Asyndeton – Conjunction Free Lists

Asyndeton is a list of items with no coordinating conjunction–and, but, or, nor, yet, for, or as–connecting the last item to the rest of the list. Why would that matter, you may wonder?

Well, the answer, I think, is fantastic and I’ve started using this in my own writing regularly.

A series of items, uninterrupted by a conjunction implies multiplicity or a list that does not end.

E.B. White made use of asyndeton many times in Charlotte’s Web. Here’s one example:

Fern loved Wilbur more than anything. She
loved
to stroke him, to feed him,
to put him to bed. Every morning,
as soon
as she got up, she warmed his milk,
tied his bib on, and held the bottle for him.

Note that in the first list (second sentence), there is no conjunction, however in the second (third sentence) there is the conjunction “and”. The first list implies there is no end to the things that Fern would do for Wilbur. However, the second list shows that those three items are specifically what Fern does for Wilbur each morning.

White also uses asyndeton in the middle of a sentence:

Everywhere is loot for a rat–in tents, in booths, in haylofts–why,
a fair has enough disgusting leftover food to
satisfy a whole army of rats.

Again, no conjunction, implies that there are more than three places where a rat may find food.

Next time you write a list, consider if it requires a conjunction, or if you want to imply something unending.

Source:  Rogers, Cindy. “By Necessity, By Proclivity, By Delight, We All List.” Word Magic for Writers: Your Source for Powerful Language That Enchants, Convinces, and Wins Readers. West Redding CT: Writer’s Institute Publications, 2004. N. pag. Print.

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(¸.•´ (¸.•* Suzanne Costigan writes middle grade and YA novels. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada with James, her children, three dogs and four cats.

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.

Writing Funny

We are only looking for humorous stories at this time. I had a dramatic tale of romance, death and forgiveness ready to send to a popular fiction magazine for teens when I saw the notice above printed in big bold letters on the submission guidelines page.  I had seen requests for funny stories on several other children’s magazine websites. I decided it was time to do some research and learn what I could about writing funny stuff. Turns out there were dozens of websites with tips for writing humour, many of them with the same advice. Here’s what I discovered. 

Characters

Characters are funny when ………..

They say one thing and do another.

They say exactly what they’re thinking without regard for what is socially appropriate or politically correct.

They act without considering the consequences of their actions. 

They act mechanically, or out of habit.

They have a simple task to do and end up turning it into a huge deal

They take instructions literally. 

Words

Words are funny when……..

They start with a hard ‘K’ sound or a hard ‘G’ sound. Think of kerfluffle or gadzooks!

You combine two words to make a funny new one that includes the meanings of both words. This is called portmanteau.  For example ‘redumbdancy’- when you do the same stupid thing over and over or ‘elbonics’- two people trying to share the same armrest.

Writers Digest has compiled a great list of funny words. 

Very young readers often find humour in alliteration or rhyme or repetition.

Conflict

Conflict is funny when..……..

a)  A realistic character is caught in an absurd world and there is conflict between realities. 

b)  A character is conflicted because they want two things equally. 

c) Two characters experience conflict because they are so very different.  

Surprises

Surprises are funny when……….

You set a story in a surprising location. 

Your character has a surprising or unusual problem to solve. 

Children love surprises that are unbelievable like a character who pulls a mouse, a tiger and finally an elephant out of their pocket. 

You use the Rule of 3 to describe something or answer a query and make the third component incongruent and suprising. Here’s a sample line from the old Dick Van Dyke show.  Dick is talking to a bald man. “Can I get you anything?  Cup of Coffee? Doughnut? Toupee?”

You give cliches a surprising twist.  

Change is inevitable except from vending machines.

He who laughs last thinks slowest. 

I think I’ll stop here.  I want to keep in mind the words of children’s author EB White who said……..

Analyzing humour is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies.  

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Say It In A Letter

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About Family Sayings and Aphorisms

MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next? 

MaryLou Driedger is a free lance writer with a long career as a newspaper columnist, curriculum writer and contributor to lifestyle, education and religious publications.

I'm Stuck

Have you ever hit that point in writing when you figure you should just give up?

After finishing my novel and sending it off to a publisher back in March. (Still waiting!) I started outlining a new project but kept stalling out. Being somewhat burned out after the marathon of writing and editing my last novel, I just needed a break, right?

March… April… May…

In the second week of June I had an opportunity to attend a writing weekend – peace, quiet and my laptop (no kids, no pets). Being an excellent goal setter, I figured out what I wanted to accomplish that weekend – edit three picture book manuscripts and get 4,000 words into the new book. And, not too shabby, I edited three picture book manuscripts and wrote 2,000 words in the new novel.  With that kick start to the new project coming home and continuing should have been easy peasy–

Laugh                                                                 

Out

                                                             Loud

And there it sits.

Why am I trying so hard to write this novel? Maybe it doesn’t want to be written, however the idea is fantastic, it has series potential and for a boy audience to boot…

I even know WHY I’m stuck:

I need one of my characters to produce a certain behaviour. The problem is motivation (not mine, the character’s) WHY would he act this way? “Because I need him too,” is not a good answer. If he doesn’t act this way the story will be awfully boring and not even remotely humerous. My brain hamsters run ragged on my brain wheel but no solution, no motivation comes forth to assist in my dilemma.

Pick up any book on writing and I’m sure the answer is write it anyway, the answer will come. Or there’s the advice of skip that scene and come back to it. Both excellent suggestions. And this is a first draft, so what does it matter if I know the motivation, right?

Right.

Yet, it sits… I have decided to leave it for the summer. I have another manuscript to edit anyway while my kids are out of school. I have some editing studying to do. And I can always continue working on those picture books.

In September, I’m sure his motivation will hit me square between the eyes, everything will fall into place and the rest of the manuscript will come together without a further hitch…

L-O-L

What do you do when you get stuck?

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.

Who Should Not Critique Your Manuscript

Part one of a two part series tackling the issue of critique. wrong_way_sign

We know we need a fresh set of eyes to look at our work, but who? A few months ago I learned a valuable and slightly painful lesson about who I should ask for critique. While I can bring my YA work to Vast Imaginations, my short stories are geared for adults, so I had never received any feedback on them. I had placed in a few contests, but I was interested in where I could improve and what was keeping me from that first place spot.

So, I contacted a writer-in-residence. He said he was glad to help out and I sent a couple of my short stories to him. To make a long story short—he had never written a short story and about 90 per cent of his advice I had to toss. I tried to make the best of it, sifting and sorting through the advice for that ten per cent I could take home to improve my writing.

For the most part it was a discouraging experience, but I learned some valuable lessons:

1. Ask a few questions before asking someone to do a critique. What is their area of expertise and experience? What types of material do they like to read?

            A writer is a writer is a writer. Right? No! Absolutely not! If you write YA, get someone who reads and/or writes YA to critique it. If you had a tooth ache, you wouldn’t go see a proctologist. I’m not saying, be overly finicky, but the best critiques are going to be from people who understand your audience and genre.

2. Talk it out. Though I felt embarrassed by my own inexperience at going into the situation so blindly, I brought it to my writing group. We discussed the matter and as it turns out—I’m not the only one who has made this sort of mistake. When you have a bad writing experience the worst thing you can do is keep it bottled up–it has much more power in secret than when brought to light.

magnifying_glass_013. What I will and won’t critique. I refuse to put anyone else through that same experience, so I put my own parameters in place for what I will and won’t critique. I don’t have a poetic bone in my body. If you asked me to critique your poetry, I’d say “no.” I have no experience or expertise there. My kids could give you a better feedback than I could.

4. How to sort advice. When I had my first baby, I got a lot of advice and since I figured everyone knew more than me about parenting, I tried to employ it all. I soon learned that advice is like a bag of hand-me-downs—some things fit and some things do not. I learned to sort the parenting advice and in the same way I’m learning to sort writing advice, taking the good to improve my books and casting the bad off. Just because I had a bad experience, doesn’t mean there is nothing to learn from that person. I gleaned from my meeting with the writer-in-residence that I needed to do a better job of anchoring my stories. This was great advice and has improved my short stories. We need to be discerning and hunt out the diamonds among the coal.

Critique is often difficult to take. So once you find the right person and you get that oh-so-valuable critique, how do you handle it? Find out on July 2 when I post the second part this series.

Melinda Friesen authored Enslavement, a young adult dystopian novel, released by Rebelight Publishing. When she’s not writing, Melinda works as marketing director and acquisitions editor at Rebelight Publishing Inc.

Writing Groups: What Makes Ours Tick?

Give our Vast Imaginations group a cursory glance and you might wonder what kind of glue keeps us together. After all, on the surface we seem more different than alike.  Take the age spread, for example.  Some of us are retired seniors with travel on our minds. Others are two or more decades younger, rooted at home with families to tend. Listen to our discussions and you’ll hear different points of view on everything from parenting to social justice. Our cultural backgrounds are diverse.  So too are our career paths, educational experiences, and personal goals. Even when it comes to writing – supposedly a common thread – we differ in our interests. Some write YA novels, others picture books, short stories or narrative non-fiction.

With so many differences, what keeps us together?  What keeps the Vast Imaginations machinery humming and why does our group work when others sometimes fail?  While there may be a dozen reasons, not the least of which is Suzanne Costigan, our founder and a major driving force, here are a few of the  ingredients that contribute to our success.

Group Size

All members present, we are six in the group.  Six is ideal – not so many that individual voices cannot be heard, but still large enough for a healthy exchange of ideas

Focus

writing furiouslyWhile our target audience is fairly broad (beginning readers to young adults), Vast Imaginations members share a common focus. Rather than aiming for a general audience, we write stories for youth, a group that has its own needs, interests, emotional concerns, relationship quandaries, and even language. Narrowing the parameters of our writing sharpens the boundaries of our discussions.

Structure

We meet every second Tuesday at the same time and same place, and we follow a well-honed structure that Suzanne instituted from the start. We begin with a quick-write and follow that with an instructional segment.  Next we have a round of critiques, questions and discussions about pieces submitted by 2 or more members.  If time permits, we end our 2 hour meeting with another quick-write.  The established format keeps us rooted and focused, and the fact that we meet at a consistent time and place helps us stick-handle other commitments around our Tuesday meetings.

Shared learning

improveAsk any of us what we hope to gain through Vast Imaginations and I expect you’ll hear a one-note refrain – we all want to hone our craft, become better writers, and learn from each other. Built into each meeting is a learning component, a 10 to 30 minute segment where we dive into a writing topic, plumbing the depths to learn more about point of view, characterization or other subjects. Besides adding to our knowledge, the learning segment gives us common ground for future critiques and discussions.

Shared responsibility

We set individual goals for our writing, but we also have a vested interest in making the group work.  A few months ago, for example, Melinda suggested blogging, and then once we had sunk our teeth into the concept, she created the site with Christina’s help. We take turns submitting posts, and while some do more than others (Christina also handles writing prompts while Suzanne manages weekly grammar and punctuation entries), we all contribute, recognizing that the site belongs not to just one person but to the entire group.

Flexibility

writing funWhile the format of our meetings is structured, there is flexibility within the group, too. Our blog topics for example, are purely our own.  We have no prescribed list of subjects to follow, no style manual other than the restrictions of the blog form itself, and we do not need the approval of others before we post material although we are free to consult other members in the group if we wish.  Because a number of us travel, often for long periods, meetings continue with whoever can attend. Those away receive e-mail updates, and when possible contribute with critiques and blog entries.  There is an understanding that we all have lives beyond the group itself, and that are if one member cannot make a deadline or isn’t ready with material for critiquing, that’s okay as long as we communicate with each other.  Most times someone else rises to fill the void.

No doubt there are plenty of other reasons for our group’s success.  But I am interested in what makes other writing groups tick, too, or conversely why they might have failed.  So, blog readers, what do you see as ingredients for success or the pitfalls to avoid?  How does your writer’s group function?  What advice do you have for those seeking to join a writer’s group or bravely aiming to establish an entirely new one?

Larry Verstraete (www.larryverstraete.com) is a Winnipeg educator and author of non-fiction books for youngsters.  Currently he is working on a novel for middle grade readers, and relying heavily on the advice of his Vast Imaginations colleagues to smooth its rough edges.

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.
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