Category Archives: Writing

How to Write a Good Sentence

Many times those of you are in the business of writing worry about making that word count. ‘How will I write 80,000 words?’ is a question you ask yourself.

What you really ought to worry about though is how you will write a good sentence.

A sentence is made up of words and words don’t just come one after the other. They indicate a particular situation or action. These sentences make up a paragraph. So they are the building blocks of your novel and for that reason ought to be well thought out and well-connected to each other and the overall story.

There are so many aspects to sentence making. This is where the grammar of the sentence comes in.  There are simple, compound and complex sentences. Then there are clauses, prepositions and phrases.  Even the seasoned writer can have grammatical doubts. Always carry a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

And be in doubt; this is very important. Just because something is in print doesn’t mean it is correct. You should double check to see if your sentences are correct. Also if you are reading a copy of popular books in the market today, keep your eyes open for any obvious errors! You can learn from the mistakes of others.

 

sentence

What should you keep in mind when you write a sentence?

Besides grammar like sticking more to active than passive voice, a great deal goes into a sentence. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • What do you really want to say?
  • Is it best to use the vocabulary you have at your fingertips or do you need to visit the thesaurus?
  • Has someone else been able to express the sentiment you have better than you have? Read it.
  • Is a long sentence going to help you describe better?
  • Is a short sentence sufficient to express a strong emotion like a mother’s grief at losing her child?
  • Does this sentence deserve to stand alone, separate from the rest of the paragraph?
  • Is this sentence good enough to start your essay or novel or is it a better ending?

Being conscientious about every sentence that you write will make the prose flow and whether your book is a commercial or literary one, it should be readable. For this, the sentences should flow.

Some links to help you write good sentences:

http://www.newstatesman.com/books/2011/02/write-sentence-comes

http://www.npr.org/2011/01/25/133214521/stanley-fish-demystifies-how-to-write-a-sentence

http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/business-legal-matters/sentence-sleuth-0608

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/how-to-write-clear-sentences

http://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/write-sentence

PS: Check out this Twitter post that explains the difference between short, medium and long sentences: https://twitter.com/lfoulkesy/status/715077404700631041

 

What makes for a bestseller in India?

A bestseller could be defined as a book that sells at least 10,000 copies every year. Any book genre can be a bestseller, but there are some books that sell more than others.

Education Books: Yes, this is number one in the list! According to Nielson’s India Book Report:
The K–12 market (school books) has grown from 63 billion INR ($956 million) in 2007-08 to 186 billion INR ($2.8 billion) in 2013-14. Higher education book sales have grown in this period from 16 billion INR ($242 million) to 56 billion INR($849 million).

So if you want to write a bestseller, why don’t you write a book about how to ace an exam? Take one of the books at Pothi.com. Cracking the Coding Interview by Gayle Laakmann Mcdowell is a fast selling book . “This book is proof of how the Indian book market caters to a textbook bestseller phenomenon,” Jaya Jha, founder of Pothi.com says.

Romance fiction: If fiction has any say at all in the bestselling space it is primarily in the romance genre. Though forums like Quora lead you to believe otherwise, books by Chetan Bhagat are quite popular. Other romance authors who have aced cupid’s formula are Durjoy Datta, Nikita Singh and Ravinder Singh.

Mythological fiction: It’s impossible to ignore myth in India. You may be an urban yuppie, but everywhere there is the memory of myth- stories you have heard, stories you see sprouting up as architecture, television dramas based on epic heroes. Writers like Devdutt Pattanaik and Amish Tripathi have spun stories out of existing stories and now have a huge fan following.

book

Once you write the book for the appropriate target audience, a lot of marketing goes into making the book a bestseller. You have to remember that if you are writing for a traditional publisher, you earn 5-10% royalty; with self-publishing you bake the cake and eat it too.

When it comes to both kinds of publishing, authors are expected to pitch in when it comes to marketing effort. The author’s platform is often a criterion.

Says Jaya Jha,“The real difference between traditional and self-publishing isn’t so much that author gets to rest after writing in traditional publishing but that the ultimate responsibility as well as control lies with the author in self-publishing.”

It takes a great deal of effort to sell your book. You can earn a lot more money self-publishing but for this you need to do your homework right by spending a lot more of your time in marketing it by participating actively in the launch, perfecting your social media pitch and actively promoting yourself. Once the sales starts picking up by word of mouth, you can sit back, relax and see the book turn into a bestseller.

Check out these links for more ideas about writing a bestseller in India:

Six Tips for Indian Writers on How to Write Better

For people whose native tongue is an Indian language, it is difficult to write error-free English. Even those who speak English all the time but live in India cannot avoid the Indian-ness that seeps into their language, both spoken and written.

  1. Avoid literal translation

    For new Indian writers, there is a strong tendency to literally translate from their mother tongue into English.Each language has a specific structure, without which the language would collapse or turn into something ridiculous. For example, in French, most adjectives are placed after the noun, such as ‘une chaise bleue’. If translated word-for-word into English, this becomes ‘a chair blue’ instead of what it should be: a blue chair. Imagine reading a sentence like this:“There were chairs blue, tables of wood, cushions red and music soft playing.”

    This is how a reader feels while reading English that has been directly translated from an Indian language. The result is confused, sometimes hilarious, meaning.

    You may have read these often:

    • “Don’t eat my head!”
      (Kannada: Nanna thale thinnbeda)
      Try: “Stop it. You’re getting on my nerves!”
    • “Don’t be angry on me.”
      (Hindi: Mujhpe gussa mat karo)
      Use: “Don’t be angry with me.”
    • “We all are going out.”
      (Hindi: Hum sab bahar ja rahe hain)
      Use: “We are all going out.”

    Keep a watch on these literal translations.

  2. Original idioms, please

    English has its own set of idioms and sayings—use them and not the translation of Indian ones. Idioms have a strong cultural and historical root, so they are best used word for word and in the original language.The Hindi ‘Daal mein kuchh kaala hai’ has the English idiom equivalent: ‘There’s something fishy going on’. Instead of the Tamil ‘Kazhudaikki theriyuma karpoora vaasanai’ use ‘To cast pearls before swine’. Not all sayings have equivalents, however. The best way to become familiar with what’s available is to read a lot. Looking up a book of English proverbs doesn’t always help unless there are a few examples for each included and the author is a reliable one. Online, have a look at Idiom Dictionary (http://www.idiomdictionary.com).

  3. Keep track of time
    Till a sentence back, you ‘were’ thinking. Suddenly you ‘are’ feeling. You may not realize it while writing and this switch may even sound natural because we often think haphazardly, but while writing, you need to maintain consistency in tense or you’ll distract or confuse the reader about whether something happened in the past or is happening in the present.Take a look at this example:

    Veena walked up the path to Mr Wood’s house. She is thinking she should knock but what if he is sleeping? She doesn’t want to disturb him and get him in a bad mood. That is why she could not make a sale. She had irritated him.

    Is Veena walking to Mr Wood’s door as we read? Or has she already walked and come back after a failed attempt at making a sale?

    Double check if you’re switching tenses in your writing without the story demanding it. Sometimes it is necessary to change tenses, say for a time when you’re narrating a scene in a flashback as if it’s happening right before the reader. But if you’re a new writer, stick to a single choice of tense throughout and you won’t go wrong.  Once you become confident of using tenses properly, you can try using more than one.

  4. Unclutter your punctuation

    There is a tendency to use exclamations in proportion to the amount of surprise or shock.

    E.g. A mountain gorilla was standing before him!!!!!!!!!

    Another is to intersperse the exclamations with question marks.

    E.g. Was the hunk eyeing her?!?!?!

    Please. Stick to one punctuation mark. “A mountain gorilla was standing before him!” shows surprise enough. “Was the hunk eyeing her?” will do. Trust readers to get the quantity of shock or wonder you intend. And trust your writing skills to convey the situation so that they do.

    English punctuation rules do not accept a combination of ? and ! or multiple exclamations. A few style books have begun to accept one pair of ?! but most do not.

    Many new writers like to create an ‘effect’ by trailing dots after a sentence.

    E.g. She stood before him……………in the black dress he had given her……

    The punctuation that uses dots is called an ellipsis and consists of three dots (…). No more, no less. Sometimes, you want to trail off a sentence and end it that way. Then you follow the ellipsis with a full stop, which then totals four dots.

    E.g. And there she waited for him every day….

    Multiple exclamation marks and generous strings of dots reek of amateur writing. Knock them off. These are simple ways to make your writing look professional.

  5. Articles gone AWOL

    Can you eat a curry with no salt? Similarly, you cannot write without articles. If you’ve forgotten the basics of when to use ‘the’ or ‘a’ or ‘an,’ please pick up a simple grammar book and leaf through it (you can do it with a torch, hiding in a cupboard if you like—but do it). Simpler still, visit a grammar site online, bookmark it and refer to it when in doubt. You don’t visit Taj Mahal, you visit THE Taj Mahal.It’s never too late to learn, and these are simple rules that, when followed, make your writing come alive. The rules exist to help you remember, not to make your life difficult.

  6. Remove redundancy

    Find the repetitious words in the following:

    1. That store sells many delights such as cookies, cakes, toffees, chocolates, etc.
    2. I have never heard of this before.
    3. I will read this and return it back to you.
    4. Keep this money, in case you may need it later.
    5. I bought a red colour dress.

    In the first example, when you say ‘such as,’ you don’t need the etcetera. ‘Such as’ means this is only an indicative list. In the next, ‘never’ and ‘before’ are saying the same thing. If you’ve never seen it, there’s no need to say ‘before’. In the third sentence, if you’re going to return something, you’re obviously giving it back, so ‘back’ is redundant.  ‘In case’ indicates a possibility, so use ‘in case’ OR ‘may’ – in case you need it later – or Keep this money, you may need it later. Red is a colour. Duh.

    But new writers love to inject their writing with crystal clarity by providing extra words to help their slow readers. These writers will make you enter into a room, not just enter it, just as they’ll help you exit from the story instead of quickly exiting it.

Here’s a secret: there is no shortcut to writing happiness.

Read that again.

You can’t press a key and make it happen. Anyone can write, but to write well and communicate effectively, you need to put in effort, just as you would for any other skill. Read a lot and read books of quality writing. Reading even prize-winning children’s books can help you build familiarity with the language. Newspapers are not literature, so use those to get the news, not to improve your reading habits.

Write a lot, and get feedback from someone whose English is good, or at least better than yours. Get your writing edited by a professional editor and learn from the feedback and comments.

However, there is one place for weak English, even Indian English, and that is in dialogue. If your character speaks that way, you can use ‘Don’t eat my head’ in his dialogue. As long as you don’t use it yourself in the narration!

[Self Publishing Guide] Self Publishing your Book – Step 1: Finalize the Content

This post is an excerpt from our Self Publishing Guide for Indian Market. If you have not, you may want to read the following post in this series before starting on this one

You have finally finished your book and are dying to see it in print. Since you have decided to self publish, nobody prevents you from going ahead and printing copies of your book. But hang on, there are a few more tasks to be done, decisions to be taken before you can see the birth of your creation. As they say, haste makes waste.

Step 1-Finalise the content. You should not write a book and forget about revisiting it. You need to go through the manuscript in minute details and revise it if required. In the initial excitement of having completed the book, authors tend to overlook checking for mistakes in writing style.

Remember, no matter how talented a writer you are, it always helps to have another person look over the entire book. The greatest writers in the world have had their work ruthlessly edited. Editing does not mean your book has to lose its style/flavour. As a self publisher, you retain the right of final judgement on anything.

The editing options available to an independent author are

  • Professional editor.This is the costliest option. However, it will ensure that you get an unbiased professional look at your work from a third person’s perspective.
  • Editing by friend/acquaintance. You could approach a friend with good language skills to go over the manuscript and do a frank, ruthless critique.
  • Self editing. The third, option is to go over the manuscript yourself for spotting problems. This is the least you must do. Remember, errors can be spotted more easily if you review your manuscript after a gap – say, a couple of weeks.

General editing checklist. There are certain common mistakes we tend to commit in our writing.

  • Getting repetitive. Repetition – of a sentence or words or ideas – can be used as a tool to emphasise a point or an idea, but beyond a limit, it becomes counter productive.
  • Narration, flow and writing style. The book should be consistent. The storytelling should not be disjointed or abrupt. The tense and narrator’s person should be consistent. The best writers break many rules, but they know the rules like the back of their hand before that.
  • Contradictions. Care must be taken to ensure that the characters/information/incidents mentioned do not contradict each other in different parts of the manuscript.
  • Readability. You need to ensure that the sentences are lucid and readable – not too long or complex.
  • Clarity of narration. While editing, emphasis needs to be laid on checking that the narration is clear and conveys the ideas or description clearly. Check if certain portions need to be rewritten to improve clarity and narration.
  • Flow of the book. The overall flow of the book needs to be logical. Check if the organisation of the chapters is fine or if it needs to be rearranged.
  • Grammatical errors. Last, but not the least, the language needs to be grammatically correct. Sentence construction, prepositions and articles, punctuation, verbs, tenses, spellings – everything. Nothing will be a bigger turn-off for a potential reader than spotting a grammatical mistake in a book.

Related Article

Don’t rely overly on Natural Writing Skills

We know that some people are just good with words. Writing comes easily to them. While some of us have to struggle to give right expressions to their thoughts, these people with natural writing skills are able to do it without having to consciously try.

As readers, at some point of time or the other, we all have been fascinated by a piece of writing, which conveys its meaning so beautifully that we wonder why we did not write it that way. Its not that we got the idea a little late. Its just that the writer simply knew how to express it better than us!

Now, if you are one of those people who have the natural writing skills, it makes obvious sense for you to be writing a book. Your skill will be your biggest asset.

However, if you are trying to do it completely on your own, you need to be aware of a mistake many first time writers, especially those who have not been exposed to writing or publishing in a formal manner, tend to commit. Over-rating natural writing skills!

Of course, there are exceptions to everything. But for most people it is important to keep in mind that the product of one time writing is not ready for an average reader. Even with the best writing skills, here are some of the common language issues that will be there in the manuscript

  • You might have penned down ramblings too exactly. The sentences would have become too long with many clauses, which can be interpreted in different combinations. And even with the best command of grammar, you would have lost track of related subjects, objects, verbs, tense, voice and singular vs. plural.
  • If you do not think in the same language that you are writing in (can be the case with many Indians writing in English), the constructions of your thought language would have made their way into your writing, which would definitely strike as odd or even funny to the reader. Not the effect you wanted to create!
  • There would be missing or wrong punctuations, words spelled wrong which spell checker can not catch (‘there’ instead of ‘their’) or an unintentional wrong use of word which make the meaning just opposite to what you intended to say. Before you know it, the reader has put down your book with a “Never Again” feeling.

The issues we have pointed here are mostly language related. There would also be issues around consistency of plot and characters (for fiction), consistency of message and correctness of information (for non-fiction), overall narration, organization of chapters etc.

With self publishing, there is no one to really check you and it is easy to give in to the temptation of publishing your unaltered work – “natural writing”. If you are doing it more for fun and self-satisfaction, then it may be fine that way. But if you want others to read it, the language issues we have pointed out should be the least you must take care of.

What this means is that the manuscript must be re-read several times by you and you should not be shy of editing and rewriting ruthlessly if need be. In an ideal scenario, after you are done from your side you should also take the book through a professional editor. If professional editor is not affordable, then find a friend/relative who is good with language and will give honest feedback about writing and language. Good news with self publishing is that you still retain the final control on your manuscript. If you don’t want to accept changes suggested by the editor you are free to do so. But it is important to take an informed decision. Not knowing what could be wrong will not do justice to your book.

All of this does not mean that you have produce books which are written like school essays in such a grammatically and politically correct language that no one ever talks in. Of course not! Refining and rewriting the manuscript does not mean that it has to lose your style. If your character are not supposed to speak correct language, then they should not. If certain portions are there to convey ramblings, then they should be written like ramblings. The idea, rather, is that none of this should happen in an unintended fashion. In general, a qualified editor would understand the difference between what comes due to writing style and what comes due to wrong way of writing it. In cases where she does not, you retain the ultimate power anyway.

So, pick up the manuscript you did not bother to read since you have finished it and get started on it!

P. S. How much editing do you think the current piece has gone through? Can it do with more? Suggest through comments the parts/sentences you would rewrite. Not abstract suggestions. Give the actual rewritten text. Focus on how language could be made better, more readable etc. apart from the grammatical errors.