Writing elements

Writing comes in many forms, from technical papers to nursery rhymes. Each of these genres come with their own protocols & vocabularies, but one can often distinguish whether something is well written, in the same way we can recognise a well composed piece of music, photo, or beautiful painting.

A good piece of Writing, takes you on a journey. A journey of discovery, surprise, delight, or sometimes dismay; but ideally our step becomes a little lighter as a result.

Sadly the majority of Writing is mediocre at best; quite often your next meal begins to take an over-riding interest, as you stoically plough through each mind-numbing paragraph of verbal candy floss.

As a Writer you want to literally keep your reader coming back for more (the mythical Page Turner) and deliver the prospectus your original byline or title boasted.

So having outlined the premise of good Writing, are there any commonalities or rules even? Many hefty tomes exist on writing style & elegance but let’s break it down to a few simple entities.

  1. 3R’s; Research, Research, Research

A fundamental is the integrity of the Writing i.e. is there an authority, believability or even relevance in the journey you are exposing?

Unfortunately in our Hoover-like 24/7 news culture, this is often forgotten, and much time is spent generating stories that fail to stand up to more than a rudimentary scrutiny. The old saying today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s chip paper is particularly poignant. Though the primacy of the (non-story) celebrity mag would seem to mitigate this gold standard of integrity, I would highlight the difference between writing quality and popularity.

So do your Research;that means reading lots, and cross-checking your sources. While the Internet is ubiquitous, Veracity is often difficult to assess, so you may have to expend shoe leather,and time on journals, libraries, books magazines, & film (secondary).

Is Research always physical?

Not necessarily.Quite frequently I rehearse a story in my head before I write, wrestling with certain phrases that come to mind & sequencing the story.The funny thing is once I have done this mental prep, the story tends to come spilling out in the much vaunted streams of consciousness, with minimal effort. This particular effort has been several years in development, things coming to a head when someone (Tim) just asked for some help on a small writing assignment.

However after your painstaking research you may come to the conclusion that there is no story of merit, or might have to reimagine it in a more appropriate medium e.g.Screenplay/ video.

Plagiarism notwithstanding your work does not have to be unique, but it should stand itself up and at least further the cannon & not merely reheat, repackage. & recycle.

If you’re not a subject matter expert at the onset, you should be by the time you finish your Research.

A well researched piece of work always has its own unmistakeable sheen & longevity! It will also stop re-invention of the wheel, and the bete noire of all professional writers; padding ad nauseam!

  1. Voice:

naturally rolls out having done the prerequisite groundwork (1). You should know what you are saying & to whom you are saying it. The way to think about Voice is like accent; is it real or convincing enough to suspend reality for those vital initial five minutes? (Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins comes to mind as a particularly laughable example of how this can go embarrassingly wrong).

Does the Voice have the appropriate gravitas?

If the Voice is authentic it will deliver the lines simply without repetition, hesitation, injudicious cliché, or be tip into pastiche

However Voice need not play the same note throughout; light & shade is often essential to avoid a piece collapsing into a stodgy shapeless quagmire.

  1. Structure

Any journey has a structure, as in beginning, middle and endThese transitions need to be clear. Its surprising how much Writing starts & goes nowhere. The majority of these malformations are sacrificed on the high altar of the editor’s desk, but sadly many get through the sheep dip unscathed by the touch of the editor’s gavel.

Stating the obvious, the opening line is critical as this is your elevator pitch; the reader frequently baling out of an initial verbal wallpaper paragraph. Like any sales pitch this is where you must engage. Consequently some time has to be spent on how to open a piece of Writing.

Similarly a good piece of Writing builds & builds to its final denouement, which ideally features that breathless twist or climax

Structuring also helps in construction, avoiding those alleged creative blocks & cul-de-sacs. You could do far worse than copy the regime of visual Artists, who frequently sketch before starting a major work. This can be simply a back of the envelope list of topics.

Chunking is also a great structural device in that is helps both reader & writer (the latter in construction).

Writing as a stream of consciousness is frequently promoted by the educators; the problem with this is that unless you are very experienced writer, this stream may be completely unnavigable by anyone other than the writer. Most writers want their work read.

  1. Clarity & Conciseness

If you want to be obtuse or opaque write poetry, lyrics or Government edicts.

Complex ideas are inherently difficult to convey in prose with coherency and transparency, hence you may have to come up with a transparent & relevant analogy or dare I say it … visualisation. Writers are notoriously bad at visuals but the history of illustrated writing is extensive; you may need to co-opt an Artist. In reference to structure Artwork (aka eye candy.) often presents welcome cognitive breaks in the unremitting torrent or print (or ink)

The KISS (keep it simple stupid) maxim is integral to both clarity & conciseness. However the occasional long winded soliloquy is not off limits, provided it doesn’t derail the whole journey.

Humour always lightens the load but this needs to be tested … one man’s meat is another’s poison.

  1. Hue & weft aka Mechanicals

Ok having covered the preliminaries how to we craft or render our masterpiece?

Mechanicals are the nuts & bolts of writing, and include such language elements as sentence construction (syntax), grammar, punctuation, rhythm, slang/jargon, dialogue, spelling, phrasing, pragmatics, cliche, consistency,metaphor, analogy, onomatopoeia, and critically vocabulary.

As such these language elements are similar to the colours on an artist’s palette; in many ways the talent of writing is how well you implement these Mechanicals.

At an extreme end, you could write a piece where the reader would have to look up every single word. This may lead to a self-reassurance on the strength of your technical wordsmithery, but could also be a longish suicide note when it comes to getting your story read. Unless you’re a lawyer always default to the plain English version of writing.

Many newbie writers worry a lot about the Mechanicals, and while choosing the right words is a critical writing skill, Mechanicals can be often fixed by the long suffering Editor.

Mastering these Mechanicals often takes time and a lot of practice with certain elements feeling more natural than others. As we used to be told, a wide level of reading on a regular basis can only enhance & sharpen these mechanical skills. The thing is once you have a decent facility with these Mechanicals, you should be able to break them in a completely intelligible way, giving your writing it’s timbre or brand.

His gives you carte blanche to write that Tarantinoesque discursive on tipping protocols.

Editor’s can be leant on the clean up Mechanicals but bear in mind extensive rewrites don’t come cheap & invoking the Editor’s Ire could lead to sharing the credits, or in the worst case scenario having your name discreetly removed (yes people do steal ideas).

I also include amongst the Mechanicals,page layout (white space and Typography), though as with Illustration, specialists will hopefully do the heavy lifting around this.

It may sound obvious but using an inappropriate font could destine your Meisterwerk straight for the Remainders yard.

Having said all this remember Writing is more Art than Science. (ok that’s my twist); as with all things, re-invention has its own parameters, but don’t just riff off others! Knowing the rules won’t make you a great writer, but it’s better to break them with knowledge rather than through ignorance?

  1. Polish

As I have previously stated, few writers release what they have written without a quality check. Frequently I sit on a piece for at least 24 hours before I publish.(In these days of on-line blogging you can go back into a piece and update it with regards to the story evolving.)

You then read & re-read, shortening here, embellishing there, until you have an industrial piece of work able to withstand the inevitable critical battering.
So what is a Polish? Really it is a tidy ( err not a builder). One of the problems of the much heralded stream of consciousness School of Writing is that you often over complicate c.f. 4; a pinch of punctuation often works wonders as it gives focus rendering much needed poignancy!

As Obama once said there’s no point putting lipstick on a pig; as in any Art form there comes the point where you have to step away. As such, a piece of Writing is always a work in progress, but time has to be called before you start to degrade your original journey.

Reading List:

Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger

Anything by Dickens but especially Great Expectations

A House for Mr Biswas – V. S. Naipaul

The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe – C. S. Lewis

A MidSomer’s Night Dreame – Shakespeare

Chicken Town : John Cooper Clarke

The History of the World in a 100 Objects – Neil MacGregor

The Test of Courage: Michel Thomas – A Mastermind Forged by War and Peace
by Robbins, Christopher

Gwynne’s Grammar by N. M. Gwynne

The Elements of Style (First Edition) Paperback – 21 Sep 2016 by William Strunk Jr.

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