Monday, November 12, 2007

Roar for Powerful Words!

A solid night’s sleep was broken by an intense few minutes around dawn when Gabby got up and fired a few warning shots across the bows of the milkman who had foolishly come whistling up the path. You might say that it was the beginning of your average week here at Chip Dale’s Diary, or, at least, we all thought it was until Ms. Baroque popped along and presented me with one of these ‘Roar for Powerful Words!’ awards. I’m humbled, as I always am when people remember the old Chipster. It more than makes up for missing my morning bowl of Alpen and having the house surrounded by Bangor’s elite SWAT unit.

With this ‘Roar for Powerful Words!’ I’m meant to say three important things about words. I’ll have a try but these bloody pesky things never quite sit where I want them. It’s also hard to write when the hostage negotiator is talking with Gabby through a bullhorn.

1. Keep things simple.

The best writing has one foot in simplicity. This is self-evident when you read great writers of the past. I’ll take my analogy from architecture. Look at any great building and at its heart you’ll find something as simple as a triangle or an arch. From these basic units of construction, the most extravagant edifice can be raised. The same is true in writing English prose. Whenever prose goes wrong, it usually goes wrong because somebody is trying to do something beyond them. There is a mistaken belief that in order to say something complex, the language has to be convoluted. Simple sentences are preferable to those that are complex. Get the basic structure of the sentence right and you can begin to adapt it to make it interesting. Get the basic structure wrong and it’s like knitting spaghetti.

2. Break the cliché.

I don’t hate clichés. In fact, I tend to love them. They get a bad press like stereotypes. There’s something long-lasting in the cliché, an essence that a culture has retained because it’s a useful means of shorthand. It’s often hard to avoid the cliché, especially when you’re writing prose. Sometimes the cliché just can’t be avoided. Some words just lie naturally next to others and can feel like a cliché even when they’re not. Yet too many clichés leave writing flat, uninspired, workmanlike. So, when writing, try to spot your clichés and deliberately then skewer them. Twist a cliché an odd way and you can often end up with very imaginative writing.

3. Listen.

Words belong to the ear. You should be guided by your ear. Some words just rise from the page and are inherently beautiful or beautiful because they’re odd and misshapen. Use a normal word in an unusual place or even create your own word that the ear almost recognises. Find interesting common words rather than exotic words that nobody will recognise.

4. Write for the reader.

I’ll cheat and add a fourth because it’s an important point yet easy to forget. Writers write to be read. If they don’t, then they probably don’t deserve a reader's precious time. Your relationship with your reader is more important than anything, including your own ego. If you are selfish enough to write something which only you understand, then don’t complain when you’re not read. If you have something important to say, put it in an interesting way. Don’t assume that everything you write will interest other people. Be selective. Be creative. Be interesting.

And I have to leave it on that note. Gabby has been given one final warning to hand over her rifle before the police start to fire tear gas. I’ve always said that I’ll never become one of those bloggers who write wearing a gas mask. What begins as a necessity will end with me strapped upside down and naked in some Battersea warehouse next to Frank Bough while being whipped by ladies dressed as frogmen. To each their own, as they say, but, thankfully, not for me.


Momentary Academic said...

That's why you're a lovely writer, Chippy.

Dovid said...

Well done on your award Chip. I told you the name Lion might be a good pseudonym for you....

Big Chip Dale said...

MA, you're too kind. Clearly all those holidays are making you mellow. ;o)

Dovid, I'll try not to let it go to my head.