Friday, June 19, 2015

How You Tell the Story Makes a Difference

As I write nonfiction books, I carefully consider sentence length and punctuation.  Every sentence is crafted in a way that will support the pacing of my (true) story.  Does sentence structure and punctuation affect the pacing of the story?  Absolutely!  How you write the text makes all the difference. 

As an example, let’s consider the opening scene from my book,

Fourth Down and Inches: 

Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment


I could have begun this book in countless ways.  I chose to begin the book with a young man named Von Gammon because I believe it sets the scene for the whole book.  I wanted to pull the reader in by giving them a glimpse into Von’s life.  Once I decided to open the book with this young man, there were countless ways I could have written the scene. 

Consider the following examples and choose which is more compelling: 


Von Gammon lay down on the grass.  He told his brother to stand on his hands. Von was strong and could prove it. He could lift his brother who was six feet six inches tall off the ground.  Von was strong and skilled. 


Von Gammon lay down on the grass and told his brother to stand on his hands. Von was strong, and he could prove it. Then he lifted his brother—all six feet and six inches of him—clear off the ground. And Von wasn’t just strong; he was skilled.

The second example is what appears in the published book.  The first example communicates the same information, but doesn’t pull the reader into the story.  The difference is in the sentence structure and punctuation. 

Just a few sentences later, I write about the moment things changed for Von.   Which of the following is more interesting? 

When Von was a sophomore, he played in a football game that took place on October 30.  He was on the University of George team and they were playing the University of Virginia.  Von’s team was behind by seven points.  The other team had control of the ball.  Von was a defensive lineman.  When the ball was snapped and the play began, the linemen hit each other.  Von laid on the field after all the other players walked away. 


On October 30 of Von’s sophomore year, the Georgia Bulldogs were battling the University of Virginia. They trailed by seven points, and Virginia had the ball. Von took his place on the defensive line. The center snapped the ball. A mass of offensive linemen lurched toward Von, and he met them with equal force.
The play ended in a stack of tangled bodies.

One by one, the Virginia players got up and walked away. Von didn’t.

The second example appears in the published book.  Again it isn’t the information that is different; it is how the information is presented that is different. 

 Why did I begin
Fourth Down and Inches:
Concussions and Football's Make-or-Break Moment 
with Von Gammon? 
Because Von sustained a concussion and died a few hours later.  His death caused many to wonder if football was too dangerous.   
The year was 1897.  

Carla Killough McClafferty


Win an autographed copy Baby Says “Moo!” by JoAnn Early Macken.   For more details on the book and enter the book giveaway, see her blog entry on June 12, 2015.  The giveaway runs through June 22.  The winner will be announced on June 26.


Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thanks for two TERRIFIC "Show, don't Tell" examples, Carla, of how much our punctuation choices matter - in conveyeing meaning, energy, voice, emotion.
Your Fan Esther

jan godown annino said...


Appreciations for tackling this important topic & in a fabulous writing style.


p.s. that's quite a kicker at the end!

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

Thank you Esther and Jan.


P.S. Jan I really enjoyed your pun at the end. You really scored big with that one. ;-)

Beth Anderson said...

Thank you for the great examples. I also love the hit that comes with the date being held until after the opening!