Expressive Writing: Part 2 of 3

I have a new workshop offered by Story Circle Network starting June 3rd, titled “Refresh Your Expressive Writing Skills.” We’ll talk about writing effective sentences and paragraphs, review the most common grammar problems, and brush up on essay writing skills.

As a warm-up, I’m offering a tip or two and publishing an essay by a participant in a previous version of this workshop, “Basic Writing Refresher” offered by Madison College last fall.

Week 2 Effective Writing Tips from Sarah

Sentence skills! Who thinks about them? And yet, how confident are you in your sentence-craft?

Here are a few of the most common errors I see, as an editor:

Failure to use parallel sentence structure: Parallelism is when words or sections of a sentence that are similar in function have similar grammatical forms. By balancing the items in a pair or a series so that they have the same kind of structure, you will make the sentence clearer and easier to read. Sentences that are not parallel are awkward to read and sometimes unclear. Nonparallel: My job includes checking the inventory, initialing the orders, and to call the suppliers. Parallel: My job includes checking the inventory, initialing the orders, and calling suppliers.

Fragments: Every sentence must have a subject and a verb and must express a complete thought. A word group that lacks these must-haves is a fragment. There are several kinds: Dependent-word fragments lack a complete thought. Example: “Jane walked all over the neighborhood. Trying to find her cat.” Easily fixed by joining the two sentences with a comma.

Run-ons: A run-on is two complete thoughts that are run together with no sign given to mark the break between them. Some run-ons have no punctuation at all. These are called fused sentences. Example: “The car stopped suddenly I spilled soda all over my shirt.” Easily fixed by adding a few connecting words –“The car stoped so suddenly that…”

Other run-ons have a comma, but a comma alone is not enough to connect two complete thoughts. These are called comma splices. Example: Joe told everyone to be quiet, his favorite show was on. Easily fixed, using one of three common tweaks:

  • Use a period and capital letter.
  • Use a comma plus a joining word (such as but, or, and, so, yet).
  • Use a semi-colon.

A final tip: To turn on your “sentence sense,” read what you’ve written aloud! This activates your natural language skills that come from speaking English.

Lorriann wrote the following essay in response to the same assignment as Betty Merkes’ essay last week: Write a personal essay drawn from life experience.

Networks

By Loriann Knapton

Author’s note: The essay reflects my thoughts and my mom’s memories of similar newspaper columns in her hometown paper. The Jen Kvidt and Martinius Kvidt families are real people and relatives of my mother’s. I created names of columns and other people, and imagined the events mentioned, to illustrate how these local news items were crafted.

Long before Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter were born; before Email, Messenger, or the World Wide Web were conceived, there existed critical social networks for the masses. These networks were as popular, as reliable, (or not), and as critical to sustaining human connection as any social media platform today. People called it the local newspaper.

Unlike major city newspapers, which focused mainly on national and state news with perhaps a society page with funeral and wedding notices tossed in, the rural weekly included news of specific interest to the community. Current local farm market prices, local disasters such as a barn fire or car accident, the baseball score of the American Legion baseball game, information on an upcoming church social or 4-H meeting, obituaries, hospital admissions and police reports often completed the bulk of the weekly paper. While some national and state news headlines might be printed, the primary purpose of the local rural weekly was to update community members on local events.

For example, in my Mother’s hometown, a small farming community in northern Minnesota, a column entitled, “Local Happenings” or something similar, (the titles sometimes changed depending on how creative the columnist was feeling that week.) was a beloved staple of the weekly newspaper. The columns were the first thing everyone turned to when the paper arrived in Wednesday’s mail with its content often the highlight of conversation at the dinner table on Wednesday evening.  

Far more popular than the weekly headlines or world events, the local news column was written by a community member, usually an older local farm wife with no children at home, to which people would submit their items of interest in the hope that their “news” would find its place in the local happenings section of the weekly. “Mr. and Mrs. Jens Nelson, visited the home of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Kvidt last Saturday night for supper,” one paragraph might read, “after a delicious meal of swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, and Alma Nelson’s blue ribbon lingonberry pie, the men beat the women at whist two games out of three.” Other important information included notations on births such as “Mr. and Mrs. Alden Johnson welcomed a healthy baby girl on Thursday November 12, a much welcome addition after five boys. Mother and baby came home from the hospital last Thursday and are doing well”; engagements, “William Johnson and Lillian Nelson are delighted to announce their upcoming nuptials planned for later next spring after the crops are in.” or family visits from out of town such as, “Mr. and Mrs. Martinius Kvidt, hosted their daughter Anna and son-in-law Peter, all the way from Fargo, last weekend to help Martinius celebrate his 78th birthday. A special dinner was served for eight guests on Saturday night, including Mr. Kvidt’s favorite poppy seed cake.”

The local news column found in small town newspapers everywhere was an edited version of daily life. It kept isolated rural neighbors in touch by allowing them to focus on something outside of the grind of daily farm life while helping them celebrate the simple joys of living. The column kept neighbors up to date with each other’s lives, provided diversions from long summer days, and even longer cold winter nights, and gave folks something to contemplate, celebrate, or criticize, depending on their perspective.

In this writer’s humble opinion, Twitter and Facebook have nothing on “Local Happenings” or the rural weekly. In fact, technology aside, today’s instantaneous social media may not even be as effective. Because these days the ability to contemplate, celebrate, and criticize is available with one simple quick click. No thought or editor required.  

©  2021 Loriann Knapton

Loriann Knapton recently retired from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction where she served as a child nutrition consultant and trainer. Although unpublished, she has been none the less a writer all of her life, starting with silly rhymes and short stories in grade school and moving on to countless poems, personal essays and eulogies for family members and friends.  In retirement she is delighted to finally have the time to work on completing a memoir of growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks” in the 1960s with a disabled dad. 

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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