Analyzing your own writing

IMG_4104Pictured here is the entrance to our tiny apartment in Winnipeg where we will be completing almost a year’s residence by the end of May. This display of three of our published books is our small attempt to advertise our publishing efforts of the past. Getting settled in after our move from British Columbia last summer and re-adjusting to apartment living and a return to a city we left eleven years before, finding time to celebrate being with family and friends we had left behind, plus the daily struggles of adjusting to Ian’s disabilities have taken their toll on keeping up this blog.

Our previous reblog, “Is the first sentence the charm?”from  Take Five Authors inspired Gayle to go back to our previously published writings and take an analytical look at our opening sentences, both the stories written by Ian and the articles we have shared written by Gayle. Did our opening sentences do their job of grabbing the reader’s attention. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. Here’s how we think they add up:

Ian’s how-to book Metal Machining Made Easy. metal-machining-made-easy-cover-largePreface: “Congratulations, you’ve finally decided that you are going to make full use of that lathe that’s sitting idle in your workshop. Or maybe you are just thinking of buying a little lathe, and wonder if it would be worth your while, as you don’t know much about machining steel. You think it looks too technical and complicated. Well, it isn’t nearly as difficult as it seems. All that is required to do some exacting machining is the ability to read, some common sense and a little patience.”

How does this measure up? I think, for a how-to book, it certainly would grab the attention of anyone who would be looking for a book about machining metal – a rather select group of do-it-yourself types. It would encourage someone who has the right equipment but lacks the no-how to get some valuable pointers on how to use the equipment. This first sentence in the preface adds some personal interest to a factual subject.

Ian’s adventure/time travel novel Beyond the Phantom Battle: Mystery at Loch Ashie.Beyond the Phantom Battle: Mystery at Loch Ashie

Chapter One. Engulfed in the Phantom Battle: “Calan and Malcolm McKinnon were twin brothers. Both were twenty-two years of age and just an inch less than six feet in height. Calan was the studious type, always wanting to get to the bottom of things and happiest when he had problems to solve. Malcolm was just the opposite–carefree and always ready with a joke or a quick remark no matter what the situation. But most important, they were the best of friends and, like most twins, were in harmony with each other.

“The brothers had traveled north from their home in Edinburgh to Inverness, Scotland, to witness the strange phenomenon of a phantom battle. This so-called ‘battle’ was slated to happen just after dawn during the month of May at the small Loch Ashie, just east of the much larger and more famous Loch Ness. Their adventures began after Calan read a story written in the August 1999 issue of The Scots Magazine describing the battle and quoting witnesses who saw the battle during the month of May. He decided he just had to be there to see it, anything of a mysterious or historical nature certainly interested him.”

How does this measure up? Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Boring!!! Editor Gayle is hanging her head. How did this get by me? Perhaps it was even me who arranged the beginning to read as it does. (Sorry about that, Ian.) In retrospect, I wish I had come up with something a lot more exciting by bringing in the phantom battle in the first sentence such as “Calan and Malcolm could hardly have known that simply trying to witness a phantom battle would have put them into the thick of it.” Perhaps it is time for a second edition/printing. (Would that I had the time.)

Ian’s memoir From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada. Cover full size

Chapter One. The Cold and Hungry Early Years. “Thinking back on my early childhood, the most miserable over-all time was when it was evening, dark outside, middle of winter, clothes damp and cold from the rain, no oil for the lamp, no candles either, which meant no light of any kind in the dump we lived in, no fire to warm me a wee bit and no food. As a wee boy of six years of age, I was just sitting all alone in a dingy one-room flat. My hair was wet and water was still running down my face from the rain. I was shivering and my teeth were chattering, as I sat hoping that maybe someone would come and light the oil lamp. Maybe that someone would have a few lumps of coal and there would finally be a nice, warm fire started. If I got too hungry I could always fill my belly with cold water; then I didn’t feel so bad any more–well, for maybe an hour.”

How does this measure up? Brilliant (too quote an over-used British expression that Ian heard way too often on his last trip to the old country). Ian paints a woeful picture of his early surroundings that have had such an impact on his life of striving to overcome the negatives of an impoverished childhood. It certainly grabbed my attention and had me wanting to read more, especially since my childhood was such a contrast.

Ian’s children’s chapter book Jake, Little Jimmy & Big Louie.  JLJBL Book Cover

Chapter One. Jake Wants a Pet. “Every kid needs a pet; at least that’s what Jake believed. Jake was 11 and would have loved a puppy for company–something he could have fun playing with when he got home from school. But he knew that his wish would never happen because of the scare his mother got when she was a little girl. She had been bitten by a dog and, since that attack, had always felt nervous and uncomfortable whenever any dog, big or small, happened to come close to her. Even tiny dogs upset her.”

How does this measure up? It immediately establishes the conflict that Jake wants a pet and, for some reason, hasn’t got one yet. As a child reader I would want to find out how Jake solved this conflict, especially since “every kid needs a pet.”

Ian’s short story The Moonlit Meeting. Leprachaun

“A big full harvest moon had risen high in the sky the evening I climbed to the top of Mary’s Mountain, a steep hill close to the edge of the small town in the Scottish Highlands where we had recently moved. There were strange stories about the place. Some said it was haunted by a ghost named Mary who had been murdered up there many years ago by a jealous lover, and that her ghost still roamed the area, especially on full moon nights. Others said an old sea captain had hanged himself from a tree up there after losing his sweetheart, his ghost wandering around looking for her. I didn’t believe in things like that and wanted to prove to myself it was all a lot of nonsense.”

How does this measure up? The first sentence alone sets the scene but I think the second sentence is needed to really grab one’s interest. Better yet, would be the last sentence of the paragraph. The rest of the sentences flesh things out. To get the full impact with the first sentence, perhaps it would have been better to turn the sentences around thus: “I didn’t believe all the strange stories that I’d heard about Mary’s Mountain and decided to prove to myself that they were all a lot of nonsense. A big full harvest moon had risen high in the sky the evening that I climbed that steep hill close to the edge of the small town in the Scottish Highlands where we had recently moved. …”

Gayle’s short story “An April Swim in Paradise” Flora around swimming pool

“With the sun’s rays a bit deflected as the clock nears four, it is finally time for my daily rendezvous with my beloved pool at our new home in Mexico. I don my orange flowered swimsuit to contrast with the turquoise pool walls and lavish on some sunscreen. My swim shoes await me at the brick steps that surround our upstairs bathtub; but first I need to shake them out in case any wee scorpion has decided to take refugee in one of them. (Thankfully, one hasn’t.) Grabbing my sunglasses and a towel from the clothesline downstairs, I descend from the terrace to the front lawn and down the steps into the pool. Scotty, my husband, has already moved the solar blanket off the water, skimmed the water’s surface with the pool net and turned on the pump so the water is shimmering fresh and turquoise in the sunlight.

How does this measure up? It’s harder for me to analyze my own work. The first sentence is descriptive and sets the scene. But would it have been better to begin with trying to shake out a scorpion from my swim shoes? That would have started with a possible conflict situation. 

Gayle’s blogpost: “All Moving Companies Are Not Equal. Let the Buyer Beware!”100_0726

“We called it ‘The Move From Hell.’ Okay, we didn’t literally move ‘from Hell’ but from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, more like Paradise than Hell. Yet, our move proved to be ‘hellish.’ In May and June 2015 we made what we sincerely hope is the last major move of our lives from Vernon, British Columbia to downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba. Two moving companies contributed to making our move less than ideal: Two Small Men With Big Hearts (TSM) in Kelowna, BC and AMS Transportation Ltd. Inc. headquartered in Dundalk, Ontario. The latter company was the most “hellish.”

How does this measure up? I’m satisfied with the opening sentence and wouldn’t change it.

Gayle’s short story: A Scorpio versus Scorpion  ScorpionVectorImageVP

“Scorpio may be my sign of the Zodiac, but that’s really all I ever wanted to have to do with the creatures!”

How does this measure up? I’m also satisfied with the opening sentence. It establishes my sign of the zodiac and relates it to a real life scorpion which I sincerely hope I never again encounter. I think most readers would be curious to read further.

Gayle’s magazine editorial “Life’s Lessons Reinforced”  

Gayle-Editing at Esprit Magazine, Winnipeg-2004

“Beginning to write this column brings me full circle since the last issue of Esprit. Then, my horrendous fall and seven breaks in right leg and arm bones resulted in the need for someone else to write this column. Now, after 14 weeks in hospital (most of it in rehabilitation), I have two more days before going home and this editorial is due. What a place this has been to glean ideas for the topic, “Body and Spirit!” I would not have chosen the classroom, but every minute in this environment has reinforced some important lessons in life.

How does this measure up? The first sentence isn’t very dynamic, however, since it is a regular magazine column, it is probably an ok beginning and sets the scene for writing. The rest of the paragraph is more interesting and attention-grabbing. I probably should have reworded the opening by starting out: “What a  place the hospital has been to glean ideas for this issue’s topic, “Body and Spirit!”

OK. I wrote this blogpost almost two months ago, intending to expand on it when I got time. However, time has g0t away from me. We are in the throws of another move and I’ll probably not be able to come up for air again for awhile unless I find time to blog about the glorious 84th Birthday Party I threw for Ian a few days ago. On May 31st we will move to a bigger apartment in our same Winnipeg life lease apartment house (and to the penthouse floor!!). Tonight may be the only free time I can take before that move is over so this blogpost is finished. The process of analyzing some of our published writings has been fun and educational. I hope it will encourage me in my future editing to put more emphasis on the importance of effective opening sentences to a piece of writing. Thanks to Take Five Authors for the blog that got my analytic juices started.

Gayle Moore-Morrans

 

 

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