The 5 C’s of Critical Writing

The answer is less a matter of word count, but making your words count. It’s what I call the 5 C’s of critical writing.  At the risk of turning away those readers who vote for brevity, here they are pared down to tweet-size.

1. Be Clear.  Use short, crisp sentences, as your building blocks.  Use active verbs and avoid adjective overkill, jargon, and acronyms.

2. Be Correct.  Make sure that quotes are accurate and attributed to the right speaker and use only reliable sources for background information.

3. Be Concise.  Put your writing on a Low-Fat Diet.  Be precise.  Avoid run-on sentences.  Guard against linguistic fat traps like of, due to the fact, the majority of, despite the fact, to be.

4. Be Comprehensive.  Conciseness is a linguistic virtue, but it should never come at the cost of imprecision.  A word left out of a sentence can often distract or confuse.

5. Be Compelling.  A compelling review immediately grabs attention, reads smoothly and without reliance on cliched phrases, and leaves the reader with a snap, crackle, and pop windup.

Improve Your Writing with the ABCs of Grammar

Discover the ABCs of grammar with this alphabetically ordered list of definitions that will help you with your writing. We can work on updating it together so if you have a grammar or writing-related definition to add, please leave me a comment with your entry and I will update the list so that you can refer to it again and again. And if you find this blog post helpful, please share it.

Action verb – a verb that tells what the subject is doing.

Adjective – a single word that modifies a noun or pronoun.

Adverb – a single word that modifies a predicate.

Allegory – noun

1. A poem, play, picture, etc., in which the apparent meaning of the characters and events is used to symbolize a deeper moral or spiritual meaning.

2. The technique or genre that this represents.

3. Use of such symbolism to illustrate truth or a moral

4. Anything used as a symbol or emblem.

Antecedent – the word in the sentence to which the pronoun refers.

Antonym – a word of opposite meaning.

Assertive/Declarative Sentence –  an assertive sentence is also called a declarative sentence. In the English language, this sentence gives information about facts, opinions, and beliefs. This sentence is used most commonly in books, informative articles, reports as well as in essays. This sentence ends with a full stop. As this sentence asserts, states or declares is also called a Declarative sentence. 

Auxiliary verb –  a verb (such as havebemaydoshallwillcan, or must) that is used with another verb to show the verb’s tense, to form a question, etc. 

Bare predicate – one verb.

Bare subject – one-word subject without a modifier.

Case – the term used to indicate the form/position of a noun/pronoun in a sentence and shows the relationship of the noun to the other words in the sentence. A noun may have three cases: subjective/nominative, objective and possessive.

Catenative verb – a verb often followed by a function word (such as to or on) that occupies a position other than final in a succession of two or more verbs together forming the main part of the predicate of a sentence.  (i.e. ought, try, keep)

Collective noun – a noun that names a collection or group.

Common noun – general names; a noun that may occur with limiting modifiers (such as a or an, some, every, and my) and that designates any one of a class of beings or things.

Complement – a word or group of words that completes the meaning of the verb.

Complete predicate – verb including a modifier.

Complete sentence – is comprised of a subject and predicate (verb).

Complete subject – two-word (or more) subject that includes a modifier.

Compound predicate – a predicate consisting of more than one part.

Compound relative pronouns – function as the subject or object of a sentence while introducing a subordinate clause. (i.e. whoever, whomever, whichever)

Compound subject – a subject consisting of more than one part.

Definite article – the word the used in English to refer to a person or thing that is identified or specified.

Demonstrative pronoun – a pronoun that specifies a noun. (i.e. this, these, that)

Diction – choice of words especially with regard to correctness, clearness, or effectiveness. 

Direct object – a word or phrase denoting the receiver of the action of a verb.

Exclamatory sentence – is used to express a strong feeling!

Expletives – a syllable, word, or phrase inserted to fill a vacancy (as in a sentence or a metrical line) without contributing to the meaning;  an exclamatory word or phrase.

Idiom – an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements (such as up in the air for “undecided”) or in its grammatically atypical use of words;  the language peculiar to a people or to a district, community, or class;  the syntactical, grammatical, or structural form peculiar to a language.

Imperative sentence – gives a command or makes a request. The subject of the sentence is implied because it is understood to be you.

Indefinite articles – a and an – considered to be adjectives, used in English to refer to a person or thing that is not identified or specified. 

Indefinite pronoun – a non-specific pronoun. (i.e. all, any, none, some)

Indirect object – is the verb complement that tells to whom or for whom the action is performed for or directed to.  Verbs that can take indirect objects are called ditransitive verbs

Infinitive – base form of the verb that begins with the preposition to.

Interrogative pronoun – a pronoun used in questions. (i.e. what, which, who)

Interrogative sentence – asks a question or ends with a question mark.

Intransitive – a verb characterized by not having or containing a direct object. 

Juxtapose – transitive verb (to compare alongside of).

Juxtaposition – the placing of one concept or object next to another, often for purposes of comparison.

Linking verb – a verb that tells what is happening to the subject or the state of being of the subject (i.e. to be).

Metaphor – noun; a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money).

Noun – a word that names a person, place, thing or idea. 

Object of a preposition – a word that follows a preposition. (i.e. above, behind, for, like, or on)

Object of a verb – a word that completes the meaning of a verb in a sentence. 

Personal pronoun – a pronoun (such as I, you, or they) that expresses a distinction of person (first person).

Possessive case – is used to show ownership or possession; applies to nouns, pronouns and determiners.

Predicate – the part of a sentence or clause that expresses what is said of the subject and that usually consists of a verb with or without objects, complements, or adverbial modifiers. 

Predicate adjective – an adjective that completes the meaning of a linking verb and modifies the subject.

Predicate noun – a noun that completes a linking verb.

Preposition – a word that is placed before a noun or pronoun and shows the relationship of the noun/pronoun to another word in a sentence. (i.e. to, from, through, around, into, in, past, towards)

Pronoun – a word used in place of a noun to avoid repetition and monotony.

Proper noun – a specific name that is always capitalized.

Relative pronoun – a pronoun (as who, which, that) that introduces a clause modifying an antecedent;  an indefinite relative (as who, whoever, what, whatever) that introduces a clause functioning as a substantive.

Semantics – the meaning of a string in some language, as opposed to syntax which describes how symbols may be combined independent of their meaning.

The semantics of a programming language is a function from programs to answers.

Sentence – a collection of words expressing a complete thought/idea.

Sentence fragments – incomplete sentences (the subject, predicate or both are missing).

Simile – noun; a figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by like or as (as in cheeks like roses).

Slang –  language peculiar to a particular group;  an informal nonstandard vocabulary composed typically of coinages, arbitrarily changed words, and extravagant, forced, or facetious figures of speech.

Subjective completion – complements of linking verbs related to the subject.

Synonym – one of two or more words or expressions of the same language that have the same or nearly the same meaning in some or all senses.

Syntax – the structure of strings in some language. A language syntax is described by grammar.

Transitive verb – a verb that does not express a complete thought unless the sentence contains a complement.

Verb phrase – a combination of helping verbs with a main or principal verb.

Verisimilitude – noun

1. The appearance of truth; the quality of seeming to be true.

2. Something that has the appearance of being true or real.

The Great Switch by Boris Glikman

The Great Switch

by Boris Glikman

Art by Michael Cheval
Division of Prime Cause by Michael Cheval

After the cataclysm took place, people, or rather the beings that people transformed into, would refer to it as The Great Switch. When these beings recalled how the world had been before The Great Switch, what struck them above everything else was how blind they’d been in those times.

Back then, religious teachings and scientific theories kept mankind obedient, cowed through ominous prophecies of apocalypses and armageddons, when all life on Earth or indeed the Universe itself would come to an end. What no one had foreseen was that there could be far greater calamities than universal annihilation.

The Great Switch was a process which caused the inner and outer selves of human beings to swap places, so that the emotional, mental, and spiritual characteristics now became external and vice versa. It must be stressed that it wasn’t just a case of the intangible inner characteristics becoming visible; rather, the inner selves now literally became the outer physical bodies, while the physical bodies became invisible internal entities.

Naturally, the consequences of this event were momentous and far-reaching. No longer could anyone conceal their true inner self; it was exposed in all its glory and disgrace, in all its beauty and ugliness. Many lives were wrecked, relationships destroyed, and careers ruined, as a person’s internal neuroses, anxieties, delusions, hatreds, prejudices, insecurities, and character flaws were revealed to their partners, family, friends, work colleagues and strangers. The very structure of society was threatened, for its smooth running was greatly dependent upon people suppressing and hiding their true natures and feelings.

After The Great Switch, a large proportion of the world’s population disappeared completely. Of all the competing theories about this vanishing, the most popular one was that the superficial, soulless lives led by many had made them emotionally, mentally, and spiritually vacuous. Consequently, once the Great Switch had taken place, those people were rendered externally empty and became invisible.

Yet, for some, this turn of events proved to be a godsend. Before the Great Switch, physical appearance was of paramount significance; people’s impressions and opinions of you were predominantly based upon how you looked. In your daily interactions you were constantly, indeed instantly, judged on your looks. Your inner essence, being imperceptible to others, required much more time and effort to uncover.[1] Few were interested or willing to do that, as, in those fast-paced times, people hardly had the time to discover their own inner selves, let alone the inner selves of others.

And so, it was especially touching to witness the pride and joy of some of those who had been physically ugly before this event, those who, despite all the slights and the disregard meted out to them by the world, maintained their dignity and self-respect, their souls not begrimed by bitterness, self-loathing or envy. Now, their inner purity sparkled brilliantly for all to see and marvel at.

On the other hand, it was rare to come across someone who was strikingly good-looking both before and after The Great Switch. Maybe it should not have been surprising for, given the ceaseless attention, admiration and favouritism that was lavished upon those of great physical beauty, it was inevitable that they would become self-absorbed and incapable of empathy. And so, after this cataclysm, a large proportion of the blindingly gorgeous turned into some of the most hideous beings around, their ugliness causing others to turn away in shock and disgust. Yet there was pity for them too, and a desire to help somehow. 

It was particularly ironic how the mirror, once the most treasured possession of the beautiful people, now became the bane of their existence—something to avoid at all costs, lest they catch sight of their transformed selves. Indeed, mirrors and other reflective surfaces became horrifying and loathed objects for many in this post-Switch world. Few had the courage to see themselves exactly as they are. Perhaps they were terrified of facing the stark truths their reflections might reveal. Or, maybe they were afraid of what they might not see, given how easy it had been in the pre-Switch world to delude yourself about possessing undiscovered talents and untapped potential, and to convince yourself that all these marvellous gifts were supposedly hidden in the depths and shadows of your mind and soul. 

It should be mentioned at this point that The Great Switch was so all-encompassing that its effects were not limited to mankind. All living organisms, from bacteria to whales, and everything in between, were affected too. However, unlike many human beings, none of the other living organisms disappeared after this event, thus settling once and for all the age-old question of whether it was only man who possessed a soul. It was now indisputable that all microrganisms, plants and animals had an inner self too. Moreover, in stark contrast to the prevalence of ugliness in post-Switch mankind, they all became beings of simple yet distinct beauty. From this it could be concluded that every non-human living creature, no matter how loathsome or harmful it might have been in the eyes of humanity, no matter how devoid it might have seemed of any redeeming features, had a pure, beautiful soul. Regardless of how much suffering and death such organisms as typhoid bacteria, malarial mosquitoes and lice have caused to mankind over the eons, their inner selves all shone with the same plain, steady radiance.

How exactly did The Great Switch come about and what had caused it is still being fiercely debated: Was it God’s doing? Or was it a hitherto unknown, yet completely natural stage of the evolutionary process? Perhaps it was something else entirely; a singular, unprecedented phenomenon that neither science nor religion could explain. What is not debatable is the radical transformation this upheaval wrought upon the Earth, for it had affected each and every living entity. Even embryos and foetuses gestating inside their expectant mothers were not immune from its effects.

Perhaps the scenario that I have painted seems implausible and utterly preposterous. Yet, who is to say that our current reality is not actually a temporary aberration from the state of being described above? What if it is only during this period of existence that we briefly possess physical features on the outside, and emotional, mental, and spiritual features on the inside? And what if, once in the Afterworld, we exist for all eternity with our inner selves externalised?

Is that as good a reason as any for us to start working on our souls, to start devoting as much time to developing and improving our emotional, mental and spiritual selves as we devote to bettering and beautifying our physical bodies? For, after all, these fragile corporeal bodies belong to us but for an instant of time while our inner selves may live on forever.

I leave you to ponder these questions. And if you choose to dismiss my suggestions as absurd nonsense, let’s catch up again to talk about them when we are both dwelling in the Afterworld. I will then say to you, without a trace of smugness or schadenfreude in my voice: “I told you so!”

seeing souls

__________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Indeed, given that one’s inner self was invisible, it was easy for others to ignore, if not deny its existence altogether. And this sort of repudiation was not limited to amoral types like ruthless criminals and callous psychopaths. Entire philosophies, such as solipsism, were based on the premise that it is impossible for an individual to determine whether other people have souls and minds.

Boris Glikman

Michael Cheval

Waiting for John / An Ode to the Century Past / Imagine by Boris Glikman

Waiting for John / An Ode to the Century Past / Imagine

by Boris Glikman


The Dakota NYC

Well, I finally made it to the city that never sleeps.  Of course the very first place I go to is The Dakota. I spent so many years reading about it, picturing it in my mind, dreaming about visiting it and now I am actually standing right outside its famous wrought-iron gates!

It is October the 9th, 2009. I have specifically timed my very first visit to New York City to coincide with his birthday. Surely he must come out and acknowledge his fans on a day like this, accept their greetings, perhaps even blow out the candles on the cakes some of his admirers will undoubtedly bring along.

Within five minutes of arriving at The Dakota—and what a thrill it is to see it for the very first time—Yoko walks right past me. Strangely, she carries no presents in her hands and looks rather melancholy on this joyous occasion. No, not just melancholy, more than that, she looks completely disconsolate and deflated, shrunken almost, as if some vital part of her has been amputated. But surely, once she walks into their apartment on the 9th floor, his famous wit will cheer her up and his cheeky smile will make her smile, too.

Meantime, I will stand here and wait for him to come out. I have flown across oceans to see him and see him I definitely will, despite those ugly rumours I overheard some time ago about something horrifying that apparently befell him a while back. What nonsense! Crazy things like that just don’t take place in our world. Surely fate would take extra-special care of such a man to ensure nothing bad happened to the creator of such sublime and immortal beauty. Why, I am certain he is half-lying, half-sitting on his bed right now, as I’ve seen him do in photos, picking notes on his guitar and creating more sonic jewels of ineffable wonder.

And so I will stand here and wait for him to come out, till nightfall if necessary, for I have to prove to myself that he is in fact a real person and not just an idealised construct created by mankind to satisfy its insatiable need for heroes. For it is almost impossible to believe so many timeless masterpieces could inexhaustibly flow out of one man. What if he is just an archetypal symbol of our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations for a utopian existence and so all my waiting is in vain? But no, that can’t be!

And so I will stand here and wait for him to come out, till nightfall if necessary, to wish him a happy birthday and to press into his hands some of my own poems and stories, so that he can see for himself that we both share the same ideals and beliefs.

And I will grab the opportunity to tell him how much his music has meant to me over the years, how his music gave me the inspiration and the courage to reach for peaks in my own creative endeavours, how music for me is the loftiest form of art and the most sublime means of expression. Alas, not being gifted with having celestial sounds divine arising and frolicking in my mind, I instead am constrained to convey my inner being through lame, unwieldy, coarse lumps of words.

I will let him know how I have tried to continue his mission of spreading hope and light around the world through my own writings, my own actions, my own conduct and interactions with people, for even one small candle can destroy the infinite darkness of the entire night.

Until then, I will wait, for I know if I wait long enough, he will come. He just has to come, for New York City is the place where everything is achievable, the place where impossible, ineffable dreams come true. And so if I just close my eyes and wish hard enough, surely he must appear!

“Waiting for John” comes from a series of pieces written by Boris Glikman titled “Impressions of America” after he visited the USA. This series takes a surreal and unusual look at America. Read more about Boris’ adventures here.

An Ode to the Century Past

That was the age of despair, disrepair
of the damned and the condemned
but this is now, the New Utopia.

That was the time when we killed off our muses,
throwing their remains to the ravenous dogs;
our innocence disembowelled,
our hopes quartered
with five hollow-point bullets
on that cold December night. 

When six million replaced six-six-six
as the accursed number of all eternity and
six million nameless faces,
six million faceless names
were extinguished for that greatest crime of all –
Existence.

But this is now, the Neo-Utopia.

That was the age of despair, disrepair
when raven-black sun
threw rays of shadow upon the Earth
and giant bullfrogs ate pygmy antelope
bones, hooves and all.

But still we fought on, hoping for meaning to appear.
Yet when it arrived, it was only in our dreams,
dissipating the moment we awoke
and grabbed at its gossamer threads
with our crude, clumsy hands.

And this is now, the Last Utopia.

Imagine by Michael Cheval
“Imagine” by Michael Cheval


Imagine

When the city that never sleeps finally retires to bed, exhausted by its own exuberance and hyperactivity, then and only then does John appear at the memorial dedicated to him in Central Park.

Betrayed and forsaken by God, Fate and Mankind on that cold December night, John now performs for no one but himself, singing softly the sonic jewels of wonder he has composed posthumously, and still believing, despite everything that had happened, love is all you need.

He wears a hat made out of a mincer which is filled not with dead meat but with living strawberries, his favourite fruit, and his piano is a zebra-girl hybrid who died young, at the very same instant John passed into eternity.

If all this seems to be quite bizarre and beyond belief, one must remember this is New York City after all, a place where impossible and ineffable dreams do come true, if only one imagines them hard enough.

Boris Glikman