Typical Student Questions


"I'm uneasy that these rules are too mechanical. If I'm just following all of these rules, what's left of me in my sentences?"
 
LRS is not about rules. It's about principles that help you control a range of styles. You have to decide how you want to approach your readers, how you want them to understand what you have to say. Then the LRS principles help you to know how to create a style to match your objectives. Style is choice, and LRS is about giving you the ability to make the choices that best serve your own purposes.


It is true, however, that LRS encourages you to think about the process of writing mechanically. That's actually one of its biggest advantages. Because they give you a way to achieve your goals mechanically, you can apply these principles even when you're too close to your draft, when you've been though the material once too often, or when you're too tired to see your writing with a cold, clear eye. The mechanical part of LRS helps you to see your own work as your readers will.
Just because LRS offers mechanical procedures, you don't have to be a mechanical writer. Rather, LRS principles help you avoid getting lost in the problem of how to achieve your goals, freeing you up to concentrate on the question of what those goals should be.


The LRS approach has one more key advantage. Because LRS principles help you focus on keeping your story straight as you tell it, they also help you to get your story straight in the first place. Most writers find that LRS principles impose a helpful discipline on their thinking. When you use LRS principles, you
 

* make sure that you are yourself clear about what happens and who is responsible for the actions;
* have a story to tell, not just a collection of empty sentences with "to be" verbs;
* have to decide which objects and concepts are important enough and familiar enough to your readers that you can treat them as characters in your story. Eventually, you will find that you have to begin to choose among characters, further shaping and molding your story to make it yours.
 
 
 
" Do all subjects have to be agents?"
 
No. It is a good idea to make the subject the agent or "doer" of the action. Readers will generally follow your story more easily if you do express agents in the subject position. So you should make an "agent-action" style your default style –the style you use when you have no particular reason to do otherwise.


But when you do have a good reason, you can write clear and effective sentences that do not have agents as subjects. The subject is a position, the slot in the sentence that normally comes before the verb and that answers the question you get by putting "who" or "what" before the verb. Subjects usually come first in clauses, but they do not have to:

Down the street came a truck.


The reason for this decision we cannot understand.


There is a spider in my shirt.

Many writers remember the advice to "get the subject up front." But that's as misleading as the definition of subject as doer. The subject will almost always be up front, even in the most unclear sentences:

The failure to understand the reason for the decision to terminate the program is a result of ignorance of the actual processes of the committee.


What you do want to get up front in the subject position is a character– some person, object, or concept that is so important to your story and so familiar to your readers that you want to make it the centerpiece of your story.
 
 
" What do I do when I am the agent of the action? My teachers say I should never use 'I' or 'we'?"
 
Over the years, students have been given a lot of misleading advice about using "I" and "we." Since your default style should use agents as subjects, you should use "I" as your subject if you have performed the crucial actions in your story and you don't have a good reason to do otherwise. The complication is that there might be a number of good reasons not to. You might want to start your sentence with a character other than yourself. Or you might be writing in a field that avoids "I" or "we" in order to be "objective." In fact, writers in those fields use "I" and "we" all the time – when the action they write about is one that only they could have performed. When, however, the action is one that is supposed to turn out the same no matter who performed it – for example, the actions a scientist performs in the lab – then writers often avoid making themselves the character in the sentence and put some other character in the subject position.