Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Rule-Breaking, Author-Style

I spend an inordinate amount of time every week reading and responding to the writing of other people. I read blog posts and comment; additionally, I read more than a couple of books (primarily e-books) and post reviews.

As I read these published texts, I am often appalled by the number and nature of the grammatical and mechanical errors.

Obvious capitalization errors, spelling errors, punctuation errors, run-on sentences, and the like dance across the screen or pages with wild abandon.

When I mention this to someone, they often respond that it's content that matters. Besides, they offer, errors such as the ones I mention can even be found in books written by widely-published, iconic authors.

To a degree, that's correct. Sentence fragments, run-ons, and other "construction" issues can be found in books and magazine/newspaper articles.

Sometimes that's because of poor writing and sloppy editing. Those writers and editors should be ashamed of themselves for their lack of respect for their reader and their craft.

Sometimes, however, those "errors" are deliberately and very- thoughtfully made.

Writers -- those who produce the very best texts that engage and motivate and move those of us who read them -- can bend, and even break, the rules.

Why? Because they have demonstrated their knowledge of the rules of grammar and mechanics, they typically followed them for many years themselves, they now know what effect will be created by the breaking of a rule, and they want to achieve that effect.

Not convinced?

Think back to your first day in a chemistry class, or, if you're like me and never (thank goodness) took one, imagine that scene.

On that first day, did the instructor unlock the cabinets in which all the chemicals and beakers and test tubes were stored and call out with glee, "Go for it! Have fun!"?

Of course not. They knew, hopefully not from experience, that the result might very well be a blown up table, at the very least.

Instead, you weren't allowed to touch anything but your textbook, notebook, and pen/pencil for a couple of weeks, until you knew about various chemical properties (or something like that -- I have to admit that chemistry terminology is beyond me) and the rules for mixing, for example, an acid and a base. Only then were you allowed to actually work with the actual chemicals.

But, and here is the key, at least some of those once-novice chemistry students went on to break the rules. Individuals who followed the rules in high school chemistry class and who decided to continue those studies in college and grad school became scientists in laboratories across the country who violate the basic principles of chemistry that mere mortals (i.e. high school chemistry students) cannot.

They break them because they know the consequences of breaking them and, as a result, do so safely. They do so with the intent to create something -- a cure for leukemia or for Parkinsons or for Lou Gehrig's Disease, for example.

If those very-knowledgeable and skilled individuals never broke the rules of chemistry, new and wonderful things would never be invented.

And so it is with words and sentences. The rules must be followed until they are mastered and until the writer knows how to effectively break them to create something new and wonderful.

As a result, a skilled writer can pen, "But Mary's phobias kept her from exploring the world." to create some effect. They can even construct similar sentences on a fairly-regular basis as part of their writing style.

However, if a writer is not trying to create an effect and is simply writing sentences like that out of habit, they need to edit more carefully.

(Explanation: "And" is a conjunction; conjunctions join words and groups of words. If a conjunction is found at the beginning of a sentence, the words after it are not joined to anything and, typically, do not constitute an independent clause. Hence, a fragment. However, there are situations in which a sentence can begin with a conjunction, but that's a topic for another Tuesday.)

The internet is a wonderful tool, as are e-readers. However, the world is being flooded with poorly-written pieces by bloggers and fledgling writers.

I have my own opinion as to why that is happening, and I'll share that next Tuesday.

Of course, now that I've posted this, my own writing will no doubt be more-carefully scrutinized by anyone who stops by. That's okay. I know the rules, and I break some of them.

Deliberately. If you read much of what I write and if you know the rules of grammar and mechanics, you'll recognize those that I break as part of my own writing style.

Let me know if you do!

Just for fun, think of your favorite iconic writers. What "errors" do they make as part of their writing style? Share your response through a comment below.

Let's take a minute to be totally transparent. What are the mechanical and/or grammatical errors you tend to break (by accident) most often? Share via a comment below.






Thursday, July 7, 2016

Faith, Courage, and Victory by Katy Kauffman (a review)

Over the years, I have used literally countless Bible studies, and  Faith,Courage, and Victory: The Stories, Struggles, and Triumphs of 24 Characters of the Bible by Katy Kauffman  ranks as one of the top three or four of all.

Within a few days of beginning this 40-day study, it was apparent  why it is the Selah award winner for Bible studies in 2016. Faith, Courage, and Victory stands out -- and above -- the rest of the crowd of Bible studies for several reasons.

First, the format of each day's lesson is different than the vast majority of Bible studies.. Most, if not all, studies I've done in the past open with a Bible verse or passage, followed by the discussion of that passage (which takes up the bulk of the lesson), a shorter explanation of application, and possibly study questions to complete,

Kauffman instead opens all but a few of the readings with a real-life or true contemporary narrative before introducing the Biblical character and discussing them and the relevance of their story to life today. She brings each of the 40 lessons to a close with several questions and a short prayer.

The real-life narratives Kauffman opens with are imminently relevant and, therefore, captured my attention; in turn, I was eager each morning to see how God addresses the issues encountered  by so many of us today.

Kauffman also includes in each chapter the Bible passages that tell the story of the Biblical character (some chapters also have 1 or a few references to related Scriptures that are not included).

While this may seem like a minor benefit, it allows the reader to carry the book in his/her briefcase or purse and, when faced with a block of quiet time in their day, read one of the chapters wherever they might be. In a world in which it is simply assumed that everyone has access to an online Bible or wifi at all times, it's wonderful to find an author who realizes that some people do not.

Another strength of "Faith, Courage, and Victory" is that while each day's lesson is clear and easily digested, it does not lack depth. For the past 20 days, I have completed the Bible study each morning, gained valuable insight, and then gone about my day.

Each of those 20 days, at least one nugget from the lesson has come to mind as I've gone about my daily routine; those nuggets remind me of the lesson of that day's chapter, cause me to contemplate them more fully and to realize yet another way the chapter and its message -- and God's Word -- is relevant to life today.

Kauffman's writing style is particularly impressive.. She uses language extremely well; she writes clearly and concisely yet still creates a flow that draws the reader from sentence to sentence smoothly, even lyrically. And in a day when ebooks and even hard-copy books with obvious grammatical and mechanical errors are commonplace, Faith, Courage, and Victory is a welcome rarity -- an extremely well edited book.

At the end of the book, Kauffman provides a "Scrapbooked Bible Study" that explains (with illustrations!) how to create take-away cards. These take-away cards are a wonderful resource for memorizing Scripture and Biblical principles and for posting throughout the house, etc. to remind the reader of key points from the book.

Of course, the very-clear instructions for creating these cards have numerous applications. A great resource that I haven't found anywhere else!

In short, if you are looking for a enlightening, engaging Bible study for either personal or group (a leader's guide is provided in the back of the book), this is an excellent choice!

Faith, Courage, and Victory is published by Lighthouse Bible Studies (2015).

(I mentioned in a discussion group that I was planning to use this study and review it here; the author saw my post and offered me a free copy; she explained that she wanted nothing but an honest review in return, and that is what I have provided here.)

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Breaking Up with Perfect by Amy Carroll (a review -- and a give-away!!)

Anyone who has seen my house, my hair, or how I dress would agree with me when I say that I am not a perfectionist. As a result, I was sure Breaking Up with Perfect: Kiss Perfection Good-Bye and Embrace the Joy God Has in Store for You by Amy Carroll,wasn't "for me".

However, when I was offered the opportunity to review this book, I jumped at the chance, and I'm glad I did.

In the Introduction (which you do not want to skip), Carroll provides an engaging and informative discussion of two types of women -- Good Girls and Never Good Enough Girls -- and their "lists".

As I read, I found parts of me being described . . . well, perfectly, and I'm sure other readers will find the same to be true for them as well.

Carroll goes on to discuss the ramifications of being a Good Girl or a Never Good Enough Girl.

In exposing the lies of perfectionism, Carroll explains how a relationship with "Perfect" is both personally unhealthy and damaging to our relationships with God and the people in our lives.

Fortunately, she doesn't stop there. Carroll goes on to explain how we can stop struggling with "Perfect" and rest in God's perfect love. Her transparency in sharing her own, sometimes-humorous, struggles with perfectionism bring to life the discussions of topics such as restoring healthy relationships with others, establishing Godly values, and adopting a lifestyle that reflects those values.

Each chapter provides wonderful insight based on Biblical principles and ends with Transformation Points. These questions and prompts are useful tools for personal use or group study.

For those who want to delve further into the principles discussed in the Introduction and each chapter, Carroll has provided a "Going Deeper" section at the back of the book. The journaling or discussion prompts and Scriptural connections (in many cases, the Scripture is provided in the text) are outstanding tools for personal and group study.

In Breaking Up with Perfect: Kiss Perfection Good-Bye and Embrace the Joy God Has in Store for You, author Amy Carroll provides inspiration and tools to help a woman relinquish perfectionism.

I am so excited to be able to offer a free copy to one reader. To enter your name in the give-away, please post a comment in which you share something about your own relationship with perfectionism. It might be about how your own perfectionism has affected you, or perhaps you might share how you have been affected by someone else's pursuit of perfection. 

A name will be drawn at 11:00 p.m. on Wednesday, August 3, and the name will be announced here Thursday, August 4, 2016.