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Online Writing Conversations with Linda

Linda M. Hasselstrom, editor, essayist, and award-winning poet and author, will help you improve your writing as you work from home on your computer.

Linda holds a BA in English and Journalism, a MA in American Literature, and has been a teacher of writing for more than 40 years.

Send your manuscript (fiction, nonfiction or poetry) as a computer attachment.

Linda will write her comments, suggestions and encouragement directly into the text and return it to you.

Some manuscripts, especially those that include photos, are too large to be sent easily as attachments.

Copy them to a flash drive (thumb drive) and mail it to Linda.

She'll return the flash drive with her comments in the text.


Quick Links

Find Authors

Writing Conversations By eMail
Online Consulting

Work with Linda to improve your writing
from the comfort of your home.


What's Here?

Not able to come to Windbreak House for a retreat?

For complete details on how you can work with Linda on your writing via e-mail, click on the listed topics
or scroll down and read them in order.

All About Writing Conversations by eMail
What kind of writer will benefit from this process?
What is a written evaluation? How long will it take?

What Does It Cost?
Details on the evaluation fee.

How Do I Apply?
Step-by-step instructions.

What If...?
Some questions and answers about possible problems.

Advantages and Disadvantages
Is it better to come to Windbreak House or work from home?

Why Are They Called "Writing Conversations"?
Linda's philosophy behind Writing Conversations by eMail.

Commendations by "Writing Conversation" Participants
Read what others have to say.

Sample Writing Conversation Unevaluated Essay
What changes would you suggest to the essay?

Sample Writing Conversation Essay with Linda’s Line-by-Line Evaluation
Includes general comments about how a Writing Conversation is conducted.

Handouts! Yes, You Can Try This At Home
A sampling of Linda's teaching handouts
with some writing exercises, grammar lessons, and things to ponder.

Writing Handout --- Active and Passive Voice
Writing Handout --- Beginning an Essay: Opening Lines
Writing Handout --- Descriptive Detail
Writing Handout --- Dangling Modifiers
Writing Handout: Kinds of Writing Errors --- not yet posted


For More . . .

The Ask Linda Page has some questions and answers posted about working with Linda at Windbreak House and from your own home. Still have questions? You may ask for further details on the Ask Linda Page or you can send us an e-mail using the link in the left-hand column of this website.


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All About Writing Conversations by eMail


Who Is Eligible?
Any writer, no matter what experience level-- from beginner to published author.

Linda has emphasized nonfiction and poetry writing in her work with retreat writers and the online Writing Conversations she conducts, since those are the genres in which she has published most often, and in which she has honed her instincts while teaching. However, she can certainly help you with your fiction writing. Linda reads plenty of fiction, even if she has never had much published, and the rules for good writing apply to all categories.


Linda says:
For more than forty years I've worked with writers from all over the country, with varying interests and in varied genres, at schools, workshops and at Windbreak House. Writers seem to benefit most, and be most pleased with the results, if they have a strong desire to write, which does not necessarily mean they want to publish what they write. They should be persistent, willing to work on a piece of writing until it satisfies them.

They should have an average working knowledge of the English language. If their grammar isn't perfect (and who can achieve that?) they should be willing to collect the reference works that will provide them with the ability to improve their writing.


What Is a Complete Evaluation?
A complete evaluation will include Linda’s line-by-line evaluation of your writing, inserted in the text of your manuscript. Besides these written comments, Linda will make general suggestions about your writing, and send supplementary material, including handouts (computer documents) with ideas on how to improve any particular writing problems, and some suggested reading.

To see a sampling of Linda's handouts, click here to be taken to the list of writing handouts below.

Linda at work
How is it done?

Once you send your work via an e-mail attachment or other electronic means, Linda loads it onto her computer.

She types her comments directly into the text of your manuscript [set off in brackets] so it will catch your eye and can be found by a search function.

Linda finds this is much faster than writing by hand with pen on paper, thus saving her time and your money.

How Long Will It Take?
Once Linda receives your manuscript and the $60 one-hour evaluation fee, she will complete her full evaluation and comments as soon as possible and return it to you via an e-mail attachment.

If she will need more than one hour to complete her comments she will contact you with her estimate of the time and additional payment she will need so you can decide how to proceed.

If she will take more than two to three weeks to complete her comments, because of her work or travel schedule, she will let you know as soon as possible. If you need the comments back sooner, let Linda know with your initial application so that she may speed up the process or decline your evaluation if she doesn’t have time to complete it.

You may wonder why Linda’s evaluation may take a week or more to complete when you are only paying for an hour or so of her time. Usually she reads a piece and makes her initial comments on the first read-through so the material is fresh to her. Often she then puts it aside for a day or two, thinks about it, then reads it again and adds to her comments.


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How Much Does a Writing Conversation Cost?


A full evaluation of your manuscript, with a written commentary, costs $60 per hour.


Linda has many years of experience and works fast and thus can cover many pages in an hour. The actual time involved in reading and commenting on your work will depend on your manuscript (prose or poetry?), your writing style and exactly what help you request from Linda.

For the full evaluation fee, you receive a line-by-line written commentary on your manuscript (unless you request otherwise), explanations of all Linda’s suggestions, plus e-mailed handouts or reference materials explaining various writing techniques Linda believes you should use to improve the writing, and perhaps some suggested reading.

You will be allowed to send one e-mailed list of followup questions, and receive one response from Linda at no additional charge.

Once Linda has received your initial payment of $60, she will begin work. If she finds she will need more than one hour to complete her comments she will contact you with her estimate of the time and additional payment she will need so you can decide how to proceed.

If Linda finishes her comments in less than one hour, we will refund any overage or apply it to a future Writing Conversation.



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How Do I Apply for a Writing Conversation by eMail?


1. Start the Conversation.
Send a letter to Linda by e-mail (or surface mail) explaining what you want to do with the piece you are submitting. Remember, this is not formal; it’s a conversation between writing partners.

Be sure to:
-- tell Linda what type of help you especially want: for example line-by-line comments on your writing style or an overview of the structure of your piece
-- list any specific questions you have about your writing
-- tell Linda whether or not you want additional suggestions on marketing the piece
-- tell Linda if you need her comments by a particular date

And please, please, start the Conversation at least two months before your deadline to allow time for questions, the payment to arrive in the mail, and for the full evaluation and comments to be written. Of course Linda will try to finish sooner.



2. Introduce Yourself.
Include your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address.

Let Linda know a bit about yourself, especially what you hope to accomplish with your writing and specifically with the piece you are submitting.

Be sure to notify us at once of any address changes that occur before you get your evaluation back.



3. Send Your Poetry or Nonfiction Manuscript.
Send us the work you want evaluated in an e-mail attachment to info@​windbreakhouse.com (use the link in the left-hand column of this website).

-- Linda uses both Microsoft Word and WordPerfect software. We are generally able to open most files, but if we cannot we'll let you know. A backup option is to copy and paste the manuscript into the text of an e-mail message.
-- If you aren't able to work via e-mail, send your poetry or nonfiction manuscript on a CD or a flash drive (thumb drive), with information about the format you are using. CDs and flash drives will be returned with Linda's comments in the text. Please do not send your only copy.
-- Please do not send a zip disk. We do not have a zip drive.

Sending your manuscript in an electronic format will allow Linda to transfer your manuscript to her computer and type her comments directly into your manuscript [set off by brackets this way], just as she does for writers in residence at Windbreak House writing retreats. Linda has found this method allows her to work faster than writing by hand. She can be more specific and detailed in her comments in a shorter time, thus saving her time and your money.

If you absolutely cannot submit your work except on paper, send a query letter explaining your circumstances and Linda will consider your situation.



4. Evaluation Fee.
Mail your $60 one-hour evaluation fee to:

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Retreat
P.O. Box 169
Hermosa, SD 57744-0169.

Please make checks payable to Linda M. Hasselstrom. Thank you.

Sorry, we cannot accept credit card payments at this time.

Because poetry and nonfiction vary so greatly, Linda is unable to estimate the time required to study your manuscript without first seeing it. At one time Linda asked for an application deposit, looked over manuscripts and gave a time and cost estimate, and then waited for the full payment. But that took extra time. We have found it easier to ask for a one-hour reading fee and go from there.



5. Let the Reading and Evaluation Begin.
When it arrives, we will acknowledge receipt of your $60 payment, and Linda will begin reading and writing her comments on your manuscript or poetry as soon as possible.

If necessary, Linda may first ask for more details from you about what help you want, or she may send a brief note with some suggestions of things you may want to do before her evaluation.

If she finds she will need more than one hour to complete her comments she will contact you with her estimate of the time and additional payment she will need so you can decide how to proceed. Some writers pay for a complete evaluation right away. Others have Linda do as much as she can in the first hour, read through her comments, and decide later if they wish to continue with a longer Writing Conversation.

If Linda finishes her comments in less than one hour, we will refund any overage or apply it to a future Writing Conversation (your choice).



6. Conversation With Linda.
Within the time specified, Linda will complete her evaluation, and e-mail (or mail) the manuscript back to you.

A complete evaluation will include Linda’s line-by-line evaluation of your writing, inserted in the text of your manuscript. Besides these written comments, Linda will make general suggestions about your writing, and send supplementary material, including handouts with ideas on how to improve any particular writing problems, and perhaps she will suggest some authors or specific books for you to read and study.

To see a sampling of Linda's handouts, click here to be taken to the list of writing handouts below.



7. The Conversation Continues.
After you receive this evaluation, you may ask questions in one email or letter, and Linda will respond in one additional email or letter at no additional charge.

Linda asks that you send your questions within a month or two and that you limit yourself to one batch of questions per commentary. The idea behind this, of course, is to prevent a writer who has received a commentary from writing 42 different emails with single questions, as she thinks of them during the next six months. Ideally, this helps the writer be more organized, but it also is designed to keep Linda from having to go back to a manuscript she finished reading three months ago and read it again to answer a question.


If you have any questions about these directions, please email Linda using the link in the left-hand column of this website.


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What If . . . ?


What if I need comments back from Linda by a specific deadline?
Tell us when you first get in touch. Linda will try to meet your deadline but sometimes she is traveling or busy with writing retreats or her own writing. If she can’t complete your evaluation on schedule, she will say so.


What if I decide to revise my manuscript before I receive the completed evaluation?
Contact us immediately, but it may be too late. Once Linda has begun her evaluation and written comments, your initial $50 evaluation fee will need to cover her time already spent. If you continue to work on the project, and want further evaluation, Linda will be happy to continue the Writing Conversation for additional payment.


What if Linda tells me my manuscript will take three hours to finish but I choose not to pay for a full evaluation?
Linda will complete as much of her evaluation as she can in the one hour you have paid for and you have no further obligation.


What if I decide I want to come to Windbreak House to work with Linda in person?
Complete the application process according to the directions elsewhere on this website. Residential writing retreats mesh very well with Writing Conversation commentaries by Linda either before or after the retreat.


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Advantages and Disadvantages


Is a Writing Conversation better than coming to a retreat at Windbreak House?


These Are the Advantages:
Linda can evaluate your writing even if you can’t take time away from work, children or pets at this time. You'll save money by not driving to Windbreak House. You don’t have to decide what to pack or how much food you’ll need for the retreat. And you won't have to polish up those hiking boots.


These Are the Disadvantages:
You don’t get to sit outside at dusk listening to the nighthawks while discussing your writing, or discover newly-opened wildflowers on a hike, or browse through the house library and trade suggestions of great books to read. You may still have to cook for anyone you may live with, answer the telephone, and try to ignore the TV in the other room-- but if you ask, Linda will send you hints on creating a retreat in your own home.

One of the benefits of a retreat at Homestead House is the time the attending writers spend simply discussing writing. Often during those spontaneous discussions, some remark is made that changes how a writer views a manuscript, or opens up a new area of exploration. Without the face-to-face contact with Linda and any other writers in residence with you, you will miss that possibility.


But Remember:
You can still come to Windbreak House anytime you need to, for more personal attention and a serene retreat atmosphere.


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Writing Conversation by eMail:
The next best thing to face-to-face.

Why Are They Called "Writing Conversations"?


Linda has been a teacher of writing for more than 40 years, instructing at colleges, secondary schools, and numerous workshops for public and private groups. In 1996, she began conducting writing retreats for women at her own Windbreak House Retreat, offering intensive instruction and encouragement.

But for years Linda resisted working with writers through the mail. She wrote:

Working face to face with a writer allows me to watch his or her expression and recognize when I have wounded feelings or need to explain more clearly what I mean. Writing is extremely personal. If I judge an inexperienced writer solely from black lines on white paper, I may miss a vital clue that would make the difference between pedestrian writing and brilliant writing.


Some Windbreak House participants persuaded Linda to continue working with them through the mail, once a working relationship had been established at the retreat. After a few years' experience working this way, Linda became more comfortable with the idea of writing comments on manuscripts even if she isn't able to discuss them with the writer face to face.

Linda also learned that working with digital manuscripts was much more efficient than putting pen to paper. (Hey, if Thomas Jefferson had had a computer he wouldn't have used a quill pen for the Declaration!)

In 2003, Linda agreed to be one of the non-fiction writing instructors for the "Online Mentoring for Writers," offered by the Split Rock Arts Program at the University of Minnesota, and discovered that working with writers she hasn't met wasn't impossible. After working online for Split Rock for more than a year, Linda began to develop her own system of working with writers through email.

Because she feels that helping a writer improve her work should be a cooperative effort, as it is during a personalized writing retreat at Windbreak House, Linda developed the concept of a Writing Conversation between writer and mentor as they exchange comments, ideas, suggestions, questions, and replies.

Just as any conversation will falter if only one party speaks, a Writing Conversation by eMail will be most effective and beneficial if the student first communicates clearly what help she desires, and then replies to Linda's commentary with queries and responses, so that Linda will know whether she has explained her suggestions fully.

Linda was a writing mentor for Split Rock Arts Program at the University of Minnesota for seven years (2003 through 2010) and has now conducted Writing Conversations by eMail for ten years.


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Commendations by "Writing Conversation" Participants


"I appreciate your comments so much-- I've explored other online courses where participants exchange work, and it's very time consuming and cumbersome for both writers and instructor. You spoke directly to me, sent handouts that provided great detail and instruction on precisely the problem I was having, and focused my attention on editing and the real meaning of revising, seeing each piece anew. Thank you for your help."
-- An online client


"Your comments are fabulous. You seem to home in on all the places in the mss. that I felt unfinished. Plus, you have insights into the overall scope of the piece. . . . .Your help has been invaluable. We artists rarely find a viewer or reader who really looks at the work as we do. It is thrilling to find that person. Thank you for sending me off into more thoughts and words. With boundless appreciation and thanks."
-- Barbara Shark www.sharksink.com


“We have a writing center in [town] that is a terrific place to take classes. But I must say, until I got a coach like yourself, my writing did not change much. I think it is because I was never given the specifics of what needed to happen in any individual story. Comments were too vague, like “this isn’t working.” . . . . I can see a good editor is worth her weight in gold (sorry about the cliché!).”
-- A writer who works with Linda online


"Your comments on my four essays are easy for me to follow. As usual, you have provided me with good material and lots to think about. I think this conversation will be very helpful as I continue to work on this project."
-- Jane, a writer from Nebraska


"First of all, I want to thank you for the wonderful edits and suggestions ... I cannot even tell you how much you have helped me. I don't really have any questions since your notes were so clear and made sense to me. Thank-you. I have attached the revised version and incorporated the suggestions."
-- A writer from the southwest, working on a family memoir


"I really appreciate your guidance and suggestions regarding my draft book manuscript. Very useful. Very helpful. I must say that your advice represents the best value I've ever gotten on such a reasonable investment!"
-- Peter Carrels, Aberdeen, SD


"Thanks again so very much for all of your help and comments. I worked for a little while yesterday on searching about what each publisher requires for submissions, and I'll have some questions ready for you soon. It's just great to have you use words like "lovely," "excellent," "wonderful" about my work because I respect your work and your opinion immensely. And also, I must have learned quite a bit because the writing that I've done more recently needed a little bit less editing and revising than before. I'm glad to have shown some improvement!"
-- A western writer who has worked with Linda through a number of Writing Conversations


"I am working this weekend with the printed out material. I am really enjoying this method. Thank you so much! I am so lucky that you offer this service, Linda. Once, again, this is SO HELPFUL!!!"
-- A writer in Arizona who has also attended retreats at Windbreak House


"The points made could not have been more on the mark. And Linda, in your style, you make it easier for the medicine to go down! This is working very well for me. I appreciate the comments, the bigger issues to learn about, the time flexibility, and getting input from someone whose work I admire. One of the next pieces I am working on is a first chapter for a book proposal. I'd certainly like to continue this Writing Conversation by Email."
-- A writer in South Dakota


"Thank you! I love your suggestions on the piece and ideas for where to send it. I can’t imagine learning to write without your help."
-- A writer in Idaho



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Sample Writing Conversation Unevaluated Essay

Here’s a short essay sent to Linda by a western writer. It is posted here twice: first in its original form so you can read it without interruption. The essay is then posted again, with Linda’s line-by-line evaluation and comments. This should give you an idea of what to expect from a Writing Conversation by eMail.


Nativity
by Anonymous (used with permission)

     Through the summer heat, monsoon rains gave nourishment to the swaying green grass in Southern Utah's high Graham valley. Autumn’s dry days evaporated the moisture and pasture forage dried as if in preparation for winter. All the while, tiny calves grew inside their mamas. By midwinter, their bellies, looking as if the slightest pressure would shatter hair, hide and entrails into a thousand fragments, cows trundled down small trails and slogged through mud searching for feed or water. Old cows with their stomachs sagging because of the increasing weight of new life maneuvered the pastures with a deliberateness that comes from traversing a land for many seasons. Udders slowly filled and they seesawed between hind legs as each hoof left the ground.

     Three seasons ticked past with days and nights spent eating, drinking, defecating and sleeping.

     The milk-laden bags became more noticeable, with taut teats anticipating their purpose. Tails swished back and forth, soon-to-be-mothers lay down to reposition their loads and ease discomfort, then stood up again and continued grazing. A thick mucus released in the birth canal dribbled down the cow’s hind legs; the mother and baby prepared for the ensuing contractions.

     I would ride out from my house to make sure there were not any calving problems. Long-johns, Levis, wool socks, over-the calf cowboy boots, turtleneck sweater, a flannel-lined Levi jacket, fully buttoned, with a red silk scarf tied around my neck prevented February’s wind from boring into my body. With each ivory cloud that drifted occasionally across the Arizona sun, the wind chill factor rose up a notch.

     My old quarter horse, his thick coat in full winter bloom, moved along the cow trail in a slow, steady trot as we searched for new calves. Walking alone with the dry prairie grass scratching their hocks, a soon-to-be mama found private birthing places in the nooks and crannies of canyons, arroyos, and eroded hill banks. My eyes scanned the flatlands as we trotted through open pasture land before heading west to search the hills. Agate-colored strands of the horse’s tail blew haphazardly along his side and dusted my stirrups as we crested hills and walked along their ridges.

     Protected from the wind by a small hill, I spotted a big brown buoy in the sea of winter’s faded green grass. Two tall Sacaton grass clumps, their broomstick stalks filtered the cold air blowing on the cow’s hide. All alone, but accustomed to horse and rider, the cow glanced at us and allowed her neck to relax again. We kept our distance, stood still and waited. The wind carried the sound of the mother’s final push while her head fell momentarily in exhaustion.

     The calf slid with front feet pointed, bursting thru the sac with its head resting on front legs, body and hind legs stretched out behind in a perfectly straight line. The experienced mama cow lifted her head and stood up with her front legs providing the final thrust while trails of a bloody membrane hung under her tail. She staggered, regained her balance, and bent over her baby. The wide tongue lapped milky film from the calf’s nose allowing full breaths to enter the tiny waiting nostrils. Like a spatula, the tongue skimmed off the mucus from the calf’s eyes allowing eyelids to be free, and soon, ears twitched and head moved. The body, responding to his mother’s caresses, welcomed the warmth caused by the blood flow into newly exposed nerve endings.

     The small animal’s smell runs through this cow’s sensory system and is absorbed permanently into her being. She will be able to find her calf amidst one thousand others simply by this one act of pulling the calf’s unique smell into her cells. A time-immemorial action - a two-minute bleep on life’s screen - cemented these two animals together once again. The white head framed in black hair, a mirror image of the larger head hovering over it, lifted and lay back down again.

     The cow does not relinquish her maternal duties and keeps urging life to flow throughout her baby’s body. The young head with its wet hide plastered to its skull moves gingerly, like an old blind man afraid of another fall. The narrow ivory hoofs scratches the earth while the short tail tests the wind’s strength and oxygen flows into the bloodstream and cells accepts their mission.

     My horse and I stood silently, respecting another one of nature’s miracles and watched a new life come to existence on the land’s bassinet. The pair would stay there for another day or so, and on my next ride, I would see the mother walking to water while her calf lay hidden in the tall grass waiting for her return.

     Quietly we left and our only trace was the sound of horseshoes ringing on rocks as we continued down the canyon’s hill.


# # #


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Sample Writing Conversation Essay
with Linda’s Evaluation, Suggestions, and Writing Handouts


A short essay from a western writer is posted above in its original form so you can read it without interruption. The essay is posted again (below) with Linda’s line-by-line evaluation and suggestions, to give you an idea of what to expect from a Writing Conversation by eMail.

For the purpose of clarity on this website, Linda's [bracketed comments] are set off in separate lines. You've heard of reading between the lines, haven't you?

In your own Writing Conversation, the bracketed comments-- especially brief ones-- probably will be slipped right between your sentences. You can use your word-processor's search function to find the brackets so you don't miss a comment.


Linda's General Comments Before the Line-By-Line Evaluation:

(These are the generic comments I send to each writer so I don’t forget to say something important.)

This written commentary on your work is intended to be the basis of your revision of your writing. As part of our conversation you are allowed one follow-up session, so you may ask questions about anything you don’t understand, or make any comment about my suggestions. I will consider your questions and respond with care.

My comments include notes about mechanical matters– such as grammatical errors– as well as about your writing style and tone, but I don’t mark every single mechanical error that I see, partly to save time, and partly because I hope that as you work through the resources, you will learn to spot these errors on your own. I don’t expect you to revise immediately, or to follow every one of my suggestions; I try to write comments clearly enough so that you can go back to them months or years later and understand what I mean, so that these comments will be useful to you over a long period of time as you work on these and other writings.

Remember: anyone’s comment on your writing is only one person’s opinion. Awards won and books published may indicate that the person’s opinion is an educated one. Or it may indicate nothing at all but good marketing. In other words, develop your own instincts about what constitutes good writing– by reading, and by writing. Trust your own instincts ultimately, more than the word of anyone else.

As you revise, keep close by a good standard grammar, such as The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (available in many editions), or The Well-Tempered Sentence by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. Many of the grammatical matters to which I refer will be more clearly explained in any good resource.

Here are some clues to interpreting my notes on your manuscript:

[I write most of my comments inside square brackets]-- you can find them easily using the search/​replace function on your computer.

(Parenthesis around a word)-- my suggestion that you could find a better word or phrase; I sometimes write in a suggested word.

A misspelled word-- “sp” beside the word.

I also note most grammatical errors with standard abbreviations used in grammar books, such as “sentence frag,” or “agreement of verbs.”

Always ask if you don’t know what I mean.

Notice that I often refer to “the writer” or “the narrator” or “the author” and “the reader” rather than to “you” and “me” to remind us both that this is not a personal exchange, but an educational one, and all comments are intended to help you write more clearly, and with more satisfaction.

And sometimes as I write comments on your work, my enthusiasm or haste overwhelms my ability to type.

One of the most useful methods of commenting on writing is, I believe, to ask questions of the draft. Remember that each reader will respond to what he or she is reading for two reasons: because of the knowledge he or she brings to the written piece, and because of evidence in the writing.

My questions inserted in your manuscript always arise from your writing; something I read in your work suggests each question. So, while they may not seem to be related to what you have written, consider them carefully. You may choose to let the writing answer the question, or you may choose to revise so that the work no longer suggests the question.

Specific comments on your work follow.


Linda's Comments on This Specific Piece

A few general comments for preparing manuscripts-- you need to research what particular publishers require of manuscript submissions. These include such picky items as type font, line spacing (partly so someone can estimate the length of your manuscript), method of indenting lines. With computer preparation of manuscript, there is so much variation in the way computers insert codes into manuscripts that a few little variances can take a lot of time to correct (which of course costs the publisher money) just to get a manuscript in the preferred style. Sources of information on manuscript preparation include almost any copy of Writer’s Market. I’ll send you handouts on publishing and self-publishing resources which will give you some guidance. Some of your writing group may have information on this as well. As with nearly everything online, scams exist so you must exercise caution.

As an example: your manuscript was sent to me justified left and right, which means the spacing is even on both ends of the line. Most publishers prefer ragged right, i.e., unjustified— look at the lines of what I have been typing here, and then look at your original. In yours, the machine has inserted extra spaces to make the lines an even length; this confuses the other machines. (NOTE: the website here does not allow us to show the piece in full justification. You’ll have to use your imagination.)

Second, always insert page numbers. If I’m commenting on your manuscript, I can’t say “On page 7” if there isn’t one.

And third, and possibly most important never ever ever ever send anything anywhere without your name on it. Preferably on each page in case a printed version is accidentally scattered.

Enough babble. On to the story.



Nativity...... by Anonymous

[Scan books and magazines for titles. Styles and fads exist, as in everything— but adhering to the current style might help your publication chances and currently the liking is for longer titles.]


     Through the summer heat,

[Another small correction: paragraph indents are usually 5 spaces; any less makes the paragraph beginnings hard to find on a densely-written page.]

monsoon rains gave nourishment to the swaying green grass

[“grass” may mean the reader pictures a lawn; naming specific kinds may not do anything for the ignorant but it might inspire a reader to educate herself and will make a knowledgeable reader say, “Oh yes, I know that grass!” and thus pay closer attention: part of identifying with the author]

in Southern Utah's high Graham valley.

[If this is a specific place, capitalize Valley.]

Autumn’s dry days evaporated the moisture and pasture forage dried as if

[“as if”? or in actual preparation?]

in preparation for winter.

[I’d like a transition between the broad overview and the more specific idea of calves inside cows; the reader doesn’t know why you are writing this: so far, you’ve mostly described a place. I believe you need to bring the focus from very broad and vague description to a specific place and then to the cows, maybe to the ranch—give the reader a suggestion of where the title is going to lead.]

All the while, tiny calves grew inside their mamas. By midwinter, their bellies, looking as

[grammatically: “with their bellies looking as if…..” no comma]

if the slightest pressure would shatter hair, hide and entrails into a thousand fragments,

[vivid though gory description; will it put the readers off?]

cows trundled down small trails and slogged through mud searching for feed or water.

[Opportunity for description here: dusty trails? “Trail” might mean paved to a jogger from Salt Lake City. How narrow are the trails?]

Old cows with their stomachs sagging because of the increasing weight of new life maneuvered the pastures with a deliberateness that comes from traversing a land for many seasons. Udders slowly filled and they seesawed between hind legs as each hoof left the ground.

[“seesawed” is OK as a visual image but the “sawed” part seems to contradict the soft fullness of udders—I imagine you were trying to avoid “swaying” or “swinging” but what other possibilities exist? “Undulating”?]



     Three seasons ticked past with days and nights spent eating, drinking, defecating and sleeping.

[You started with mentioning midwinter and now zip through “three seasons” though it appears the cows were already heavy. Do you mean the three seasons HAD passed? How about saying more about those seasons? The cows seem to be all alone. How can you make the reader care about the cows? What if the reader believes Ed Abbey’s lies about cows being shambling stinking beasts? Here’s a great opportunity to show us something of how they live naturally.]

[Another handout: passive voice. And though this is as far as I’ve read, I’ll say that this is a very slow beginning. Sadly, writers are competing with every other media for the reader’s attention-- so you might want to focus more closely on specifics: one cow, if that’s the subject of the story, or a single site that the reader can picture instead of the general “valley.” See handout on beginnings.]



     The milk-laden bags became more noticeable, with taut teats anticipating their purpose. Tails swished back and forth, soon-to-be-mothers lay down to reposition their loads and ease discomfort, then stood up again and continued grazing. A thick mucus released in the birth canal dribbled down the cow’s hind legs; the mother and baby prepared for the ensuing contractions.

[What season is this? Clues might be the grass height, birds, weather. Engage the reader.]



     I would ride out from my house to make sure there were not any calving problems.

[Aha! There’s an “I”! I believe we need to know this much sooner and to begin to get a sense of who you are in a way that draws the reader to you: how to you get the general reader to empathize? You may be doing all this in the beginning of the book, but still we need to see the landscape and cows through your sympathetic and knowledgeable viewpoint.]

Long-johns, Levis, wool socks, over-the calf cowboy boots,

[over-the-calf]

turtleneck sweater, a flannel-lined Levi jacket, fully buttoned, with a red silk scarf tied around my neck prevented February’s wind from boring into my body. With each ivory cloud that drifted occasionally across the Arizona sun, the wind chill factor rose up a notch.

[Love the ivory cloud. How about a simile or metaphor for the cold? How do the cows respond? Wildlife? Vegetation?]



     My old quarter horse,

[his name would personalize this a bit— again, drawing the reader in; she may live in Chicago and eat tofu instead of beef but she can identify with naming an animal that one loves; sometimes as little a gesture as that can create a little identification with the reader]

his thick coat in full winter bloom, moved along the cow trail in a slow, steady trot as we searched for new calves. Walking alone with the dry prairie grass scratching their hocks, a soon-to-be mama

[“their” is plural, “mama” is singular, so it should be “her” hocks]

found private birthing places in the nooks and crannies of canyons, arroyos, and eroded hill banks. My eyes scanned the flatlands as we trotted through open pasture land before heading west

[Grammatically, the way you’ve written this, your eyes headed west; to correct this, “My eyes scanned….. before I headed west”]

to search the hills. Agate-colored strands

[great description]

of the horse’s tail blew haphazardly along his side and dusted my stirrups as we crested hills and walked along their ridges.

[You could use more specific detail here: what kind of ridges? Rocky so the horse slips? Grassy? What do you see in the distance? Readers are drawn in also by details, particularly sensory detail. Another handout.]



     Protected from the wind by a small hill, I spotted a big brown buoy in the sea of winter’s faded green grass.

[Dangling modifier: another handout. “Protected by the hill” modifies the subject, but the subject as you have phrased it is not the cow but “I”; To correct this: I spotted a . . . . . protected from the wind, etc. And “big brown buoy in the sea” is a great metaphor.]

Two tall Sacaton grass

[Yes—detail!]

clumps, their broomstick stalks filtered the cold air blowing on the cow’s hide. All alone, but accustomed to horse and rider, the cow glanced at us and allowed her neck to relax again.

[I think you need to explain before this that when she sees you she starts to get up so we know why her neck relaxes.]

We kept our distance, stood still and waited. The wind carried the sound of the mother’s final push while her head fell momentarily in exhaustion.

[More description here: how the cow lies-- you might note that she’s got her head uphill which adds to her safety since she can breathe better-- how the sac looks coming out-- draw the reader in-- sympathy!]



     The calf slid with front feet pointed, bursting thru the sac with its head resting on front legs, body and hind legs stretched out behind in a perfectly straight line.

[I don’t think you mean that literally; the calf is aligned as he should be, but not perfectly straight. No straight lines in nature. Opportunities here for some vivid sensory description: sound, color, smell maybe.]

The experienced mama cow lifted her head and stood up with her front legs providing the final thrust while trails of a bloody membrane hung under her tail. She staggered, regained her balance, and bent over her baby. The wide tongue lapped milky film from the calf’s nose allowing full breaths to enter the tiny waiting nostrils. Like a spatula,

[good!]

the tongue skimmed off the mucus from the calf’s eyes allowing eyelids to be free, and soon, ears twitched and head moved. The body, responding to his mother’s caresses, welcomed the warmth caused by the blood flow into newly exposed nerve endings.

[I’m trying to picture the cow but without knowing what kind it is, or a physical description— again, many people will think dairy cow because that’s all they see. You have a chance here to make some distinctions between wily range cows and Holsteins.]



     The small animal’s smell runs through this cow’s sensory system and is absorbed permanently into her being. She will be able to find her calf amidst one thousand others simply by this one act of pulling the calf’s unique smell into her cells. A time-immemorial action - a two-minute bleep on life’s screen - cemented these two animals together once again.

[Short little hyphens connect two words together (time-immemorial, two-minute). Longer dashes separate groups of text. Be sure that where you need a dash, you actually insert a dash, or two hyphens; usually on computers two hyphens is automatically converted into a longer dash, which helps solve the problem you have here.]

The white head framed in black hair, a mirror image of the larger head hovering over it, lifted and lay back down again.



     The cow does not relinquish her maternal duties and keeps urging life to flow throughout her baby’s body.

[How does she do this? You can be more descriptive here— the long tongue almost lifting the calf off the ground. Does she bawl?]

The young head with its wet hide plastered to its skull moves gingerly, like an old blind man afraid of another fall. The narrow ivory hoofs scratches

[Nice description! But grammatically, hoofs (or hooves) scratch; plural subject]

the earth while the short tail tests the wind’s strength and oxygen flows into the bloodstream and cells accepts

[same: cells accept]

their mission.



     My horse and I stood

[suddenly you’re using past tense: I think keeping it in present tense (stand) would be good; more immediate, thus more vivid]

silently, respecting another one of nature’s miracles and watched a new life come to existence on the land’s bassinet.

[Nice image: and since you’ve used it, and you’ve skated close to other human birth images, why not strengthen this description? You could describe this birth in terms much closer to that of human birth and thus automatically gain the sympathies of every human who has given birth in your prospective audience: the struggles to push, the cow’s breathing, calf’s first cry, the look on the cow’s face— think of other parallels.]

The pair would

[or will? verb tense]

stay there for another day or so, and on my next ride, I would see the mother walking to water while her calf lay hidden in the tall grass waiting for her return.



     Quietly we left and our only trace

[of your observation? Of some revelation you gained from this watching?]

was the sound of horseshoes ringing on rocks as we continued down the canyon’s hill.


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[I’d like to see you create some kind of firm ending: maybe a thought you have about the continuation of the ranch or the species, maybe about your own work— a story should begin, rise to a climax and then fall to a sense of satisfaction. How can you make the reader feel satisfied with this narrative?]

[The reader needs to PICTURE the person riding out on the horse, though you may plan to do much of that in a prologue so you would not need those details here. Readers will want to know who you are— in whatever way you choose to shape that information— so as to make their own judgments about the authenticity of your work. This confirms what you have been told about it needing to be “more personal”— but that need not mean including details about your own life that you prefer to keep to yourself. We need to see this terrain as YOU see it, with your experience.Whatever you have to say is unique, and the more observed and felt detail you give, the more closely readers can identify with it. How about quoting your journals for specific details? You can be intensely personal without violating your own privacy.]

[One more thing: I keep all this in a file, which I put in a private file drawer in Windbreak House, so that if you come here for a writing retreat, we can look back at what you and I both wrote.]


Attached for you are the following handouts:

Active and passive voice
Beginnings
Descriptive Detail
Dangling Modifiers
kinds of writing errors




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Handouts! Jane, a writer who has attended many retreats and worked with Linda via Writing Conversations by eMail sent us this photo of herself at home sorting handouts from Linda.
Handouts! Yes, You Can Try This At Home


Those of you who attend a writing retreat at Windbreak House or who work with Linda via "Writing Conversations By eMail" will no doubt be given handouts. Some are instructional, some have writing exercises to try, many have excerpts from books or poems to illustrate a point or just to savor. To demonstrate revising, Linda often uses snippets of prose that could be improved.

The joy of handouts is that you can read them immediately and then again perhaps six months or six years later, to refresh your writerly mood.

Here's a small collection of handouts, from the list at the end of the sample comments, above:


Writing Handout: Active and Passive Voice

Writing Handout: Beginning an Essay: Opening Lines

Writing Handout: Descriptive Detail

Writing Handout: Dangling Modifiers

Writing Handout: Kinds of Writing Errors --- not yet posted


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Writing Handout --- Active and Passive Voice
by Linda M. Hasselstrom



Passive voice is overused, especially in official documents. The use of active voice is more direct, more powerful, more concise.


Passive voice:
The bum was bullied by the boys.
The animal was not seen.
The tree was noticed by me.
With the changing of seasons there comes a change in the type of clothing to be worn.
In the fall, cotton clothes are stored away by families and all that can be seen is bulky woolens.
I am sure this can be done by us if the money can be found.

IF YOU KNOW WHO DID THE ACTION, SAY SO.


Active voice:
The boys bullied the bum.
I saw the deer leap.
I noticed the tree.
With the changing of seasons there comes a change in the type of clothing people wear.
In the fall, families store away their cotton clothes and all one can see is bulky woolens.
I am sure we can do this if we can find the money.


When the person who did it or does it-- whatever it is or was-- is unknown or unimportant to the sense of the sentence, you may use passive voice.

The faux pas was ignored for several days.
Her crimes have been absolved.
The food was grudgingly passed around.
The roadhouse was ransacked in the middle of a moonless night.
The police were totally misled.
The book about motorcycles was misplaced among books about cosmetics.


For practice, rewrite the following sentences, changing the voice from passive to active. Notice how the change in verb smooths out the sentence, making it less awkward to read and understand.

The insects which were destroying the leaves of the plants were eaten by birds.
The trucks were finally loaded by workers who used forklifts.
Some ancient objects of art were discovered by the amateur archaeologist.
The road had been traveled many times by the reporter, but the old house had never before been noticed by her.
A safe trip was had by the tourists because the dangers were carefully explained by the guide.

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Writing Handout --- Beginning an Essay: Opening Lines
by Linda M. Hasselstrom



The objective of the opening paragraph of an essay is to capture the reader’s attention: and the reader may be distracted by TV, by what’s happening outside the window, by a dog that wants a walk . . . you need to GRAB the reader and KEEP her interested in what you are saying.

John Ciardi, when editing poetry for Saturday Review used to say that he looked at the first line of the first poem of a submission. If that line did not grab his attention and pull him into the writer’s work, he folded all the poems, put them in the SASE, and returned them at once.


Would the following opening lines entice you to read more?

(1.) One of my major legislative battles as President was over the resolution of a long-standing controversy concerning the disposition of tens of millions of acres of Alaska lands.
-- Jimmy Carter, “The Forty-ninth State, but First in Fishing,” Outdoor Journal

(2.) At first, I think it is a small leather pouch someone has dropped along the trail.
-- Terry Tempest Williams, “Water,” Desert Quartet

(3.) I am hovering like an outlaw up on the Canada/​Montana border, over on the east side of the Divide, the Front Range, where I have just made a fool of myself, have been rude and socially unacceptable.
-- Rick Bass, “Thunder & Lightning,” from Sierra

(4.) On a recent winter morning, under a haze of volcanic fog and tropic sunlight, my partner Lisa and I unloaded our gear at a trailhead in Volcanoes National Park and began hiking toward the site where Kilauea is currently venting-- a 900-foot-high cinder cone called Pu’u O’o that erupted violently out of the rain forest only about ten years ago.
-- Frank Stewart, “A Walk on the Everlasting,” first publication.

(5.) Very early, in the vog-- that volcanic mist off Hawaii’s Big Island where Pele births new land in brilliant, bright-red lava flows-- we quietly slipped our three kayaks into warm, turquoise waters.
-- Brenda Peterson, “The Whales of April,” Seattle Times

(6.) For the last two weeks a summer tanager has been pecking at the window in our den.
-- James Kilgo, “Open House,” An Inheritance of Horses

(7.) In the pasture ponds, Painted Turtles make living carbuncles of color on rocks and weeds, basking in the sun until I step out of the pickup.
-- Linda M. Hasselstrom, “The Song of the Turtle,” first publication

(8.) It’s the sort of logged out, burned over district that makes westward migration seem like a good idea.
-- Jan Grover, “Cutover,” first publication

(9.) In late winter 1994 what had been an open secret in the bird-watching community became public knowledge: Two peregrines were courting in downtown Seattle.
-- Adrienne Ross, “Return of the Falcons,” first publication

(10.) On Monday morning, September 30, 1991, Kathy Shorr, a friend who works at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, called to tell me that sixteen pilot whales had just beached themselves on the shore of Cape Cod Bay east of Sesuit Harbor, about a mile from my house.
-- Robert Finch, “Saving the Whales,” from The Presence of Whales

(11.) During his first days of life I barely uncovered my new son for fear he would get too cold.
-- Marybeth S. Holleman, “Awakening,” first publication

(12.) I hold my time on Long Lake like an amulet.
-- Kate Boyes, “Confluence,” first publication

(13.) And then the mist burned away above the yellowing birches; the sun shone on the damp, cold earth and warmed it.
-- John Haines, “Days in the Field,” Alaska Quarterly Review

(14.) If only I had known what he was going to say when he stood up, I would have stopped him.
-- Judith Barrington, “Poetry and Prejudice”

(15.) December 1958. I lie on my back on an examination table in a Missoula clinic while the middle-aged doctor whose name I found in the Yellow Pages inserts his speculum and takes a look.
-- Mary Clearman Blue, “The Unwanted Child,” from All But the Waltz

(16.) To get to Hope, turn south off U.S. Highway 12 at Keldron, South Dakota.
-- Kathleen Norris, “Getting to Hope,” from Dakota

(17.) When I went off to college my father gave me, as part of my tuition, 50 pounds of moose meat.
-- Brenda Peterson, “Growing Up Game”

(18.) The photographer circled around us, snapping pictures.
-- Kathleen Tyau, “The City I Colored White”

(19.) For me, the fear is like a heartbeat, always present, while at the same time, intangible, elusive, and difficult to define.
-- Evelyn C. White, “Black Women and the Wilderness”

(20.) Stories carved in cedar rise from the deep woods of Sitka.
-- Terry Tempest Williams, “The Village Watchman,” An Unspoken Hunger


Opening lines 1-13 are taken in order of appearance, from American Nature Writing 1996, selected by John A. Murray (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996); following is the author’s name, title of the essay, and place of first publication. Opening lines 14-20 appear in The Stories That Shape Us: Contemporary Women Write about the West, ed. Teresa Jordan & James Hepworth (New York: W. W. Norton, 1995).

Note that both collections center around a particular theme, which may make the reader more disposed to continue reading a particular essay than if it appeared in a general magazine.

Certain elements make some of the foregoing opening lines more enticing than others.

Numbers 2, 3, 12, 14, 18, and 19 all entice the reader by creating mystery, raising questions in her mind: If it’s not a leather pouch, what is it? Why does the writer feel like an outlaw? Why was the time on Long Lake so special? What did he say? Why did the photographer take pictures? What causes the fear? A reader who has fears of her own may identify with the writer. Number 11 may appeal especially to readers with children, who will nostalgically recall their own fears as a new mother.

Note that in some cases, the writer also furnishes a considerable amount of information in a small space: number 3 tells you the location of the essay; number 12 gives some information: the writing concerns a lake.

In numbers 1, 4, and 10, the writers’ attempts to provide all the relevant information at once makes the sentence awkward and hard to follow. If a reader is not enticed by the author’s position as president, or by his well-known name, she might stop reading #1.

Number 4 supplies more information than you need, in a jumbled fashion that may make you think this essay will not be worth deciphering.

Number 10 also provides detailed information that the reader does not need, or does not need so early in the story, leaving her with numerous questions: Why is the date significant? Who/​what are Kathy Shorr and the CCS, both unimportant unless they reappear in the story? The truly alarming fact, the beaching of the whales, is unknown until two-thirds of the way through the sentence and camouflaged by information that seems irrelevant.

Compare numbers 4 and 5: both mention volcanoes, a subject that is probably not familiar to most readers, another good technique: what do you know that the reader does not know. Notice that in number 5, the author also uses language appealing to the senses-- mist, bright-red, slipped, warm, turquoise-- keeping the sentence much shorter than number 4.

Number 7 gives a partial location-- pasture ponds-- and identifies the subject-- Painted Turtles-- quickly, using alliteration and an unusual phrase, “living carbuncles of color,” to appeal to the reader’s senses. Sensory details and vivid language are also used in number 12 and number 20. Beginning an essay with “And then the mist burned away . . .” is brilliant; it puts the reader directly into the action (number 13). And the phrase “stories carved in cedar” is intriguing as well (number 20).

Numbers 6, 10, 13, 15 and 16 all describe action, a useful technique for appealing to the reader by giving her the sense that she will observe what happens with the writer’s help.

Numbers 3, 8, and 16 may strike the reader as humorous, another good technique for enticing a reader.


In summary, after reading these examples, what elements can you list that makes an opening line draw the reader into an essay, or not?

1. A famous name or position
2. Mystery, or a question to be answered
3. Skillful use of language
4. the promise of information about an unknown subject
5. Identification with the reader
6. Humor


What does not work:

1. Extremely long sentences that provide more information than the reader needs at first
2. Awkward words without sensory appeal
3. Information that is too intensely personal, causing the reader to wonder why she should care to know this about the writer


Fiction writers often demonstrate a great ability to capture a writer with the first line of a story or novel; their techniques are worth study.

Here are some first lines from fiction:

(1.) Moran's first impression of Nolen Tyner: He looked like a high risk, the kind of guy who falls asleep smoking in bed.
-- Elmore Leonard, Cat Chaser

(2.) The rain continued. It was a hard rain, a perpetual rain, a sweating and steaming rain; it was a mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping at the eyes, an undertow at the ankles; it was a rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains. It came by the pound and the ton, it hacked at the jungle and cut the trees like scissors and shaved the grass and tunneled the soil and molted the bushes. It shrank men's hands into the hands of wrinkled apes; it rained a solid glassy rain, and it never stopped.
-- Ray Bradbury, first lines of "The Long Rain," The Illustrated Man

(3.) The summer we were sixteen, Ernie Evans and I jumped from the superstructure of the Charlo Street bridge into the Laughing Man River. We jumped at the same time, with the same motion. Our left knees lift, our right feet shove hard away from the girder, the river begins to whelm. All sinew, we make a neat hole, falling, arms out circling for balance, feet first and fast at the light-spackled water; our souls are wiser, more buoyant, or more reluctant, and we fall away from them, too. Beautifully empty, we hit the water.
-- first paragraph of "After the White Horse Rode," MT author


[I was a judge for a fiction contest when I read that first paragraph of number 3, moving from past into present tense, full of action words, and noticed the word "whelm." I've heard of "underwhelm" and "overwhelm." But this seemed like a business word in an action world. I looked at the author's other word choices, and I looked up the word "whelm." "To cover with water; submerge. 2. To overwhelm (Middle English whelmen, to turn over.)" He HAD chosen the perfect word, a word with associations we don't normally give it because of the way we use it-- he had stretched my perceptions.]

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Writing Handout --- Descriptive Detail


Types of Descriptive Detail
There are many different ways in which descriptive detail can be included in writing. Whether to describe, persuade, illustrate or demonstrate, the descriptive details you include in your writing should serve a purpose not just pad your writing with more words.


Sensory Detail
It is important to remember that human beings learn about the world through using the five senses. They are our primary source of knowledge about the world. Therefore, writing which incorporates vivid, sensory detail is more likely to engage and affect the reader.


The following writing sample uses sensory detail to create concrete images. Because the most effective way to incorporate sensory detail is to use all five senses in harmony, this sample provides an effective example of how sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste work together to strengthen writing. Each of the views highlights exactly how each sense is involved in improving the paragraph's imagery.


Example Text: Paragraph Without Sensory Detail

Grandmother Workman reached over and grabbed her grandson's arm. He was nervous because the staircase was so steep, but she leaned against him and they began to climb.

Comment --- These are the beginning sentences of a paragraph which describes a boy helping an elderly woman up a flight of stairs. The scene seems simple enough, but it leaves the reader with many unanswered questions. Without the inclusion of sensory detail, the writing seems vague and non-specific. How might the author use descriptive detail to make the scene more vivid?



Example Text: Add Sight

Grandmother Workman lurched over and grabbed the pale skin of Randal's thin forearm with her leathery hand. The folds and creases beneath her skin coiled themselves out like electrical wiring, like the bloated, roughly-textured relief map of the world that his mother just posted above his bedside table. Randal looked ahead toward the winding spiral staircase, fidgeted with a small hole in his baseball jersey, and bit his lip. His mouth filled with the sweet, coppery taste of blood as she leaned in closely toward him, breathing her hot breath on the damp hair at the base of his neck. She smelled of wet cigarettes and bacon. As they slowly climbed the long, steep staircase, the only sound was his grandmothers' labored breathing and the mournful creak of the wooden stairs.

Comment --- Visual details are often successfully incorporated into writing. Details which appeal to our sense of sight ensure that the reader is able to give faces to characters, or add concrete details to a setting. For example, through adding visual detail, a room can become more than just a blank, vague receptacle. It becomes a small, oblong room with peeling maroon wallpaper and cracked ceiling tiles. A visual description allows readers to place themselves within a text.

In the sample text, visual details help accomplish this through encouraging the reader to create a mental image of the characters, setting, and action.



Example Text: Add Sound

Grandmother Workman lurched over and grabbed the pale skin of Randal's thin forearm with her leathery hand. The folds and creases beneath her skin coiled themselves out like electrical wiring, like the bloated, roughly-textured relief map of the world that his mother just posted above his bedside table. Randal looked ahead toward the winding spiral staircase, fidgeted with a small hole in his baseball jersey, and bit his lip. His mouth filled with the sweet, coppery taste of blood as she leaned in closely toward him, breathing her hot breath on the damp hair at the base of his neck. She smelled of wet cigarettes and bacon. As they slowly climbed the long, steep staircase, the only sound was his grandmothers' labored breathing and the mournful creak of the wooden stairs.

Comment --- The human sense of hearing is an important means of communication. Next to visual details, auditory details are most commonly included in writing. This is because sounds give us a primary experience of the world. Sounds can remind us of personal memories, or can create images in our minds. For example, the sound of a ship's whistle might remind a person of a summer's night in New England, or of a tour of duty in the military. Sounds recreate personal, sensory experiences.

The addition of auditory details gives the writer the opportunity to create a more detailed, layered, texture. In the sample text, the writer has incorporated references to sounds which allow the reader to infer the state of the old staircase, as well as the physical condition of the grandmother.



Example Text: Add Smell

Grandmother Workman lurched over and grabbed the pale skin of Randal's thin forearm with her leathery hand. The folds and creases beneath her skin coiled themselves out like electrical wiring, like the bloated, roughly-textured relief map of the world that his mother just posted above his bedside table. Randal looked ahead toward the winding spiral staircase, fidgeted with a small hole in his baseball jersey, and bit his lip. His mouth filled with the sweet, coppery taste of blood as she leaned in closely toward him, breathing her hot breath on the damp hair at the base of his neck. She smelled of wet cigarettes and bacon. As they slowly climbed the long, steep staircase, the only sound was his grandmothers' labored breathing and the mournful creak of the wooden stairs.

Comment --- The sense of smell is commonly overlooked in writing. However, it is the human sense of smell that is most closely linked to the brain. The receptors in the brain which are responsible for processing smells are very close to the area of the brain responsible for the storage of memory. Because of this link, scents are able to cause vivid sensory re-creations of memories.

Our sense of smell has an uncommonly strong power over our feelings, thoughts, and emotions. In the sample text, the addition of olfactory details helps set the mood of the paragraph by triggering our senses.



Example Text: Add Touch

Grandmother Workman lurched over and grabbed the pale skin of Randal's thin forearm with her leathery hand. The folds and creases beneath her skin coiled themselves out like electrical wiring, like the bloated, roughly-textured relief map of the world that his mother just posted above his bedside table. Randal looked ahead toward the winding spiral staircase, fidgeted with a small hole in his baseball jersey, and bit his lip. His mouth filled with the sweet, coppery taste of blood as she leaned in closely toward him, breathing her hot breath on the damp hair at the base of his neck. She smelled of wet cigarettes and bacon. As they slowly climbed the long, steep staircase, the only sound was his grandmothers' labored breathing and the mournful creak of the wooden stairs.

Comment --- The sense of touch encourages us to investigate the world around us by feeling it and learning the texture, shape, and size of things. Tactile images can be powerful sensory triggers. They allow a reader not only to visualize a scene, but to experience it. Inclusion of the sense of touch prevents the reader from remaining distanced or detached from the writing.

In the sample text, the sense of touch has been engaged through allowing the reader to recreate a primary sensation: the feel of a person's breath on the back of his or her neck. This is a sensory experience that most people have encountered. Therefore, through recalling familiar tactile sensations the writer encourages the readers to put themselves in the place of the characters.



Example Text: Add Taste

Grandmother Workman lurched over and grabbed the pale skin of Randal's thin forearm with her leathery hand. The folds and creases beneath her skin coiled themselves out like electrical wiring, like the bloated, roughly-textured relief map of the world that his mother just posted above his bedside table. Randal looked ahead toward the winding spiral staircase, fidgeted with a small hole in his baseball jersey, and bit his lip. His mouth filled with the sweet, coppery taste of blood as she leaned in closely toward him, breathing her hot breath on the damp hair at the base of his neck. She smelled of wet cigarettes and bacon. As they slowly climbed the long, steep staircase, the only sound was his grandmothers' labored breathing and the mournful creak of the wooden stairs.

Comment --- The human sense of taste allows a person to do much more than simply select and enjoy food. There are four familiar tastes:
-- Sweet
-- Salty
-- Bitter
-- Sour

By appealing directly to any of these tastes, a writer has the unique opportunity to affect a reader's senses. Memories, feelings, people, and places can all be suggested through the sense of taste.


From Colorado State University Online Writing Guides



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Writing Handout --- Dangling modifiers


This is a common mistake. The effect of the dangling phrase is to make the noun following it the subject of the opening phrase. The following examples prove that many editors –even from some reputable publishing houses– don’t seem to catch the error.

Any misplaced word, phrase, or clause can be said to dangle, but the term is applied primarily to verbal phrases that do not refer clearly and logically to another word or phrase in the sentence.

To correct a dangling modifier, rearrange the words in the sentence to make the modifier clearly refer to the right word, or add words to make the meaning clear and logical.

Bill Bryson Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words,[NY: Broadway Books, 2002] p. 52, says, “William and Mary Morris [Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage, Harper& Row, 1975] offer a simple remedy to the problem of dangling modifiers–namely, that after having written the modifying phrase or clause, you should make sure that the next word is the one to which the modifier pertains. That is sound enough advice, but like so much else in English usage, it will take you only so far.”

1. “By opening one side of this valve, saline solution flows into the heart.”
from Jeffe Kennedy, Wyoming Trucks, True Love, and the Weather Channel: A Woman’s Adventure Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004.p. 97
So the writer is really saying:
Saline solution opens one side of this valve.
Correction: Use active voice and put the proper subject at the beginning of the phrase:
“When I open one side of this valve, saline solution flows. . . .

2. “Long used medicinally, the herbalist Gerard prescribed it. . . . .
from Cheryl Anderson Wright, High Country Herbs, Pronghorn Press, 2003, p. 85.
Grammatically, the writer is saying:
Herbalist Gerard has been long used medicinally
Correction: Put the subject at the beginning of the phrase.
Lavender has a long history of medical use; the herbalist Gerard prescribed it. . .

3. “Weighing forty-nine pounds in seventh grade, no horse minds my burden.”
from Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer: A Story of Survival, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004; p. 83
Translation: the horse weighs 49 pounds.
Correction: Since I weighed forty-nine pounds in seventh grade, I was no burden to the horse, or: No horse minded my burden, since I weighed forty-nine pounds....

4. “A hurricane hovering off the coast, I would throw a yellow slicker on and stand on the front porch, where the force of the wind would momentarily suspend me above the wooden boards before I took leave of the building to seek more stable ground.”
from Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer: A Story of Survival, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004; p. 123
Grammatically, the sentence says: “I was a hurricane hovering ......
Correction: When a hurricane hovered off the coast, I would throw on....

4. Raised in Cheyenne, Linda Phillips’ first book was published in January
from (Cheyenne) Wyoming Tribune-Eagle , August 9, 2004, p. A5.
Grammatically, the sentence says that Linda Phillips’ first book was raised in Cheyenne and published....
Correction: Linda Phillips is a Cheyenne native, and her first book was.... An additional problem is that “raised” means lifted– but “reared” is the correct term for “cared for during childhood.”

Types of danglers and their cure:

1. Dangling participial phrase:
Discouraged by low grades, dropping out seemed to make sense.
Correction: Add a subject
Because I was discouraged by low grades.... or Discouraged by low grades, I thought. . .

2. Dangling phrases containing gerunds or infinitives.
Instead of watching the late show, a novel was read.
Correction: Instead of Watching the late show, Hilary read a novel
(Note that the first sentence is in passive voice, the second in active; it’s easier to make this error in passive voice.)

3. Dangling elliptical adverb clauses
Elliptical clauses contain words that are implied rather than stated.

When confronted with these facts, not one word was said.
Correct: When confronted with these facts, nobody said a word.
(Again, note the change from passive to active voice.)

Exercise: Revise the following sentences to eliminate dangling modifiers. Note any sentence that needs no revision.

1. While wondering about this phenomenon, the sun sank from view.
2. By standing and repeating the pledge, the meeting came to an end.
3. Once made, you must execute the decision promptly.
4. After sitting there awhile, it began to snow, and we went indoors.
5. Darkness having come, we stopped for the night.
6. Having taken his seat, we began to question the witness.
7. Ready to pitch camp, the windstorm hit.
8. The convicts did not yield, thinking they could attract the support of the press.
9. With his tail held high, my father led his prize bull around the arena.
10. The family lawyer will read the will tomorrow at the residence of Mr. Hannon, who died June 19 to accommodate his relatives.
11. I saw the dead dog driving down the highway.
12. The unfortunate woman was killed while cooking her husband’s breakfast in a horrible manner.
13. Mrs. Shirley Baxter, who went deer hunting with her husband, is very proud that she was able to shoot a fine buck as well as her husband.
14. The body was found in an alley by a passerby with a bullet in his head.

Exercise: Combine the two sentences in each item below into a single sentence using an appropriately placed verbal phrase or elliptical clause as an introductory parenthetical element. Example: We were in a hurry to leave Yellowstone. The dented fender was not noticed. Being in a hurry to leave Yellowstone, we did not notice the dented fender.

1. The statue has a broken arm and nose. I think it is an interesting antique.

2. James sometimes worried about the world situation. At such times joining the Peace Corps seemed to him a good idea.

3. I read the first three sentences on the test. The test covered materials that I had not studied.

4. Larry was only twelve years old. His teachers noticed his inventive abilities.

5. I turned on the flashers and lifted the hood. A passing motorist, I thought, might see my predicament, slow down, and offer me a ride.

From www.wus.edu, error list

Dangling and misplaced modifiers are discussed at length in usage guides partly because they are very common and partly because there are many different kinds of them. But it is not necessary to understand the grammatical details involved to grasp the basic principle: words or phrases which modify some other word or phrase in a sentence should be clearly, firmly joined to them and not dangle off forlornly on their own.

Sometimes the dangling phrase is simply too far removed from the word it modifies, as in “Sizzling on the grill, Theo smelled the Copper River salmon.” This makes it sound like Theo is being barbecued, because his name is the nearest noun to “sizzling on the grill.” We need to move the dangling modifier closer to the word it really modifies: “salmon.” “Theo smelled the Copper River salmon sizzling on the grill.”

Sometimes it’s not clear which of two possible words a modifier modifies: “Felicia is allergic to raw apples and almonds.” Is she allergic only to raw almonds, or all almonds—even roasted ones? This could be matter of life and death. Here’s a much clearer version: “Felicia is allergic to almonds and raw apples.” “Raw” now clearly modifies only “apples.”
Dangling modifiers involving verbs are especially common and sometimes difficult to spot. For instance, consider this sentence: “Having bought the harpsichord, it now needed tuning.” There is no one mentioned in the sentence who did the buying. One way to fix this is to insert the name of someone and make the two halves of the sentence parallel in form: “Wei Chi, having bought the harpsichord, now needed to tune it.” If you have a person in mind, it is easy to forget the reader needs to be told about that person; but he or she can't be just “understood.”

Here’s another sentence with a dangling modifier, in this case at the end of a sentence: “The retirement party was a disaster, not having realized that Arthur had been jailed the previous week.” There is nobody here doing the realizing. One fix: “The retirement party was a disaster because we had not realized that Arthur had been jailed the previous week.”

Using passive verbs will often trip you up: “In reviewing Gareth’s computer records, hundreds of hours spent playing online games were identified.” This sort of thing looks fine to a lot of people and in fact is common in professional writing, but technically somebody specific needs to be mentioned in the sentence as doing the identifying. Inserting a doer and shifting to the active voice will fix the problem. While we’re at it, let’s make clear that Gareth was doing the playing: “The auditor, in checking Gareth’s computer records, identified hundreds of hours that he had spent playing online games.”

Adverbs like “almost,” “even,” “hardly,” “just,” “only,” and “nearly” are especially likely to get stuck in the wrong spot in a sentence. “Romeo almost kissed Juliet as soon as he met her” means he didn’t kiss her—he only held her hand. True, but you might want to say something quite different: “Romeo kissed Juliet almost as soon as he met her.” The placement of the modifier is crucial.


http:/​/​public.wsu.edu/​~brians/​errors/​errors.html

--www.wsu.edu, which presents a useful list of many kinds of writing errors


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