave: So, we’re talking about writing rhythm, too?
MJ: Delete that “too” and you’ve got it. Read a sentence out loud. Notice where your voice rises and falls.
Dave: If there’s a string of words after the word you want to emphasize, you might need to change the word order.
MJ: Check your engines and cabooses. Make sure you have good beginnings and good ends.
Dave: I do love a good end.
Have a question? Or want to share a secret about how to check the rhythm of your writing? Let us know.
Join us on Wednesday for Handsome Hansel!
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for July 30 to August 3
- C.J. Redwine Critiques a Reader’s Query Letter
- Writing With These Four Walls by Alex Kidwell
- Ask An Editor: Problem With Tense?
- Top Five Things I Learned from My Editor