Monday, April 5, 2010

From Ann Wylie's Writing Tips

Ann Wylie is a great writing teacher, and her Wylie's Writing Tips e-newsletters are filled with useful, practical ideas. (Click here to subscribe.)

Here are three tips from her April issue:

After a couple of months of reading on a reader, I decided to review my clippings. What I found will help me — and, I hope, you — model the masters, or steal techniques from some of the year's best writers to make your own writing more creative and compelling.

1. Use metaphor, not modifiers.
One problem with modifiers — thin, lean, straight — is that they don't paint pictures in your readers' heads. Instead of simply describing your subject with adjectives and adverbs, engage your readers' senses with analogy.
Meg Gardiner used this technique to describe a charismatic religious leader in her Edgar Award-winning mystery, China Lake:
"Peter Wyoming didn’t shake hands with people; he hit them with his presence like a rock fired from a sling-shot. He was a human nail, lean and straight with brush-cut hair, and when I first saw him he was carrying a picket sign and enough rage to scorch the ground."
Find yourself writing an adjective or adverb? Could you develop an analogy instead?

2. Coin a word.
Rebecca Goldstein is quite the neologist. In 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, she creates half-and-half words in this passage:
"Auerbach harbors such impatience for the glib literati—the 'gliberati,' as one of his own digerati had christened them—that Cass has wondered whether there might not be some personal history."
Can't find just the right word? Why not make one up?

3. Twist a phrase.
To call attention to an idea, change a word or two in a colloquialism to give it new meaning.
After seeing David Mamet's Boston Marriage hilariously performed by the Kansas City Actors Theatre, I read the play to make sure I didn't miss any lines like this phrase twister:
"ANNA: Have you taken a vow of arrogance?"
Want to call readers' attention to your point? Surprise and delight your readers with twist of phrase.

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