Monday, September 27, 2010

Then -- Jonathan Franzen

Never use the word "then" as a conjunction – we have "and" for this purpose. Substituting "then" is the lazy or tone-deaf writer's non-solution to the problem of too many "ands" on the page.

Write Every Day!

Regards, Mac


  1. LOL. Then I'm lazy. I do use them, but not on every page. But at least I don't do the dreaded 'and then' like one best seller author. :)

  2. Okay, well, I'm definitely going to need a LOT of help. My ms. if full of them b/c she does so much, and then, she does so much more.

  3. I live for the architecture of language: how the black sculpts the white paper and makes meaning. The fine art of conjunctions is at the heart of this architecture, not verbs and nouns. They are often the “Super Glue” that holds a paragraph together.

    Conjunctions show us how intimately ideas are connected. In the paragraph above, notice in the first sentence, the colon. Boom! Full stop! “You best pay attention at what comes next because it’s damn important.” The second sentence, the tiny comma conjoins the antecedent phrase, subtlety, like it a hair in the soup, both causing pause. “Not” carries the weight, not the comma, yet the added idea brings life to the otherwise dead sentence.

    The reason “and” is a poor conjunction is that it implies that two ideas are of equal weight; they never are. Note the semi-colon, the most intimate form of a punctuating conjunction, partly because of its rarity now days, not its importance to the English language. It means that these two ideas are inseparable, not necessarily equal.

    It shouldn’t be a long jump to the realization that “and then” is just sloppy writing, superfluous words: “Samantha stabbed Betty several times and then wiped the knife clean on her skirt.” Overlooking the fact that the stabbing is quite “stand alone” in meaning, wiping the blood on her skirt deserves a separate sentence. “Look at this. Thank you. Now look at this. [two separate sentences]. Radically contrasted ideas, necessary to convey the bizarre quality of the event. Conjoin them and you’ve made them equal, which, of course, they are not.

    This monologue challenged me to go back and examine where I used such rubbish. Note the poor use of “and” in the previous sentence. It would be much stronger to simply say, “The monologue challenged me to examine where I used such rubbish in the past.” The “going back” is implied and superfluous.

    In several examined circumstances, the writing was weak. In others, the use of “and then” implies a certain fluidity: “The pitcher wrapped up, glanced to first and then uncoiled with a flamer towards home.” Yeah, I could tighten that up, but the point of fluidity is clear. “Josh got a flat tire and then had to change it.” Duh! But there’s no implication it was done all at once, all in one motion? It wasn’t a fluid motion. Surely, some fender-kicking and cussing was involved before the tire changing.

    These are poor examples, to say the least. My point is that conjoining with “ands” should be a rarity anyway. So many other options are available to us to bring the story closer to the reader.