One of the ironies of our present day educational systems is that grammar, sentence structure and logic are no longer in vogue like they once were. Speak to anyone around my age and they can name their grammar teacher from high school and more than likely describe what a tough bird she or he was. Mine was Miss Maudine Few and she was quite exacting when it came to grammar and the eight parts of speech.
The English language has eight parts of speech: noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction and interjection. Each part of speech shows the role a word plays grammatically in the sentence. ‘In grammar classes, diagramming a sentence was thought of as an intellectual necessity. Nowadays I bet most young people would not even know what you meant by diagramming a sentence. Also don’t ask them to name the 8 parts of speech. Such skills are no longer required for a student to receive a diploma.
In spite of lacking the basic preparation as mentioned in the previous paragraph, more books are being written than ever before. About 30,000 new books hit the market in the USA monthly! A good many of them are overflowing with bad grammar, weak construction and dull material.
Also something called “a blog” has been born in recent years. It’s a cross between a magazine article and an essay. The number of blogs these days run into the millions—with this blog being just one of them—and new blogs popping up daily.
We have arrived at the point where literary overkill is the order of the day. We find a lot of sizzle (hype) but very little steak (mostly sloppy prose.) Together they spell mediocrity. The solution lies in the use of better grammar, sentence structure and interesting ideas (see last week’s blog.)
If you hope to become a serious writer, you will do well to study grammar and sentence construction—either that or pay out big bucks for an editor to make all the corrections for you. Even so, you still must work on your story-telling abilities. This means that a book or a screenplay or a stage play is composed of many little scenes strung together by a common thread much like a necklace. Each scene must have a beginning (a setup), a middle (a central action) and an end (punch line type wrap up.) Don’t leave out one of the three elements and don’t overdo any one element.
You probably are asking: Where do I come up with these little scenes? Answer: They’re all around you. Just be on the lookout for them. I bet if you went to Walmart recently, you saw something unusual. There is your sketch. It could have consisted of a mother with a child who wanted her to buy cookies. You have the setup and the central action begins when the kid starts yelling. So, how did it end? Did she give in and buy the cookies or did she slap the child? She had to do something. Maybe she just totally ignored her offspring and the “little noise factory” finally shut up.
The most appealing topics are actual life lessons authors have learned on their travels through life . Scenes without all three elements make for dull reading or viewing. This is the best way to write a page-turner script or book.
Write down some questions or prompts to guide you in coming up with meaningful little incidents. In the following paragraphs, I have asked myself a question or a prompt. I have written a brief scene in response. Some of these experiences have already appeared in several of my published books.
Try answering these questions and prompts or make up ones of your own. Be sure when you respond to them, you have all three elements: setup, action and conclusion.
Describe a major disappointment in your life.
I was teaching school in the Los Angeles area and at the same time was trying to become a professional actor. I appeared in several plays at the Glendale Centre Theater. Once I had the title role in a play called” The Handyman. “ I got great reviews in the local press, One night an, older, larger-than-life type lady was in the audience. Afterwards we met and she invited me over to her home the following week. She said she wanted to talk to me about taking the play to Broadway with me as the star. Her name was Lottie Horner and she was quite renown in New York. I was on my way, I thought. Here comes the big time. A few days later before we were to sign the contracts at her lawyer’s office, I read in Variety that she had died of a heart attack. This caused me to have to struggle ten more years before I finally got my toe through the show business door.
When you were a kid, who could you always go to for honest answers?
Sally Kelley was my father’s first cousin. She was a writer and poet, taught piano, her husband Harry played for the Chicago Cubs and she was the mother of two boys. She never sugar-coated things. I found out early on that she was straight forward. I remember once when I was in the ninth grade, she came for a visit. I was writing a short story and asked her to read it. I wanted to know what she thought. She laughed and said it was not good at all. She then told me that I should continue writing and write all the time. That was the only way to get better. Up until she passed away, I could ask her anything and knew I was going to get an honest answer.
Write a funny story about your father to show his sense of humor or lack of it.
I lived with my great-aunt in Jackson, Mississippi, when I was in the sixth grade. My father worked for the railroad. He had a pass and would pop in to visit us from time to time. I bought a white rabbit the Easter I lived in Jackson.. My aunt decided she did not want me to keep it in her house. My father took it home with him. On the train gong back, a guy sitting in his row of seats asked what he did for a living. My father replied that he was a magician. The guy said he would like to see a trick. My father asked him if he would like to see him pull a rabbit out of his hat. The guy was dubious but shook his head yes. My father worked the rabbit out of the cage into his hat and proceeded to show it to the man and others. He made believers out of them. My father loved human comedy like this and was always pulling tricks of one kind or another.
Describe the first car you ever owned.
It was a 1926 Four-door, Hudson Essex Super Six that I bought my senior year in high school. It cost my father $75 dollars. My friend and I would drive it all over town as though we were big shots. Unfortunately it threw a piston through the block and died one very beautiful Sunday afternoon. I recently saw where a restored 1926 Essex was selling for $52,000.
Describe the house you lived in while growing up.
It was built in 1854. During the Civil War, it was used as a hospital. In the latter part of the 1800s it was a fashionable girls school. Then it passed into the hands of my great-aunt Mattie and subsequently to my father. As a child I slept upstairs in a hallway. Some nights I thought I heard waltz music playing in the far distance. Some people told me it was the wind blowing through the eaves. Others told me the house was haunted. Presently the house is on the city registry of historical homes, In a tourist brochure it states that the current owner claims on certain quiet nights, she can hear waltz music playing in the far distance.
Check over your experiences in life and use them to advantage in sprucing up your w4riting.