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.

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

The Pen of Plenty (or A Portrait of an Artist as the Entire Universe) by Boris Glikman

The Pen of Plenty (or A Portrait of an Artist as the Entire Universe)

by Boris Glikman

The Pen of Plenty

Part I

“Take this Boris, may it serve you well!”, a booming voice commanded, as a hand, holding a shining writing implement, extended towards me.

I was all of thirteen years old when the Hand from Above bestowed the Pen of Plenty upon me.

” You shall be my voice! I shall speak through you with this pen. You shall be a conduit to that Other Reality, the one inhabited by Eternal Truths, Infinite Beauty and Ineffable Questions. From this pen will spring forth an inexhaustible flow of Magic, you will not be able to help begetting works of perfection, each one more perfect than the one before it.

There is a price to pay. You will not be able to feel, smile, laugh, love, pursue ordinary human activities. You will only be able to write, writing alone shall be your existence.

You shall move solely in the Infinite, Eternal, Universal sphere. You will capture and portray through your writings every permutation, manifestation and aspect of life, yet you shall remain cut off from mankind.

This pen shall be the bathyscaphe with which you will descend to the lowest abysses, and it shall be the alpenstock with which you will ascend to the highest heights not yet scaled by mankind. The world will ostracize, scorn, misunderstand, persecute, laugh at you and it will cherish, adore, worship, celebrate you. But you will stay numb, unmoved by both love and loathing.

You will not know how to be young, yet you will not grow old and will stay a man-child, for, by not partaking in the outer world, you shall be free of its deleterious effects.

You will give life to an infinity of uniquely bizarre, wondrous realities, yet you yourself will be a mere metaphor, an empty shell of a shadow, never being able to feel real, concrete. The worlds you engender will be suffused with sensation and meaning, while your own outer reality will be bare, senseless and pedestrian by comparison.

This pen shall be the flame that will illuminate truths as yet invisible, you will help others find their identity, will bring clarity and enlightenment to humanity, will reveal the underlying, inner structure of existence, yet you will be forever lost, confused, at odds with yourself and the world, drifting aimlessly through existence, a jellyfish in the ocean of life.

This pen shall speak with a thousand voices, educing hysterical laughter, uncontrollable tears, twisting minds into Moebius strips, creating transcendental beauty that will stop others dead in their tracks, dumbfounded with awe, even if they have had just a fleeting contact with it, but you will be blind and deaf to its powers and will stay frozen inside. You will feel no pride or pleasure in your creations, for you will know that you are merely a conduit.

But even though this is a Pen of Creative Cornucopia, one day it shall run out and will write no more. Consequently, writing will be the hardest and most terrifying task of your existence, for you will be forever insecure, not knowing when you no longer will be able to create any more. Yet, before that time comes, you shall be flooded with a ceaseless deluge that will demand every instant of your life and your very sanity.

Once you take this pen, it can never be un-taken, you can never disown it or rid yourself of it.”

The voice stopped. I waited a while for it to resume, but it remained silent. Then, with childish, reckless eagerness, I extended my hand upwards, to meet the hand reaching down from above, caring not at all about the consequences.

Part II

The Writer sits in his room, writing at his desk. He has access to the deepest secrets and mysteries of the Universe, but the question that the whole world, from the tiniest and simplest organism upwards, seems to know the answer to, he can not solve: ” Why live?”

The Writer is torn apart by two contradictory thoughts that occupy his mind simultaneously and seem equally valid. He is certain that he is blind to a fundamental truth that the rest of the world is in possession of, for how else can one explain the whole world choosing life over death and existing with a purpose, something that he is not capable of. Yet he also knows that he is in possession of a fundamental truth that the rest of the world is blind to, for if it was privy to this truth, it would not be able to live in certainty.

The Writer is triply trapped by his room, his mind and his pen. Occasionally, overcome by curiosity and longing, he steals a brief, wistful glimpse, through the window, of the world outside that is teeming and pulsating with life in all of its infinite variations, life that he can never be a part of and whose simple pleasures he could never enjoy or grasp the meaning of. Other times he catches sight of a sliver of the sky that is visible to him from his sitting position. But he immediately feels guilty for neglecting his sacred task and hurriedly resumes scribbling, letter after letter, word after word, sentence after sentence, in his notebooks of madness.

Life passes him by, and then death passes him by too. He has no time for life and he has no time for death either. Neither life nor death can arouse his interest or get their hands on him, and just as he has forgotten all about time, so time has forgotten all about him. In any case, the Writer can not die, for the pen is still working and so he must keep on writing, for his commitment to his pen is greater than his commitment to life and death.

Years, centuries, millennia, billions of years elapse. The Sun expands into a red giant and then collapses into a white dwarf. The stars are torn apart by the forces of the Universe’s expansion, and the protons themselves rot into pieces. Cosmos begins to wind down, all of its energy having dissipated and turned into useless forms. Then the fabric of space-time dissolves.

Still, the Writer remains writing at his desk, which is now floating in vacuum, separate from time and space. Now and then he sneaks looks at the outside world, even though nothing remains there but pure nothingness.

And then, for the very first time, something leads the Writer to take a close look at the pen he was gifted with. He examines it carefully and notices the faded blue letters forming the words MADE IN CHINA etched on its side. Distant memories come flooding back to him, memories of his mother buying pens at the local supermarket, for the start of the new school year; memories of the bare walls of the bathroom that distorted the acoustics, and how he liked to speak to himself there and listen to his boy voice transforming into the stentorian voice of a man. He remembers standing in the bathroom and hearing a million voices calling out his name, then turning around and seeing all of humanity in the mirror looking back at him, as his left hand passed the pen to his right hand.

The Writer now realises that he is the Creator. Having had encompassed the Universe with his mind, the Writer expands to encompass the Universe with his body, so that the Universe and the Writer become one and the same, identical entities, coinciding precisely with one another.

With quiet satisfaction the Writer slowly puts the pen down and that is how the Universe

( and this story) ends, not with a bang or a whimper, but with a .

Note

 1) In Australian English, “.” is known as “full stop” rather than as “period”. 

Boris Glikman