The Noble Pen for Mar 16, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 16th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids


Writers need to understand psychology to effectively portray characters’ behavior. Malcolm Gladwell has an interesting take on choices and Dan Areily dscusses how we make decisions.


Dylan got a rejection from an anthology submission.

Dakota participated in a signing in Kansas City.  She sold some books and made contacts, but was disappointed in the planning and conduct of the organizers.


Sentences, even when properly constructed, can become too long for easy reading.   Some call these “stringy” sentences, where many related (we hope) thoughts are strung together.  Often this involves multiple conjunctions, such as “and” or “but.”

For example, “Joe was driving across town and his car sputtered and stopped and he looked it over for problems but eventually discovered he was out of gas.”  This is grammatically correct (I hope) but poor writing.

It could be improved as “While driving across town, Joe heard his engine sputter to a stop.  He looked it all over for problems before discovering he was out of gas.  The re-write here avoids “and” by breaking it into two sentences, moving part of the thought into a leading clause, and using the  conjunction “before.”

Sometimes the “and” repetition can be eliminated by simply making a comma-separated list (with the Oxford serial comma, by my preference).  “She realized this was the night she had invited Jim for dinner so then she dropped her book and looked in the refrigerator and pulled out the thawed steak and turned on the stove and began cooking it.”  How about “When she realized this was the night she had invited Jim for dinner she dropped her book, looked in the refrigerator, pulled out the thawed steak, turned on the stove, and began cooking it.”  Still not great prose, but probably easier to read.

Often, a sentence can be shortened without losing any of the thought.  Phrases can be replaced with a better word or redundant words deleted.  “I was somewhat late this time due to the fact that my very rusty car that is unreliable had yet another mechanical breakdown again.”  We don’t learn much from “somewhat.”  Either skip it or tell how late.   “Due to the fact” can become “because.” “Very” is imprecise and adds little.  The rust did not cause this breakdown.   Aren’t all breakdowns mechanical?  This can be “Today I was an hour late because my decrepit car broke again,” and we have lost nothing important.

On the other hand, shortening sentences can be overdone, making a choppy read, except perhaps where fast-paced action is occurring.  “Pam decided to take a walk.  She put on her hiking shoes and jacket.  She left the apartment shortly after noon.  She spent a long time circling the pond in the park.”  These choppy sentences do not convey a relaxed feeling that a leisurely walk should evoke.  Maybe “Pam decided to take a walk.  Wearing her hiking shoes and a jacket she left the apartment shortly after noon and spent a long time circling the pond in the park.”  Using a longer but smooth sentence helps convey the proper feeling.

The goal is to use a variety of sentence constructions, that are easy to read, and are chosen to fit the pace of the story.

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