Monday, December 19, 2011


Can you relate to this? Everyone agrees you have a good topic and you've put a great spin on it, but it lacks…well, it’s hard to say what exactly. You redo paragraphs your writing group said were long; now the entire selection is choppy. You break up narration with dialogue, only to learn “it doesn’t have a natural feel to it.” The prose is flat in places, and even where the writing is good, your article or story is simply not coming together.
Maybe it lacks what I call journalistic balance. If so, you can learn to balance your writing by examining the works of professional writers. They’re easy to find.  Your local newspaper could be a source, and you can definitely expect to see them in magazines known for their excellence in journalism.
To find examples for this article, I checked the website of one of my favorites: The Smithsonian Magazine. I immediately clicked on “How E.B. White Wove Charlotte’s Web.” What writer can resist a title like that? And the reference to weaving fit this article because a well-woven article will be balanced.
Hopefully the article by Chloe Schama will still be posted when you read this. As a writer, reading her article should be both interesting and entertaining for you. Studying the following three items should not overwhelm you.
·         Opening: Notice the phrase, “porcine encounter.” Without it, Ms. Schama’s opening would have been too wordy and awkward for one sentence. How many of us would have considered using the word porcine?

·         Use of the m-dash: Here it emphasizes the next six words whose contrast to all that follows makes the m-dash still more effective.

·         Transition between the first two paragraphs: Remember that long list of transitional words and phrases you drew up in high school? They are largely absent in Schama’s articles, and that gives her writing a satisfying maturity. What links her first two paragraphs are the words “loss” and “sentiment.”
There is much more to learn about balancing your writing, but effective openings, punctuation, and transitions are good elements to start with.  And speaking of transitions, while you’re at the Smithsonian site, why not read Chloe Schama’s article, Frank Baum, the Man Behind the Curtain? After you’ve read it once, peruse it. Notice how she leads you smoothly from one paragraph to another.
Make a list of your observations. Soon your skill in using transitions will improve. And when you apply your knowledge to the story that wouldn’t come together? Read it and listen to the flow.


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