There Are Dummies

there


[Before rightfully denouncing the post title, please continue reading — thanks so much!] 

Starting sentences with “There is/are” or “There was/were” is rarely recommended and usually unnecessary.

Beginning a sentence in this way amounts to stating that a thing or things exist(s), then proceeding to say what you want to say about those things. It’s unnecessary to state that something exists because once you describe the thought or action involving this thing, you are already automatically stating that it exists (Yes, that sentence was painful to write…). Doing this twice in a sentence is not only redundant but shifts the focus from the main thought or idea to the establishment of the existence of whatever the subject of the sentence is.

Compare these examples:

Wrong: There was a duplicate keypad on the far wall of the foyer, and I quickly crossed to enter the same code.

Correct: I quickly crossed to the duplicate keypad on the far wall of the foyer and entered the same code.

In the original sentence, the subject appears to be the keypad instead of the character in the story. In the rewritten sentence, the focus is now on the character’s actions. 

Another set of examples:

Wrong: There were faint sounds of tires in the driveway that caused her pulse to race in anticipation.

Correct: The faint sound of tires in the driveway tickled her ears, and her pulse raced in anticipation.

The original sentence is awkward. The rewritten sentence allows the reader to put themselves in the character’s shoes and is much more interesting.

Starting sentences with “There” is a demonstration of using a dummy subject. Writers should avoid dummy subjects because they weaken their writing, making it vague and indistinct. In the examples above, “There” replaced the subjects of the sentences. However, that was unnecessary because we know what the subjects are. If you know what the subject is, then the subject shouldn’t be replaced.

Grammar refresher:

  • Subject: performs the action in a sentence – always a noun (person, place, thing) or a pronoun (replaces a noun: he, she, it, they, that, I)
  • Object: receives the action in a sentence
  • Verb: the action performed or received

The only acceptable exceptions would include sentences in which the subject is unknown, or dialogue that involves answering a question or giving directions. For example, if the purpose of the sentence is to state that something or someone is doing something, but you don’t know who or what is actually performing the action, then it would make sense to start with, “There is/are” or “There was/were.”

Reviewing your work and rewording sentences that begin with unnecessary dummy subjects is one of many ways to liven up and strengthen your writing. I find the need to do this with my own writing on a regular basis.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Substance

substance


Finding a nonfiction book that presents truly original content is not as easy as one would think.

I have edited many a self-help or business-related book that turned out to be mainly regurgitations of other people’s ideas.

Access to a world of knowledge on the internet makes it easy to find definitions, explanations, and opinions others may have about any subject under the sun. Things we read and hear stick in our minds and influence what we believe. Often they can become the foundation for a particular focus in our lives. 

When an individual has the desire to write a book about something that is important to them or important to others, at some point he or she will need to write down what they know on the subject. Of course, during the process, they will almost always discover that research into certain aspects is necessary before their book is complete.

However, what I take issue with is individuals who have nothing new to add to the subject or conversation they plan on writing a book about. I also take issue with book ‘authors’ who haven’t actually written any content of their own. Instead, they’ve collected material from previously published books, combined it together in a ‘new’ book, then proceeded to call it their own creation. Or, they’ve collected famous sayings that most everyone has already heard or read and that are readily available online to anyone who conducts a basic search then re-published them as ‘their’ book.

I’m sure most people are aware that students frequently plagiarize papers or simply copy and paste information they’ve found online and call it a paper. In the world of academia, this is widely discouraged, and students who are discovered will usually experience severe consequences.

But what about in the world of self-help, inspirational, and how-to books? Call me crazy, but I believe that authors should follow a few, basic, common-sense guidelines before self-publishing these types of books.

Questions I feel any nonfiction writer should ask themselves:

  1. How much of your content did you write from your own memory and experience?
  2. How much of your content has already been published, either in a book, video or movie?
  3. Are your ideas YOUR ideas, or someone else’s ideas that you just think are fantastic?
  4. If you’ve engaged in legitimate research (online or offline), have you gained the necessary permission(s) to publish content that already holds a copyright and isn’t in the public domain? This includes images as well.

Anyone who claims to be an expert or professional at something should be able to explain the topic or activity on their own, without having to scour the internet. Of course, people are all at different skill levels when it comes to communication, grammar or vocabulary, but the basic principles or processes involved in the topic at hand should already be present in their minds, ready to share.

I personally put this theory to the test when I wrote my series about preparation for self-publishing a book. I wanted to ensure that my content was original and based on my own knowledge and experience, because there are hundreds if not thousands of sites and books that talk about this subject to some degree.

First, I brainstormed a list of elements I thought were the most important for authors who were ready to publish their book to consider. Then, over a period of time, I wrote what I knew about each element, refining and rewriting many times. Everything I wrote came from my own mind, and I did not go online for ‘help’. When I couldn’t immediately come up with the exact words I was looking for, I would let it simmer for a few days; then I would simply write what I DID know, and only that.

The final two elements in my list of nine involved things that I don’t handle as part of my editing service. But I still thought they were important for authors to consider, so I included brief, accurate, related information that I’d found through research. I made it clear that my expertise only applied to the first seven elements. I have no desire to pretend to know something I don’t, especially in the professional arena.

It was super exciting for me to discover the amount of knowledge and experience related to book editing I’ve accumulated over the years. It really is true that the best way to find out if you know what you’re talking about is to try to explain it in depth to someone else. Many times in the past, I’ve outed myself by trying to explain something that I really didn’t understand and failed miserably. I’m sure everyone can relate to that feeling — problem is, some people aren’t willing to admit it.

Reading a book full of new ideas, insights or inspirations that help me in a way I’m unable to on my own is so rewarding! I must thank each and every author who has put in the time and effort to share them with the world. 

Weed Whacking

weed whacking


Just discovered an incomprehensible, impossibly long sentence in your manuscript?

Gasp!!

Kill the whole thing and call it a day?

Now just hold on a minute, wordsmith…give that red pen a rest.

First, ask what the GOAL of this monstrosity really is. Statement of fact? Call to action? Expression of feelings? List? Comparison? Physical description? …nonsense? (hopefully not)

Second, break it up into sections. Find a piece of it that you feel is solid, then ask yourself what you are trying to convey ABOUT that solid piece. Sometimes, simply cutting it in half is all you need to do. I’ve often found, however, that a writer may only have a vague idea of what they really desire to say.

Third, ask if it’s full of buzzwords and clichés. If so, how can you turn it into something original and thought provoking?

Going through this process can help weed out the unnecessary debris and leave the core blossom of the sentence standing in triumphant defiance. Your readers will thank you.