Monday, October 27, 2014

Scene Conclusions

 Each scene should have a strong opening and a strong conclusion. A scene should end neatly and completely, rather than just dropping off. Make sure that you’ve given each scene wrap-up a sense of completeness and closure, so that readers don’t feel that they need to hear or see something more. Often just adding a sentence or two will do the trick. An ending written from the perspective of the viewpoint character (VPC) is the best thing to do. If you can include a cliffhanger, an emotional punch line (in dialogue or narration), an important question, a hint of interesting action to come, or some especially lyrical writing, so much the better.

Here’s how my client Brent Ghelfi ended one scene in his published novel The Venona Cable:

Rykov started back down the hall, motioning for his men to bring me along.
     “You’ll leave Lefortovo in only one of two ways,” he said, not looking back. “Transferred to another prison. Or dead.”

The lines that close the curtain on a scene don’t have to be complicated or fancy. Here’s another example, this one from Brent Ghelfi’s published novel Volk’s Game:

      I push him into the street and toward his flat. He wobbles off. He’s ruined for the night, and maybe for good. I set off in the other direction. Time to see Gromov now, while the anger is still fresh.

See what I mean?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Going begging

You will see the expression begs the question used incorrectly in many different contexts, from student compositions to respected national magazines and newspapers to TV news programs.

The concept of “begging the question” is a fallacy that comes from the discipline of logic and the art of formal argument, where it’s known as petitio principii. In a debate, if someone begs the question, he is assuming in the premise some truth that he seeks to establish in the conclusion. For example, in Alice in Wonderland, during Alice’s wacky conversation with the Cheshire Cat, the cat uses certain assumptions (including his own madness) to conclude that everyone in Wonderland is mad. He says, “Well, I’m certainly crazy; therefore, everyone here is crazy.” This is using flawed logic.

You will see the phrase begs/begging the question used incorrectly in statements like this one:

Giving the schools billions more dollars begs the question of whether this will improve students’ grades.

Instead of writing “begs the question” in sentences like this one, write “raises the question” or “prompts the question” or “forces one to ask.”

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The past perfect tense

Sometimes you should switch from the past tense (went, for example) to the past perfect tense (had gone). You should do this when you’re referring to an event that precedes the action in the text—the “present” of story time. Example:

Ted opened one of his art books to where he placed a bookmark.

Ted put the bookmark into the art book before he opened the book in the present, so you should write:

Ted opened one of his art books to where he had placed a bookmark.

In a sentence with two or more verbs that express past action, you should use the past perfect tense for the verb that expresses the earliest of the actions.

Paul Thayer