Suspend Your Disbelief

Posts Tagged ‘good writing’

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At a loss for words

Yesterday we talked about a tool to help you analyze your writing for “flabbiness” or “fitness” based on your use of prepositions, adjective and adverbs, and so on. But could analyzing your writing tell you something about your mental fitness, too? Researchers now believe that they may be able to detect the early signs of Alzheimer’s from a writer’s language. In a recently published paper, scientists at the University of Toronto examined the output of three writers for signs of the disease. From the study (titled “Longitudinal detection of dementia through lexical and syntactic changes in writing: a case study […]


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Is your prose fit or flabby? (And–does it matter?)

Is your writing lean and trim? Or does it need to shed some flab? Recently, user Leigh posted on FWR’s Facebook wall about an interesting writing-analysis tool, WritersDiet. Intrigued, I clicked on over. WritersDiet is a free online tool that analyzes a sample of your text. Paste in any text you want, hit “Run the test,” and the site provides an overall “fitness” report and a bar graph showing your usage of verbs, nouns, prepositions, adjectives/adverbs, and it/this/that/there. Here’s how it scored a few different samples: 1. The opening paragraphs of a front-page story from the New York Times: The […]


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The Risky Email Test

This is a little revision device I’ve whipped up to try to tell if a paragraph or page or section is too soft or vulnerable, if it needs to be edited out. Or if it’s too autobiographical in a way that could lead to questioning from my grandmother’s bridge club. You know how, after you’ve sent a risky email–maybe to someone you’re desperately in love with, or to your boss, or to a professor to lay into him a little bit when you aren’t really allowed to do that–there’s this feeling you get that maybe you should have waited until […]


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Under the Influence… of prepositions?!

Before submitting stories to workshop in graduate school, I spent hours combing my sentences for inefficiencies. I scrutinized verbs. I wrenched clauses from passive construction. I asked myself some hard questions about adjectives. My classmates often called my writing “clean,” which pleased me. I aspired toward concision. One term workshop was led by an intimidating man largely considered a genius among the graduate students. He introduced us to Chekhov and eviscerated stories with uncanny precision. When my turn came, I was nervous—with good reason. The week my story was up, he sent an email asking everyone to bring three pages […]


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Writers Writing About Writing: The Dirty Little Secret – a guest post by Richard Goodman

Editor’s note: As part of our focus on teaching this month, we’re delighted to present this guest post by Richard Goodman. When a writer publishes a book about writing, I’m often excited to read it.  Especially if it’s by a writer whom I admire.  He or she has been in the trenches, encountered problems and, more often than not, has solved them—or come near enough.  And he or she can write, which means it’s a pretty good bet the book will be readable.  So, I think: let’s hear what this writer has to say.  I want to learn, like we […]


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What Makes Gatsby Great

When I heard The Great Gatsby had been rewritten for intermediate readers, I did what many lovers of the novel probably did—checked the online version to see how my favorite passage had been changed, shook my fist, and then re-read the original, penciling all kinds of ecstatic remarks into the margins. In case you missed Celeste’s post, Macmillan has released a simplified version of the novel as “retold by Margaret Tarner.” Essentially, it relates the events of the Gatsby story without all the big words and elaboration. And so my favorite passage, two beautiful paragraphs of imagery and movement and […]


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Reading Bad: why writers should read "bad" books

Most writers agree that in order to write, you must also read. Author Allison Winn Scotch raised this point in a recent blog post titled just that: I think being a successful writer means reading your peers and learning from them too – I can’t tell you how much reading authors whom I admire has helped me up my game. Additionally, I think it’s hard to get into a literary state of mind without, well, being literary. And Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Egan agreed, saying in an interview (via): My advice is so basic. Number one: Read. I feel like it’s […]


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Writing lessons from the police blotter

Every writing student has probably heard Mark Twain’s adage “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between the lighting and the lightning bug.” But for a really striking example of the difference word choice can make, the Utne Reader turns to a surprising place: the police blotter. If versions of the event differ from [the reporting officer’s], these are recorded as witness statements. These can be summaries, but quotes are often included. The narrative voice at the center of an incident report is always emotionally neutral. He’s the ultimate reliable narrator. His […]


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Tim O'Brien-arama

The classic The Things They Carried is being re-released in honor of its 20th anniversary, so unsurprisingly, Tim O’Brien keeps popping up in my radar lately. Besides being a powerful writer, O’Brien is also a great teacher, and in his recent interviews he offers useful thoughts for writers of all levels. In this interview for Beyond the Margins (with Grub Street program manager Sonya Larson), O’Brien discusses the writing of The Things They Carried, how being a father changed his writing, and recent literary works by soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan: I have read a number of books and […]



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