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Monday, April 15, 2013

Writing Craft: Structure: Sentence, Paragraph, Story... and Tense!

Greeting all! As well as being inundated with university assignments and being forced to further neglect my blog, the blogs I follow and my own creative writing and reading goals, it appears the beautiful Australian summer weather has all but vanished as winter reaches out to us down in the Southern Hemisphere. I am wrapped up in a giant blanket with cold feet and a half-eaten packet of chocolate ripple biscuits while I try and motivate myself to get an essay on the power of social media underway...

Moving on! Something I've been meaning to do for a while is give a shout-out to Victoria Simox, who recently had a give-away of her middle-grade book The Magic Warble, which I won an ebook copy of a about month ago (yes, I am very behind schedule here, I know!). You can find Victoria on her blog at www.victoriasimox.blogspot.com

Victoria was born in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, to an Austrian immigrant mother, and a Dutch immigrant father. She now lives in Western Washington with her husband, Russ and their three children, Toby, Kristina, and William. Her other family members are a Chihuahua, named Pipsy and two cats, named Frodo and Fritz. Besides being an author, Victoria is a home-schooling mother of twelve years and an elementary school art teacher of eleven years. In her spare time, Victoria enjoys managing her two older children's Celtic band. She also loves writing, reading, painting watercolors, hiking, good movies, and just simply hanging out with her family and friends. 



Today I'll summarize what we were taught in weeks 4 (When? Structure: Sentence, Paragraph and Story) and week 5 (When? Tense) of my Writing Craft classes.

Structure: Sentence, Paragraph and Story

Readings for week 4 were Triptych by Merlinda Bobis (pages 119-121), The Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges (pages 117-122), and Flying to Belfast by Dermot Healy (pages 319-331). 

Our lecturer explained the difference between 'story' and 'plot', which is that 'story' is anything between the first and last event of a narrative; events unfolding in chronological order, without links, the the dot-point or 'and then... and then... and then...' feeling, whereas 'plot' is how these events are put together and linked and how their arrangement emphasizes the relationships between them (cause and effect), which creates a reader's reaction of surprise or suspense, etc. 

Our lecturer talked a lot about 'time' and how it is hard to talk about; how we can't access human incidents in time without narrative. We humanize time when we write so that we can structure it for ourselves; although time is a constant thing, we talk about time freezing, stretching, disappearing etc. So how does our practice as writers raise questions of what it is like to exist in various kinds of time? We describe someone sitting in a boring lecture feeling as if time is dragging on and on and on. How might a practice of writing and reading influence our own and our readers' experience of time? We, as writers, have the power to control or at least influence the way our readers feel 'time' when they read our stories. 

Tense

Readings for week 5 were The Lover by Marguerite Duras (pages 3-16), and The Little Friend by Donna Tartt (Pages 3-13). 

This lecture focused a lot on verbs, their function and their importance. Verbs are doing words and any full sentence or independent clause needs one. When using verbs, writers also need to consider their place in time. The base form of a verb - or the 'infinitive' - can be found by putting the word 'to' first, eg: to bring, to run, to jump etc... however, the infinitive does not tell us details such as who, when and whether the action is possible, wished, completed etc; it is the pure notion of an event before detail is added. Who or what is the subject of the sentence? Who is completing the action of your verb? What tense are you writing in? These all come into consideration when giving the verb details. Writers should also consider the subjects gender and whether they are a singular or plural form. 

Correct and consistent use of tense is important to stop your reader from becoming distracted and ensuring that you writing flows as smoothly as possible. The two most basic and commonly used tenses are 'past simple' and 'present tense'. The 'past simple' is usually used to signify the story's present and is considered the simplest and often most suitable way to write. Present tense is less common in prose and often has interesting effects on the feeling of literary prose. 

A third type of tense our lecturer wanted us to look at was 'past perfect'. When 'past simple' relates to the now of the story, 'past perfect' is used to describe the story's past, as in memories and events that are being referred to which have already happened. We use this tense when we are describing something a layer further back in time. We can identify this tense when the word 'had' is used before the verb. Eg: 'I jumped' becomes 'I had jumped' or 'I'd jumped'. Slabs of text written in 'past perfect' tense can often sound clunky, but when referring to the story's past and the story's present, it is important that both the writer and the reader can differentiate between periods of time.  

I appear to have lost the notes I took in my tutorial. This is both worrying and disappointing, because there was a really cool quote I wanted to share with you all and some more cool examples... 

Does anybody have any interesting or useful tips to share on sentence, paragraph and story structure or tense? 

- Bonnee. 

10 comments:

  1. Congrats to Victoria. My advise about tense? Learn about past perfect tense and use it to avoid confusing your reader.

    FYI--you've got your captcha setting on, and it makes posting a pain. I turned mine off a long time ago and also disallowed anonymous posters and the spam is 99.9% eliminated. =D

    ReplyDelete
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    1. What is this witchcraft?! I hate those things, I thought I had mine off :/ Thanks for pointing it out!

      Learning about past perfect is definitely the go, I agree completely.

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  2. Interesting stuff, to be sure. Past perfect can definitely trip people up, especially those long blocks. It takes some practice making for smooth transitions.

    For captcha, go to your settings/Posts and comments and look for 'show word moderation'. Set it to 'No' if you want to turn off the captcha.

    Now, I'm curious, how has your course work affected your writing so far? Or maybe it's too soon to tell.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Doh, you found out how to turn it off!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah I knew how to turn it off, I just don't understand how it got turned on to begin with, because I'm sure I had it off... Strange!

      It might be a little too soon to tell how the course work has affected my writing, but I know that I've been paying more attention to detail, word-choice and avoiding cliches in what I have written.

      I think we should all master 'past perfect', just in case!

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  4. Thanks, Bonnee, for another lesson of writing craft. Now that I read it twice, it's not easy and I will not do well in this class. I have to read a few times to comprehend what's a story and what's a plot. Best wishes to do well in this class. Not easy. I'll stay writing in present tense to avoid when to use the past or past perfect.You probably can get similar notes from another students who sat in your class. I though that Australia's winter is mild.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks, Bonnee, for another lesson of writing craft. Now that I read it twice, it's not easy and I will not do well in this class. I have to read a few times to comprehend what's a story and what's a plot. Best wishes to do well in this class. Not easy. I'll stay writing in present tense to avoid when to use the past or past perfect.You probably can get similar notes from another students who sat in your class. I though that Australia's winter is mild.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm pretty sure the notes would be available online, but I still want to know what happened to mine :p Australian winters would be pretty mild compared to some other places, but I'm in the southern parts, so it can still get cold and it does snow every now and then... in comparison to our summers, it's freezing :) I generally prefer hot weather to cold weather anyway.

      Delete
  6. Chocolate ripple biscuits? They sound SO GOOD! :)

    ReplyDelete

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