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Archive for the ‘Practical Communication Skills’ Category

Wordiness is Weak Writing But How Little is Too Little?

I tell my students to eliminate words that don’t add anything to their subject. Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) gives reasons and examples here: Conciseness in Writing

I buy into the concept, but also expect communication–whether written or oral–to be vivid and clear, and so I must ask if there is a realistic minimum when too few words are as bad or worse than too many. Today, for the first time, I tried to tell a story in just 55 words (the flash fiction assignment I found at http://austinbriggs.com/category/Flash-Fiction-Contest/)

Are these few words–reduced from a scene in my book, Pieces of You, –enough to cause you to imagine the scene and discern the message imbedded in the story’s title, What if heaven is fun and fulfilling? Or would it benefit from more detail?

Blurred Photo of MarkThe news as usual is of carnage.

Disgusted, Mark turned to the mystifying peephole. His deceased mother, gloriously happy, was there teaching wide-eyed scholars, the scent of flowers and the notes of masters on the breeze. She took his father’s hand and faced Mark, saying, “We will help you teach them to love each other.”

The Power of Words–and Words to Prove It!

I have been teaching my Public Speaking students about language, especially the  great power of our words to create or destroy.  Writers  are always influencing  by the words  we choose to describe something or someone.  I wonder if we are constantly conscious of what we are doing…. Do we always choose the word that is the clearest and most descriptive, and not a judgment? After all, readers are limited to the world we create, with its values and visions of what is–or could be–in it. Are we painting brave new worlds with our word pictures or are we prescribing a life that only gratifies or glorifies our self-centered natures? And are we conscious of the beauty and precision of the grammatical context of our words, or do our fingers go tripping and tumbling along a path, throwing commas and other punctuation wherever we please with no thought to scooping up the excess?

Here are some possible answers, quotes I found on Goodreads:

magnetic-poetry“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” ― C.S. Lewis

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”― Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.” ― Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls

“There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you. If you’re lucky you will get the second, but you can be certain of getting the first.” ― Philip K. Dick, VALIS

“We live and breathe words. …. It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them. Reading your words, what you wrote, how you were lonely sometimes and afraid, but always brave; the way you saw the world, its colors and textures and sounds, I felt–I felt the way you thought, hoped, felt, dreamt. I felt I was dreaming and thinking and feeling with you. I dreamed what you dreamed, wanted what you wanted–and then I realized that truly I just wanted you.” ― Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince

How have you been changed by the words you’ve read?

Logical Fallacies in the Presidential Campaign?!

I’m not certain that Tuesday’s election will give us the president we—both Americans and our international neighbors—need most in this pivotal period. But I will be grateful for the end of campaigning because I’m tired of hearing half-truths, lies, and verbal attacks in place of truth and thoughtful plans meant to honor the majority, regardless of financial status. I am appalled at the prevalence of logical fallacies instead of proof of critical thinking.

Our political leaders—and many followers– seem to have dwindled into talking heads who babble propaganda and expect us to silently nod our approval. We must not.

We can’t let ourselves be taken in by statements that sound true but are logical fallacies (mistakes in reasoning). They’re not always easy to spot because they could be factual in different contexts but instead are used to intentionally hide the truth. Much of what we’ve heard in the debates fall into that category.

Here’s a blatant example of a fallacy that someone said to me last week: “We will be forced to bomb Iran; otherwise, they will blow up our school buses.” You may have heard similar statements. I suggest this is not only a logical fallacy, but also an insidious message meant to arouse an emotional response (and possibly a call to action) in people who have stereotyped all Iranians as terrorists whom we should kill before they kill us. There are many assumptions in this statement and only one response suggested. Even if an injustice has occurred, there are many ways to deal with violent acts much more effectively than mimicking the perpetrator.

Please listen for logical fallacies during the next week. If you’re not sure how to recognize those most often used, here’s help. This link to Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) provides good examples:https://i2.wp.com/www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/troufs/images/owl_purdue.gif

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource /659/03/

For the benefit of other readers, would you please comment on what you’ve noted?


What does a classmate’s funeral and the movie “Won’t Back Down” have in common?

Saturday I went to the funeral of a high school classmate, Judith Bennett. Sunday I went to see the movie Won’t Back Down. Both events made me think about making the same change in my life.

Judy was a classmate whom I’d lost touch with since graduation and only visited a few times since I returned to my hometown three years ago.  During her funeral, several friends explained how Judy always seemed to know when they needed a listener or comforter. She made regular phone calls and email contacts, and she invited friends to meet for dinner or for trips to places like Alaska and Las Vegas.  I rarely responded to her contacts.

In the movie Won’t Back Down, two mothers, one a teacher also, won’t accept that their children must attend a failing school. They understand the consequences of a poor education and can’t let that be their children’s futures.  Even with almost insurmountable obstacles to using The Parent Trigger law, these women hang onto the hope that they can make a difference in the lives of children in one elementary school. I, too, have often felt the call to do something to change systems that promote injustices. The difference between the movie’s protagonists and me is that I give up when people don’t immediately rally around my vision.

The common theme of Judy’s life, as told at her funeral, and the new movie Won’t Back Down is to stay involved in the lives of people important to us, and to show them we care by doing what matters to them–even when opposition and other opportunities try to pull us away.

What is the difference between inspiration and persuasion?

In my opinion, it’s the difference between temporarily moving people to buy or do something, often for good, but not making it become their way of life. Inspiration is a catalyst to change lives and worlds.

I would like my students (and me!) to become adept at inspiring, even more than persuading audiences, yet how do we know when we’ve moved beyond persuading? Our textbook gives an example of a sales manager introducing the advantages and potential of a new product, and calls it both inspirational and persuasive. I disagree!  I only see it as persuasive.  So what is inspiration?

I’ve been thinking about this question ever since Kendra, one of my students, asked about the difference when I proposed an inspirational speech for this final week of class. For examples, I showed excerpts from the park scene in “Good Will Hunting”) where Robin Williams tells off young Matt Damon; and  a reading by Stacyann Chin of Marge Piercy’s The low road  in the documentary, The People Speak.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zveWE6I3M2g

Not all my students experienced the degree of inspiration I did when observing these scenes. I responded with a sense that I could do things I haven’t yet done, understand things that were previously a mystery. It wasn’t about just doing what someone else recommended or accepting someone else’s beliefs—that is what I would call being persuaded. No, I WANTED to do something that would make a difference to others and to embrace insights that would make me different. And the feeling that I wanted to do and be more hasn’t left me.

What causes us to grasp a broader view of what is desirable and possible?  My pondering has yielded only two requirements for being inspired: an emotionally charged message (conveyed through rhythmic words and if spoken, confirmed by body language) and disclosure of a bit of transcendent mystery through the openness (vulnerability) of the one sharing.  Poets, writers, and musicians sometimes do this. Their inspiring songs and stories touch us in deep places.

How can we be an inspiration to those around us? I’m not sure, but I’ll be looking for examples. What/who has inspired you? Please add your ideas and experiences to this continuing conversation.

Why I Write

I have finished my first novel and now have it in the hands of a wonderfully talented editor, Linnet Woods, who lives on a boat off the coast of Spain. This seems a good time to consider the question of why am I am finally writing my first book. Maybe my story will make readers believe they, too, have enough to say to begin (or complete) their story.

Why do I write? I couldn’t answer that question until I came to terms with why I haven’t written. Even that must be clarified: I have always written, but never even thought of writing a book until I started writing Pieces of You. I wrote in a journal as a child, but it was primarily about my parents’ horrible relationship. Then I took up journal writing again as a divorced adult, but my second husband destroyed that book. (Evidently he thought the memories of my former male friends would be erased if the pages on which they lived were eliminated.)

I wrote for work—annual reports, marketing material, curriculum, and other such works required of a bank manager, economic development director and then college instructor. I remember a former boss, the head of Battle Creek Unlimited, commanding me to write a book while in the Peace Corps.

I did not. I had nothing to say.

Yes, I had many amazing experiences while in Kazakhstan and while living a life that was never the typical fairy tale. I was always busy trying to accomplish—and to escape. And I always read novels–to escape and/or to learn, so I could accomplish more. But I didn’t find the inspiration to share what I was learning…until Kirk/Mark’s death.

In trying to answer the why question, I have concluded that, for me, writing a book is about sharing what has changed me enough to believe (or at least hope) I can answer questions others have, too.  When the model for my protagonist died unexpectedly, I had lots of questions: Where was he? Why did he have to die just when our relationship was becoming something very special?  Why weren’t prayers answered? To answer some of those questions, I had to do considerable research, soul searching, and creative thinking. As I detected answers, I began writing his story—or what I believe could be his story.

Why do I write? More specifically, why did I write my first novel at 60 something? I finally have something to say. When I faced my haunting questions, I found some incredible answers. But most of all, I wrote this one to recover pieces of him.

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