By Cynthia Ruchti
Novelists hope their proposals, contest submissions, and manuscripts elicit the response “This is no amateur!” and we want much more, of course, like how the piece moved the reader or editor or judge emotionally which is different for different people, and I’ll get to that later, but for now let’s take a look at how novelists can boost the perception that their work is professional in nature and not the work of someone who-well meaning as they might be, and after having worked at the craft for many years-hasn’t yet mastered the art that would tell them the sentence they’re reading right now is a great example of what’s wrong with much amateur writing.
Sentences aren’t Legos. The object isn’t to stack them as high and wide as possible.
At its heart, storytelling is communicating. But what we’re communicating often gets lost in a jumble of run-on or fused sentences, comma splices, or rambling.
New writers who conquer this concept boost their storytelling ability as well as their professionalism perception.
Run-on doesn’t always mean long. Even short sentences can suffer from the malady English teachers and grammar coaches dub run-on. A run-on sentence is two or more completely independent clauses crammed together. They can and should stand on their own.
Run-on: Looks like rain, I’ll grab an umbrella.
Correct: Looks like rain. I’ll grab an umbrella.
Run-on: Where would it all end, he didn’t know.
Correct: Where would it all end? He didn’t know.
Run-on: The moon cast an eerie blue glow over the pasture beyond her kitchen window, and Carina wondered what she’d fix for supper.
Correct: The moon cast an eerie blue glow over the pasture beyond her kitchen window. Time to fix supper. The glow held Carina’s attention. Supper could wait. (Note that in this one, fixing the problem didn’t make the piece shorter. It actually added length. But each thought is there for a reason.)
Such a simple fix. Clauses that are complete do best on their own.
In the first run-on, comma-splice example, we could improve it with a short conjunction:
Looks like rain, so I’ll grab an umbrella.
But rhythmically, that’s less appealing than making both independent clauses self-sufficient. Use a solid period rather than a Duct-tape comma.
In the opening grind-your-molars sentence, I intentionally exaggerated several common writer habits that frustrate rather than hook readers.
• Using commas where I should have used periods.
• Slapping together unrelated thoughts within the same sentence.
• Adding unnecessary filler (“And I’ll get to that later.”)
• Trying to make one sentence accomplish the work of four, the poor thing.
What would it look like if we tidied it?
Novelists hope their proposals, contest submissions, and manuscripts elicit the response “This is no amateur!” What’s one simple improvement that can boost the professionalism of a novelist’s work?
Take a closer look at your current project. Watch for places where you’ve used a Lego method of stacking thoughts in a sentence rather than letting complete thoughts have the independence they deserve.
Cynthia Ruchti is an author and speaker who is learning to conquer run-on sentences and other maladies, thanks to ACFW’s educational opportunities. She’s the author of current releases When the Morning Glory Blooms and All My Belongings, both recent recipients of industry awards. Cynthia serves as ACFW’s Professional Relations Liaison, building and maintaining relationships between ACFW and retailers, libraries, book clubs, and readers. You can visit her at www.cynthiaruchti.com.