Picking and choosing good writing tools.

To further prove the interweb truly is a web, I found a blog post at LifeHack.com linking to blog posts by Roy Peter Clark about his 50 Learning Tools for Writing and now the links appear here. The tools are each titled in a way so a studious writer comprehends what Clark is getting at without even having to click the link. Still, what he has to say about each tool works, even if writers will find themselves using some Tools more than others. Three tools from Clark I’ve been following in my own writing already include “activate your verbs,” “tune your voice,” “establish a pattern, then give it a twist,” a staple of comedy writing, for sure.

For “activate your verbs,” I concentrate on specific, action-based verbs to assist the tone of the piece. If’ I’m writing a n outer space drama about two groups of pirates battling it out, it would go something like this:
“The Duggar blasted a volley of laser fire at its opponent ship. The shafts of energy punched a trickle of holes across the undercarriage. Captain Commodore sneered and strode onto the command deck, his cape whipping behind him. ‘Destroy that ship!’ he said.”

For a lighter piece, say one featuring a forest of critters gathering together, the verbs inform the tone in a different way:
“Cody Squirrel chuckled with glee, scampering in circles around the wise old buck. Two bluebirds fluttered to a nearby branch and chirped their approval. The cool breeze tugged the ears of every creature in the glade.”

To prove my point, here’s the first example’s verbs with the second examples storyline. Notice how the verbs make this version of the critter forest much more creepy:
“Cody Squirrel blasted with glee, punching circles around the wise old buck. The bluebirds strode to a nearby branch and sneered their approval. The cool breeze whipped and destroyed the ears of every creature in the glade.”

Notice how the tone of the piece can change simply by using alternative verbs, even if they’re action-based: “The Duggar wheezed a volley of laser fire at its opponent ship. The shafts of energy splattered a trickle of holes across the undercarriage. Captain Commodore sniffed and skipped onto the command deck, his cape billowing behind him. ‘that ship!’ he said.”

Clark’s advice regarding how to “tone your voice” is to read one’s work out loud. Much of my work is character-centric, so speaking for my characters gives me additional insight into how they behave. I do some acting, but I don’t believe one has to be an actor to read a work out loud. Hearing your words will still aid in deciphering its readability, understandability, and flow. I give this tip to my English composition students. It saves them from sentence fragments, homonyms, and paragraphs that don’t make sense.

Again, “establish a pattern, then give it a twist” is a staple in writing comedy. The pattern creates the reality and the twist is the interrupting punchline. If you want an example of this, watch a comedy tv show or movie, listen to a comedy record, or read a humorous novel. This tool is synonymous with “The Rule of Three.”

-nm

[tags]active verbs, tone, read out loud, rule of three[/tags]

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2 thoughts on “Picking and choosing good writing tools.

  1. Pingback: The Scrawl » Blog Archive » Writing criticism and the all-listening ear.

  2. Pingback: The Scrawl » Blog Archive » Writing criticism and the all-listening ear.

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