Friday, February 25, 2011

Foolish Words Inspire, Too

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach

I feel my best when I’m happy (Winona Ryder). Taken out of context, these seven words are good for a laugh: “Really, you’re at your best when you are happy. Well, duh!”

In the original context, Ms. Ryder’s thoughts may not have been so humorous, but they do serve to provide a great writing prompt:

I feel (what) when I am (what). Just fill in the blanks and see where the sentences take you. For example,

• I feel powerful when I beat my own walking time for one-half mile.
• I feel duped when I fail to read the fine print on the signs in stores.
• I feel happy when I see photos of my child.

When one of these strikes your fancy, add more. For example:

Recently, I found a photo of my husband in a brown shirt that I gave him one Valentine’s Day. On his hip is our daughter, reaching toward me, the one unseen behind the camera. Father and daughter smile, and seeing them caught in that sunny moment makes me smile, too.

I framed the old snapshot, using a mat that accents the brown in my husband’s shirt, long gone, given to some charitable organization many years ago. The photo now sets on the antique teacher’s desk in the entry hall where I see it as I pass by on my way to my study or the master bedroom, and I pass these ways many, many times each day. I find that I am happier every day now. I smile at their Kodak faces, and they smile right back at me.

Using Ms. Ryder’s silly, out-of-context sentence, plucked from the pages of a wonderful book, Foolish Words: The Most Stupid Words Ever Spoken by Laura Ward, I simply tried to practice specific, concrete detail (Originally introduced in posts for April 18 and April 25, 2010) and capture a moment in time.

It’s fun. It’s easy. It’s a good thing, as Martha Stewart might say of the exercise. So get busy. Join Ms. Ryder by telling the reader what you feel when you do or see or say something particular.

Reading Challenge:

Read anything by Annie Dillard. She communicates feelings through specific, concrete detail very well.

Writing Challenge:

This post is a writing challenge.

Grammar, Usage and Mechanics (GUM):

I feel my best is a simple sentence consisting of a pronoun subject I, a state of being verb feel, and complement my best. It becomes a complex sentence after Ms. Ryder includes a dependent clause at the end--when I’m happy.

The complex sentence does not need commas to separate the simple sentence (independent clause) from the dependent one because the dependent clause follows the independent. (This is a punctuation rule first reviewed on August 20, 2010).