The Misunderstood Colon

Red alert! We punctuate our regular series on creative writing with some disturbing breaking news. There have been reported sightings of PML (Punctuation Mark on the Loose). We are specifically talking about the colon (:). This devilishly slippery mark has been observed at almost every position in a sentence of student writing.  It seems to flout the laws of English language mechanics and refuses to be pinned down despite repeated admonishing and lecturing. Who knew these two little vertical dots could give us so much trouble?

No need to fret. We are here to set the record straight: once and for all. Pay attention students! Take notes if you wish, because the colon cannot be misunderstood anymore.

Let’s first start with understanding what a colon is and what it does to your writing. Yes, this sounds theoretical and boring, but be patient: you will be rewarded.

A colon is the calm before the storm. In other words, it is a pause before you make a major announcement or dive into an explanation. It always points the way ahead, that is, it puts the spotlight on the words that follow it. Colons introduce lists of items, make announcements and explain or elaborate points. Consider the following examples for each of the aforementioned purposes:

What makes your book a bestseller depends on three things: imagination, diligence and a bit of luck. (List)

Despite being old and derelict, the cottage was everything Emily wanted: a place to call home. (Announcement)

I’ve always hated the summer season: it is sticky, it is hot, and it smells. (Explanation)

A dexterous use of the colon takes your writing to another level by creating variation in sentence structure and evoking a pleasant cadence or rhythm (rise and fall of language).

Now, we come to the tricky and ‘misunderstood’ part: where to place the colon? Take a look again at the examples given above. What do these examples have in common? They all have the colon coming after independent clauses.

Students often get intimidated by the rather bombastic sounding expression, an independent clause. In simple words, it means nothing but a group of words which make a complete or meaningful sentence.  Let’s look at some examples:

Jim finished his homework. (Independent clause)

When Jim finished his homework. (Incomplete)

The second example is not a complete sentence. It does not tell us what happened when Jim finished his homework. By adding an independent clause (complete sentence) to it, we can turn it into a complete sentence:

When Jim finished his homework, he went out to play cricket with his friends. (Independent clause)

He went out to play cricket with his friends. (Independent clause)

Here’s another example:

Jim went to the airport. (Independent clause)

In order to see his friends off.  (Incomplete: what did he do in order to see off his friends?)

Jim went to the airport in order to see his friends off. (Independent clause)

Let’s go back to our subject of discussion today. A colon can be placed only after a complete sentence (an independent clause).

A bestseller depends on: imagination, diligence and a bit of luck. (Incorrect)

To make a bestseller you need: imagination, diligence and a bit of luck. (Incorrect)

In each of the examples above, we don’t have a complete sentence preceding the colon. A bestseller depends on what? To make a bestseller you need what? These examples can be corrected in the following way:

  1. By writing a complete sentence before the colon

 What makes your book a bestseller depends on three things: imagination, diligence and a bit of luck. (The underlined part is a complete sentence)

 A bestseller depends on the following three things: imagination, diligence and a bit of luck. (The underlined part is a complete sentence)

  1. By removing the colon

A bestseller depends on imagination, diligence and a bit of luck.

To make a bestseller you need imagination, diligence and a bit of luck.

So, what do you think now? Have we cleared some misconceptions? We end this post with a small test. Can you pick the sentence with the correct usage of the colon?

Copy the mail and send it to: the director, the assistant manager and the recruiting team.

Life is a game: you either win or lose.

As your new leader, I only desire: what is best for you all.

Remarkable Sketches: Volume 6

The below description of a chair in a waiting room stands out for some of its unique qualities. The young 5 year author starts off with the chair’s candid assertions about its appearance, the look and feel of the airport waiting area and its amusing opinions about the different people it has to deal with on a daily basis. The choice of making the chair the first person narrator is commendable.

Outstanding personifications well balance the descriptive vocabulary used throughout the article. Humour is another amazing hallmark of this piece. In the conclusion, the chair-narrator enters a self-reflective mood making engaging observations about its ‘job’ and life as a whole, which sort of ends the write-up perfectly.

Ideas for Striking Titles in Story Writing

A title is like a prologue to a work of art. It gives us a brief insight into the kind of world the author intends taking readers into.

Titles are the biggest creative bait writers offer to readers. The decision to pass over or decide to read on a piece depends primarily on its title. Needless to say, a title of sorts must be sufficiently attention grabbing and catchy.

Here we present a few revelations about what makes spectacular titles for the genre of story writing.

1. Intriguing

Readers love the uncanny, the mysterious. You can tap on the eerie and craft something deliberately enigmatical. This is true particularly for the genre of fiction where fascinating titles may be a foreword to supernatural storylines soon going to unfold before their eyes.

Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There’ (1872) and ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (1865) are renowned novels in children’s literature with mystical titles and plots.

 You may come up with something like:

 A foray into the Fairyland (Story with the given openings – “I opened my eyes and realised where I was!”)

 A Topsy-turvy World (Story with a red car, a dragon and a school in it)

 A World of Incredulities (Story with a duck, a goose and a pumpkin in it)

2. Wordplay

Rhyming, punning or other forms of wordplay are every writer’s skill. You can put on your creative hat and create a mix and match of complementary words.

Drizzles that Fizzled (Story based on a picture - rainy day)

The Doomy, Gloomy Day (Story based on a flashback – late for school Again)

3. Reference to the protagonist

Titles may be based around and give us a sneak peek into the central character. You can disclose your protagonist’s identity in a number of interesting ways.

Create your own Lilliputian world of small and large creatures with a title such as:

What’s big and small? A Matter of Scales (Story from the point of view of an object - A doll’s house or toy car)

My Tried and True Buddy (Story based on a picture - piggy bank)

An Act of Valour (Story that ends with: Do, you want to be a superhero?” asked dad.)

The Sinister Sister (Story from the point of view of another character - one of the ugly sisters from Cinderella)

4. Symbolic

Words or language may represent something instead of directly naming an entity. It can be too bland to refer to an object by its ordinary identity. One may concoct epithets such as:

A Vestige from History (Story from the point of view of an object – a grandfather’s clock)

A Voyage along the Shore (Story with seaside as the setting)

5. Premonitory

Foretelling the bad or ominous is a recurrent motif in literary writing. Authors whet the reader’s anxiety by dropping a figurative word or expression which is supposed to predict something dreadful going to happen.

The Wrath of Nature (Story based on a picture – flood)

 

Your title must be your own brainchild. An author ought to give a free vein to his creativity and design something unique. Repeating humdrum terminology does not work and must be debunked. Being original means trekking through the unprecedented and giving a shot to absolutely novel, path-breaking titles. You may attempt anything from being informative, inspirational, motivational, sardonic to whatever comes to your mind, depending upon your theme and storyline.

Hope the above pointers come handy when you are struggling with titling your next story write-up. Stay tuned as we bring you techniques for titling for different genres in our upcoming blogs.

Remarkable Sketches: Volume 5

This post talks about this week's chosen student assignment - an arresting persuasive speech. Its merits include: effectual vocabulary, appropriate rhetorical expressions and sufficient supporting statistics.
 
The child directly exhorts the audience in favour of her argument by hurling multiple rhetorical questions at them. Other relevant data is presented to substantiate her statements, importantly packed in compelling diction.
 
The long term repercussions of flippancy in youngsters are predicted along with advocating suggestions to counter the same. The overall tone of appeal is strong throughout the piece, keeping the readers glued to the writer's entreaties till the end.

Remarkable Sketches: Volume 4

Presenting the next in our series of brilliant student assignments. This one is an informal letter to a cousin with a project in hand about a child’s life in England.

The narrator/author opens desirably by enquiring about (yes, a whole paragraph dedicated to that!) the wellbeing of his cousin and his family. A tone of perfect cordiality between the kin is set right at the start. However, pleasantly, the excitement of the narrator is sustained throughout the write-up, showcasing him as an involved personality.

The second noticeable aspect is the impressive structure – the neat paragraph division of the letter as one shade about life in England is painted after the other.

The child has also been wise in his selection of unique aspects to discuss about his home city. Almost the entire geography of London is covered with the narrator talking about its north, south, east and west. Recreation, education, culture, lifestyle, politics, weather and more about the city are all touched upon, making the write-up a thoroughly engaging one.

 

Five Tips for Engaging Writing

Are we not all envious of those who can make us smile and wonder at every word of their writing? Adept writers adopt charming twists and turns to hook readers’ attention. It is that perfect combination of meaty content and interesting presentation that wins you the million dollar heed of audiences.

Here we discuss a few handy techniques with can make one want to read more and more of what you write.

1. Humour

What intense knowledge can’t, probably the comic can. People love to be tickled with the witty, wacky, silly, satirical, ironical, amusing, hilarious, exaggerated and the like.

You can jostle the funny bone of your readers by writing something similar to the below examples:

‘Finally, the slaughterer took all his arms and ammunitions out, all ready-get-set-go to do the ACT!’ (Going to the dentist)

‘When the world can ban child labour, why can’t I be spared this menial work? After all, Tom bought me just a year back.’ (Story from the point of view of a school book bag)

2. Novel Figurative Expressions

No one appreciates the mundane and commonplace. Clichéd sentences may peeve your readers, driving them to distraction. ‘As green as emerald’, ‘as fast as light’, ‘the sun smiled’, ‘the wind howled’ etc. now seem time-worn and trite.

 One may try a hand at innovative, outlandish figurative techniques – no matter the subject is animate or inanimate.

 ‘For all my power, I aimed being an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient pair of eyes, like God’s, you know.’ (Story with the given title – A pair of binoculars)

‘Mr. Incredible for all his flaws and foibles was a man of marvels and miracles.’ (Story from the point of view of another character – Mr. Incredible or Elastigirl)

3. References to current affairs or relevant social events

A well-researched, factual write-up is grounded in its immediate social reality. Every writer belongs to a certain cultural, economic, political and social milieu which reflects through his writing.

 Contemporary affairs make writing authentic and credible.

 ‘Education has always been all-important for children in our country. The Duchess of Cornwall’s recent article in the Sunday Express implores parents ahead of the World Book Day to ‘read to….children every day of the year.’  (A letter to your cousin about a child's life in England.)

 ‘We are aware of the University and College Union strikes making a great uproar out there. I hope the government intervenes to settle the agitation which is affecting student life in major ways.’ (Letter to elder sibling studying at a university, who can only visit home in school holidays.)

4. Punchy sentences

Never bombard the readers with hackneyed information. Even if you’ve thoroughly researched a topic, present the facts in a comprehensible manner. So is it with words. Fascinating vocabulary is desirable in writing; yet, remember never to overwhelm your sentences with unnecessary words. Sentences should be short, crisp and never draggy.

However, this is just the basic rule. The next step to cracking catchy sentences is to add the much wanted powerful punch. It could be your striking diction, sentence construction, literary technique, or a unique idea around which the whole sentence is framed.

‘This story is going to refute the time-honoured, established knowledge that camels got their humps due to laziness. The narration unfolds a giant camel, full of sloth, achieving the massive victory of being the most active creature on Earth.’ (Story that has in it: a giant, a sloth and a victory)

5. Expressive, candid narrator

To get the ball rolling in a write-up, you need a communicative, involved narrator. It could be a first or third person speaker, an animal, a bird or an object. The narrator must be so dynamic and animated that he enthuses your writing with a new found excitement for the readers.

 His creative energies must flow unstoppably:

‘This Sleeping Beauty was no damsel in distress; she took charge and broke the enchantment all by herself.’ (Story with a given title – The Sleeping Beauty)

“Phew! How the library staff cruelly thrusts me on jam-packed shelves,” thought the book which had just been forcibly shoved on the shelf. (Describe a library)

Incorporate these five tactics in your writing and leave a lasting impression on your audience. You can explore more such possibilities for creative play.

 

Six Signs of Weak Writing

 

It's not fair! I used every literary technique under the sun. I puked half the thesaurus in my essay. I even wrote three full pages. But still I don't get an A.

- Every Disappointed Student's Rant

Sometimes even after doing every possible thing right, we just don't get what we feel we deserve. Life is definitely not fair. Fortunately, when it comes to writing, we are in less troubled waters. Students often forget that good writing is also about keeping out elements that make the words on the page lifeless and bore their readers to death. In an attempt to impress others, they are tempted to include all that they know. The result is obvious: the rant mentioned above.

So, let’s find out which is the first of these don’ts on our list.

1. Insipid Openings

"In this essay I will discuss" or "I'm now going to explain" is the bane of examiners. Keeping the introductory lines the same as the question statement is another disaster in the making. They show lack of originality or just plain laziness. Students often forget that the reader already knows the subject matter thanks to the title or question. So, dare to be more original when you start off. Alternatives at your disposal are abundant: anecdotes, shocking statistics, rhetorical questions, dialogue and many more. Click here and here for detailed posts on imaginative openings for your writing.

2. Clichés and Over-used Words

The next on our radar of yawn-inducing writing are timeworn expressions. Hackneyed words are shamelessly boring and as good as forgotten. There is nothing creative about using expressions that have become tired because of repeated use. Take a look at some of these clichéd words:

Over-used words: things, like, stuff, actually, really, basically, very, good, amazing, use, get, well, interesting, so, quite, big, beautiful.

Clichés: as cold as ice, once upon a time, happily ever after, easy as pie, better late than never, black as coal, busy as a bee, fit as a fiddle, forget and forgive, keep an eye on, quiet as a mouse, at the speed of light, think outside the box, tip of the iceberg, as cool as a cucumber.

Ask yourself whether you really need these expressions? If yes, then consult our faithful thesaurus for corresponding synonyms that convey your meaning in a more original way. Remember novelty is the hallmark of A+ writing.

3. Passive Voice 

Dynamic writing demands live action and less of "being told" or "already done." Passive voice makes writing clunky and wordy.

Keen observations about life that often go unnoticed by adults are made by kids. (Passive voice)

Kids make keen observations about life that often go unnoticed by adults. (Active voice)

Notice the difference? Passive voice slows down writing, whereas active voice keeps the momentum going, makes writing resemble spoken language and achieves the desired succinctness. Although not advisable to altogether chuck it in, one can use passive voice to ensure clarity of ideas or to avoid repetitive sentence structure.

4. Rambling

Do not express the same idea in N number of different ways. Repetition of similar ideas is not necessary. Avoid redundancy of words and ideas in your writing.

Now isn't that a waste of words? Why write a saga when you can communicate eloquently using a handful of well-chosen words? Sometimes less is more (sadly, another cliché). Don't test the reader's patience with ineffective repetition, sudden digressions and unnecessary elaboration. They deaden rather than clarify your writing (For constructive repetition, click here). Once you start rambling, the reader knows you are either out of ideas or simply inarticulate. Be precise, snappy and leave the rest to the reader's imagination. Without wasting anymore words, let's move on to the next faux pas.

5. Unvarying Sentence Structure

Same sentence starters are more successful than even the most powerful lullabies in putting the reader to sleep. If consecutive sentences begin with the same nouns or phrases like ‘this is, it is, there is, based on, that is,’ it is time to raise a red flag. Besides being mind-numbing, these generic sentence openings show acute deficiency of writing skills in one.

There have been repeated incidences of customer dissatisfaction. There is a need to recognise our shortcomings.

There have been repeated incidences of customer dissatisfaction. Recognising our shortcomings is the need of the hour. 

6. Weak Organisation

A writer who can't get his act (composition) together impresses no-one. Scattered ideas can turn your writing into a frustrating game of ‘connect the dots to see what you get’ for the reader.  Order your ideas into coherent paragraphs that flow smoothly until you have said ‘goodbye’ to your readers.  Invest constructive time during the planning phase in chalking out a definite body for your ideas. Trust us, it is worth the effort.

We come to the end of six taboos of good writing. Keep them in mind when you write next and see a marked difference in your grades.

Remarkable Sketches: Volume 3

Here's the next on our list of well-composed, creatively written articles by our young authors. 

The year 6 student has used a surfeit of brilliant expressions, which make the piece thoroughly enjoyable to read through. There's her thoughtful selection of diction along with a hand at creative sentence construction. 
 
Literary devices have been utilized with a finesse, and spread richly throughout the narrative. 
 
The storyline is unique and surely, the piece invites you to keep your attention from start to finish.

Five Tricks to Frame Rhetorical Questions in Persuasive Writing

What is that mysterious quality that makes certain lines truly memorable? Why do we remember and cherish those opening words of Marc Antony’s speech so well?“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” (William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar). Antony’s character is legendary for his great oratorical skills. He is able to mesmerize the audience with words that make an immediate impact.

Let’s try to grapple today with the fine art of the rhetoric. It is essential in persuasive writing with students being continually asked to frame rhetorical questions.

Here lies the answer to their immense significance: rhetorical questions are forceful assertions in favour of your argument. They reinstate your cause loud and clear. You may quote statistics, reproduce a famous maxim, rely on universal truism or use some other technique to make your audience consent to your argument.

Rhetoric is a proclamation. Different from traditional sentences, it carries the add-on advantage of sounding more confident. It is the writer’s declaration that something is really the case. The audience is jolted off their comfort zone and urged to heed to what is being delivered.

Therefore, it is important to design your rhetorical questions with utmost creativity. Essentially, oratorical in nature, rhetorical questions must sound well prepared, yet natural. These should be crafted skillfully, sound inspirational, yet connect you with your audience in a tie of intimacy.

Let’s try a hand at some of the techniques of the rhetoric one by one.

1. Statistics: Appalling figures may convey what words cannot. Numbers are always remindful of an abject state of affairs. They ring a bell in the mind of the listeners/readers, as well as substantiate your write-up with well researched data. Here are some examples to assist you in quoting statistics as rhetorical questions.

Do you know that one million children around the world have been diagnosed as malnutritioned by WHO?

Does it surprise you that 25% of the cases registered for eye weakness in children owe to overuse of gadgets?

2Maxim: Established sayings win sure shot credibility. A maxim is a simple-to-repeat line, quote, rule or advice aiming an individual’s betterment. It is highly motivational and thought provoking in character. For the purpose of your writing, you need to pick a relevant maxim and tweak it to your end.

Isn’t ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ a well acknowledged truth?

Why aren’t children encouraged to participate without giving a thought to victory first?

3. Universal truism: Let’s now return to the folds of collective knowledge. Generally accepted truths give your answer an edge. Bank on truism and turn it craftily into rhetorical questions.

 Isn’t a decent lifestyle the birth right of every being born on the face of Earth?

4. Quotes: You can always chant the wise words of renowned men, adding a twist of rhetoric to them.

‘Do more than belong: Participate; Do more than believe: Practice; Do more than dream: Work.’ Why do parents forget this age old wisdom to instill in kids an acquisitive attitude?

5. Arresting questions: The last of our tactics seeks to directly relate to your audience. In a one-on-one encounter, you can probe them with regards to the matter at hand.

 Did you plant a tree this year? Are you caring enough for Mother Nature?

 What does it really take to be grateful for a favour, apologize for a mistake and request for an act of kindness? Probably, just ethics!

Hope you utilize the above strategies to formulate rhetorical questions in your persuasive write-ups. Depending on which suits a case the most, choose a trick which garners maximum notice from your audience.

Remarkable Sketches: Volume 2

We have another young writer's work to share with you today. The author of this piece of writing is not more than ten years old. How many of us can claim to write like this?
 
The child has very skilfully woven an anecdote and a joke into his description of a friend (Not an easy feat!)
 
The emphasis clearly is not on the physical characteristics of the subject (friend), typical of most descriptive essays, but on the personality of the friend and the friendship between the author and the said person. 
 
We find almost all types of advanced punctuation from semicolon to ellipsis in this creative work.