Last week’s post dealing with the subject of syntax touched on the subject of sound and color in your writing. This subject, closely intertwined with syntax, deserves further exploration.
Clear writing requires a writer to have a command of words and use of proper syntax. Both are essential to become an accomplished writer. Syntax was effectively defined last week as the logical, orderly sequence of words to have maximum effect on the reader.
Syntax to me is indistinguishable from sound and color. I can’t conceive of a situation where a writer can have good syntax and not have sound and color. For this reason sound and color have no such ready definition as syntax does. They depend on the writer developing a feel, an ear, for his writing. For most writers this only comes with time and experience. So, how do you know when you have it?
The ability to develop sound and color in your writing really depends on how well you apply yourself to the task of writing. It has been a basic tenet of this entire blog site that clear writing is an art form and can be attained with constant, regular practice of your writing. It is only through the dint of this undertaking that you will come to recognize your own voice as a writer.
What exactly is sound and color? It’s hard to put it in your writing unless you know what it is. The rhythm of your writing will reflect its sound and color. Listen to your writing as you write, then revise it for effective rhythm. This means choosing words that fit in well with surrounding words. Jerky or monotonous sentences lack sound and color.
For example, the following sentence is repetitious and somewhat monotonous:
He was an exceedingly orderly company commander. When promoted, he became an efficient regimental commander.
As a company commander he did things by the book; as a regimental commander, his efficiency was unsurpassed.
In the following example, sentence fluency has been hampered by excessive modification:
The man in the car opened the door quickly and went hurriedly into the restaurant.
The driver quickly abandoned the car and vanished into the restaurant.
How do you know when your writing has sound and color? There are two ways: The first is that you will know it because you will feel it in your writing; the second, a bit more objective, is that a reader will remain fixed on what you have written and then compliment you on it.
The late William Manchester was a superb writer, the pages of his writing full of sound and color. His biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion – Visions of Glory: 1874-1952, Dell Publishing, 1983, speaks for itself. The following passage, (p.7), is illustrative:
“Men who think of themselves as indispensable are almost always wrong, but Winston Churchill was surely that then. He was like the lion in Revelation, ‘the first beast,’ with ‘six wings about him’ and ‘full of eyes within.’ In an uncharacteristically modest moment on his eightieth birthday he said: ‘It was the nation and the race dwelling all around the globe that had the lion’s heart; I had the luck to be called upon to give the lion’s roar.’ It wasn’t that simple. The spirit, if indeed within them, lay dormant until he became prime minister and they, kindled by his soaring prose, came to see themselves as he saw them and emerged a people transformed, the admiration of free men everywhere.”
Adding sound and color to your writing doesn’t apply to every writing project. It may not fit at all into, say, a simple job application. But the experience of trying to add sound and color to your writing will help you to acquire an ear for your writing, that sense of knowing the power of your words. It will help you to write more efficiently and more clearly.
As has been oft-mentioned on this blog site, clear writing is not easy. But the point bears emphasis. It takes work, lots of work. That’s the surest way, however, to improve the clarity of your writing. I’m reminded of books I’ve read about trying to hit a golf ball or a tennis ball. There’s only so much reading you can do before you actually go out and swing a club or a racket. So it is with writing. Reading the many blogs posted on this site over the last few months will provide you with reliable guidelines and techniques. Mastery of them will go a long way to improve the clarity of your writing, but you still have to write to achieve maximum effect.
Watch for my ebook, “The Art of Clear Writing”, coming soon on Kindle. This ebook will make available, under one cover, all of the writing guidelines and techniques previously posted on this site. It is now in the final polishing stages and will be available soon. Also, my article “Antietam and Gettysburg , Two Pivotal Civil War Battles That Saved The Union,” is now available on Kindle.
The next blog will be posted on Friday, July 6, 2012.
Copyright © 2012. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.