Essential writing skills: finding the right words to write

Styling gives the characteristic ‘tone’ to a piece of work –  expression to the ‘voice’ of the author It’s a vital writing skill. And, as we’ve been seeing in the recent posts about editing, it’s also something that comes towards the end of the writing process, once the structure is sorted out.

Photo I took of some essential writing fuel I was about to consume...
Photo I took of some essential writing fuel I was about to consume…

Things to think about when styling include:

  1. Choice of words. You need a reasonably varied vocabulary. This doesn’t mean delving into a thesaurus to find the most unusual words you can; ordinary words work quite well. Sometimes, repetitive use of the same word is actually appropriate, because of the alliterative effect. I use that one myself at times, though I’ve had trouble periodically getting that past editors. Once I was told that a word shouldn’t be repeated more than once in any three paragraphs, which to me seemed silly. Word choice is particularly crucial for conveying subtle nuance and meaning. Word choice is important; and so is clarity.
  2. Rhythms. Writing has a rhythm, like music. It’s defined by the intersection between choice of words and the phrasing. The rhythms are most obvious in poetry – but even plain prose has to have it. And like music, that rhythm needs to be interesting. This is one of the ways in which you can keep reader interest going.
  3. Devices. I’m talking similes (something is like something else), metaphors (something IS something else), alliteration (repeated use of the same sonority) and a careful selection of broken grammatical rules (DO start occasional sentences with a conjunction). All of these have their place, and not just in poetry, though they need to be carefully applied. A paragraph with half a dozen metaphors or similes in it becomes difficult to read.
  4. Word count. As we’ve seen in previous posts, word count is not a goal of itself. It’s a tool for determining structure and for defining the overall size of the work – something that publishers and editors rely upon to guide their costings. Working over the first draft to re-style it, by nature, will change the word count – and while there are some fairly good tolerances, the onus remains on the writer to stay around the intended limit, not just of the work as a whole but also of each individual section. Failing to do so will affect both the carefully planned structure and the publishing costs.

There is, of course, a vast gulf between my outlining what’s needed – and actually doing it. But styling, like all writing skills, is something that comes with practise and the only real way to master it is to roll up your sleeves, pick up the word processor, and get down and dirty with the wording.

Copyright ©Matthew Wright 2014

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