One of my favourite composers, Frank Zappa, used to refer to the interesting add-ons in his music as ‘eyebrows’. The unexpected bits that make you sit up and listen.
It’s true for writers too. I’ve blogged about this before, but it’s well worth repeating. When you style your work, eyebrows are important. That doesn’t mean adding a writing gimmick (yes, Franz Kafka, I’m talking about YOU and your woeful dereliction of commas) but it does mean keeping the content interesting. Making it spark.
That spark flows from both the style, the content and the intent of your writing. But today I’m going to focus just on the stylistic part. My three key guidelines are:
1. Vary sentence lengths. A few short staccato sentences followed by a long one often works. Hemingway was a master at it – he’s often thought of as the ‘short sentence guy’, but actually he also wrote very long compound sentences, often a string of short phrases expressing the emotions of a character.
2. Content flows into the process: include a detail that stands out. This works for fiction and non-fiction alike.
3. Vary your vocabulary. Most books are written with a vocabulary of a few thousand words. But English has over a million available. Again, this doesn’t mean digging through the Thesaurus for the most obscure word you can find – instead, locate one that works with your style. It might be quite common.
All of this devolves to keeping the writing lively, interesting and well-paced – to holding the interest of the reader who, of course, you captured with the punchy first sentence…didn’t you… (OK, time to go back and revise that one now).
More writing stuff tomorrow.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014
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