Sticky Sentences

Today I aim to submit a competition entry. Because I’m awful at proof reading my own work, I like to run short stories through a grammar and style checker first. I use ProWriting Aid. One of the options it offers is to check for what it calls ‘sticky sentences’ which use a lot of ‘glue words’. As I understand it, these are the 200 most commonly used words. When the proportion of them in a sentence is too high, this can reduce readability. Apparently. Inevitably, my biggest stylistic issue is multiple ‘sticky sentences’ and a high ‘glue index’.

I’ve seen a blog from at least one other writer who says that after re-writing such sentences to remove the ‘glue’ words, they are almost invariably better. I, on the other hand, am struggling to do this. Using simple, everyday words makes for easier reading, doesn’t it?

Two sentences the checker is unhappy with today are:

Two bounds and that thing could be in here with its teeth and claws. And shouldn’t the guide have a gun?”

The ‘glue’ words are in blue. These sentences are spoken by a person on safari who suddenly realises the potential danger of being very close to a leopard in an open vehicle. The person is in the vehicle, by the way, not the leopard: interestingly, the style checker doesn’t pick up bloopers like this.

Leopard courtesy of Pixabay

Later, there is a problem with this sentence, too:

And you always know what she‘s thinking?”

How can I rewrite these, and others, without the glue words? If I manage it, I don’t think they’ll sound like natural speech, or the meaning won’t be as clear.

So, do I ignore the checker on this issue or work on my writing skills? Decisions, decisions.



How to name ducks and other problems

This week my tendency to write misery came to the fore. Everybody who fed back on my current main character Sarah said she was too negative. Some wanted to shake her, one fervently hoped she was never on a cruise with her.

In some ways this is a good thing as it’s the same sort of reaction I had to the unnamed protagonist in Rebecca – I have done my job regarding character portrayal. On the other hand, this sort of emotional response from your reader probably isn’t what you want in Womagland.

Douglas McPherson wrote a good piece on how to write for womags in this month’s Writers’ Forum magazine (although there are some points the womag writers I know  disagreed with). What he said you need in terms of tone includes:

  • suitable for family reading √
  • warm uplifting tales, happy endings (Hmmm)
  • avoid bleak or depressing themes (it was a broken marriage that gets fixed: that’s not so bleak, is it?)
  • traditional family values and morals √

Well, there is a happy ending, but I have to admit that Sarah is a misery guts  right until the end. ‘I’m a terrible mother’, ‘I have no friends’, ‘It was all my fault’ and so on. Can you see why my readers wanted to shake her?

What does one do? Does one argue, “Aha! but this is the fresh approach that editors are looking for” (as urged by Dougie McP) and send it in? Or does one tone it down a bit (a lot)?

Decisions, decisions.

Meanwhile we have to decide what to call our new ducks. So far we have a Professor Snape as he (or she) is darker than the others, and a Mrs Bibby (who’s colouring includes a small white bib). But we are stuck for the other two near identical chocolate ones, and the equally near identical white ones. It doesn’t help that we don’t know if they are ducks or drakes yet.

Helpful suggestions gratefully received.


I have developed a new system for trying to hit writing deadlines.

Remember that SMART plan I did for myself after campnano? The one where I had to edit the anthology submission and get it in etc? Totally forgot. Now got a good story, quite niche, sitting on my hard drive with no place to go. As for the other items on the list, the knitting competition story had a fatal flaw in that I didn’t notice I was supposed to use their opening line, and I’d forgotten all about the autumn story. Bit late to get that off now, I suspect. Plus it was aimed for Woman’s Weekly which has the rights issue still ongoing.

This keeps happening because my sister, sadly, got all the ‘organised’ genes. Me, I bumble along from day to day and occasionally spot deadlines before they pass.

So, I have new folders in my writing directory, organised by month. July 18 has 3 files in it, all relating to the same story which has actually been submitted (I think, wait, I need to check that…) . I deleted the empty doc named after the competition that was aimed at.

And so on to the August 18 folder. So far I have one file in there named ‘Shallow Creek,’ after the competition of the same name run by Storgy magazine. On opening it up I find the words ‘Write something here.” Interesting. I already wrote about 300 words for that this morning. Wonder where they are?

Woman’s Weekly, right!

Well, you go on holiday for a fortnight and all hell’s broken loose when you get back.

True there were mutterings about short story acceptances at Woman’s Weekly before I went away, with regular writers failing to find favour and a bunch of new people suddenly getting their first acceptances. But now it seems the magazine has not only drastically reduced payments (from £150 to £100 for a 1K story) but are demanding all rights to stories as well.

They didn’t used to do that.

The only other magazine I’m aware of that does that is Prima with their monthly reader ‘competition’.

What giving up all rights mean is you no longer hold the copyright. The story is no longer yours. It’s the magazines and they can do with it what it likes. This is a huge blow for womag writers, some of whom rely on womag writing income. Many used to sell their stories more than once and even bundle them into anthology style books.

You can’t do that if someone else has taken all rights. You can’t even demand they put your name on your story if they republish it. And you won’t be able to change your mind either.

For more on the subject, read this on womagwriter blogspot.


The Carpenter’s Tale

I loved this story on the BBC about a French carpenter’s diary which has just been unearthed written on the underside of some old floorboards. Joachim Martin knew when he wrote it over 100 years ago he would be dead before anyone found it so wrote the truth and wrote from the heart. I’d love to be able to read the whole thing and not just snippets. Infanticide, mistresses, infidelity and more. It may have been all a work of complete fiction of course. In which case it would probably still be a lot more readable that Mrs Dalloway, which is this month’s book club book.

Mrs D is clearly a marmite book – love it or hate it. Lots of 5 stars on Goodreads but a fair few 1s and 2s as well. I’m afraid I’ve only managed to get as far as page 2 after three attempts and, on the occasion I got to the end of page 2, it left me with a headache.

Why is stream of consciousness a great literary technique? I had to go online to find out who the point of view character was. I thought there were two Dalloways – Mrs Dalloway and her daughter Clarissa. Who is Lucy? Who is Rumpelmeyer and why did his men take the doors off the hinges?

I’m getting a headache just typing this.

Had this woman come to see me at work, I would have put up my hand and uttered a firm, ‘Stop! Now, tell me in one sentence why you are here.’

Give me a bit of juicy village gossip over interior whittering any day.