Delay of the Game!

During the course of the CoViD-19 Pandemic, I spent a lot of time listening to National Public Radio, in order to keep tabs on the developments of the virus spread.  Then came the painful process of the Presidential Election, and all the turmoil associated with it.  I listened to all manner of folks and their respective patterns of speech and delivery, from the regular news anchors to those in the public eye who provided information and opinions.

And I caught something.  I noticed quite a few of the voices on the airwaves prefaced their comments with “So, sure, {and then launched into their information}.”  Another variant I picked up on was “Yeah, so,” which—to my ears—sounds even hokier than the first.  I’ve even heard several people use “Yeah.  So, sure…”  

My English / Grammar teachers would have been appalled!  Me?  I just shake my head to realize how many of these little anachronisms have crept into our daily vocabulary.  Why are they there?  They don’t add anything to the conversation, and all they do is delay the actual reporting the individual is tasked to perform.

I have some idea those who use these phrases are doing so as a way of ‘confirmation’ or ‘agreement’ to the news anchor that they are willing to provide the info.  In other words, they’re stating “Yes, I’m ready and willing to spill my guts on this topic just for you,” in the span of two to three words, versus that whole thought, potentially wasting 5-7 seconds of air-time.  The only thing is, it still wastes 2-3 seconds, when the person could simply start right into providing their report of the info in question.  Imagine if they left off those few words every time they responded to a question. 

When I was a child and my Father caught me in the midst of an indiscretion, and I tried to hem-haw around the discussion of what happened, he inevitably told me “Get to the point.  Just give me the facts, young man.”  He didn’t want me to blather on with meaningless words or excuses.  He wanted the straight info—with no delays—so he could weigh the transgression and make a swift judgment, in order to settle the matter quickly.

Let me circle back around to my English / Grammar teachers in school.  How many of you were taught to Diagram Sentences?  If you never have, go look that up in a New Tab on your browser.  …….  Done?  Okay, let’s move on with what you may have noticed.

It’s an interesting exercise to make a writer understand the Components and the Structure of the English language.  For me—a kid who came from Germany and had to learn a second language to survive in this new culture—it was like a game.  We were taught the basic components (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, modifier, preposition, etc.).  Then we were tasked with taking a given sentence and drawing ‘offshoot’ lines from the main idea, accounting for all the extra words (providing additional descriptive details), until we had a branching diagram encompassing all the parts of speech used.  It was intriguing to note what was the ‘most important’ information, what added to the useful understanding of the main idea, and what extraneous words could have been easily left off without hindering the ‘intent’ of the sentence.

As a Writer, You are responsible for how your Readers perceive your writing style.  There are certain patterns of expression you may use that can ‘make or break’ your story.  In light of what I’ve told you about delaying the meaning, check if you use a bunch of these ‘filler’ words:

thatUsed to connote an object or a purposeIf not so used, it’s taking up useless space
whichOffers an option, or shows a reasonDitto (go on a ‘which hunt’ in your story)
justLegally rightIf used to mean ‘simply’, it is filler
{adverbs}Use them sparingly (see what I did there?)Use base form, instead, and describe more
{clauses}Legit, but minimal use recommendedStraight-line your thoughts, not circuitous

Those first three are easy enough to take care of in your writing.  Invoke your Find & Replace function in your word processor and have at it!  I do recommend you take each one of the occurrences of ‘that’ individually.  If it’s a ‘filler’ word, delete it; if it denotes purpose or points to an object, keep it.  You can bank on almost every occurrence of ‘which’ being unnecessary.  And the word ‘just’ is right outta there, completely.

Adverbs are, inevitably, words that end in ‘ly’ and have a tendency to be a shortcut for a more broad-ranging meaning.  My suggestion is to use the ‘root word’ of the adverb, plus more description, to impart the whole meaning you intended.  This will give you practice in spicing up your writing, adding more context, and providing a greater word count.  Think of how much closer to a Tolstoy novel it would put your writing.  Big.  THICK.  Novel.  I’m only kidding a bit.  Change adverbs to more in-depth description, but be certain it doesn’t bog down the narrative.

Clauses aren’t as rare as Santa, but you should strive to minimize them for today’s ReadersSubordinate clauses do add information and descriptive power to a sentence; however, you should NOT do loop-de-loops with your clauses so your Reader gets confused with too many extraneous details.  It’s up to you, the Writer, to determine how much or how little description is necessary to paint the picture without obscuring the main images in your story.

What I’ve imparted to this point is on a ‘micro’ level.  The words and phrases you utilize to craft your tale are important in their immediacy as the Reader digests each word, each line.  There’s also a ‘macro’ level you’ve got to consider.  You have to be aware of the ‘pacing’ of the whole story line.  You have to arrange the narrative so it continues to build the excitement and tension until you hit the final climactic ending.

The best way to do this is through Story BoardingHollywood Directors depend heavily upon this process, because it allows them to visualize the key components of the story, and move certain ‘moments’ to an appropriate position in the timeline, so it keeps the Viewer engaged throughout the movie.  Break up your chapters in such a way there’s something ‘pending’ at the end of each one, compelling the Reader to turn the page to find out what comes next.  Consider it like putting a mini-cliffhanger into each one to propel the story forward.

So, yeah, I’ve given you a lot to chew on.  And I hope I’ve kept you entertained in the process.  Now it’s up to you to decide how you’re going to implement this knowledge.  Go on, then.  Get writing!


Photo Credits:

Father / Son
Sentence Diagram
Story Boarding

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