Clear writing requires a writer to have command of words and use of proper syntax. Both are essential to become an accomplished writer. Syntax is defined as the orderly, logical sequence of words to have maximum effect on the reader.
To me however, syntax is indistinguishable from sound and color. I cannot 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. These elements of writing 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. I have consistently stressed my belief that clear writing is an art form, which can be attained with constant regular practice. It is only through the pursuit of this undertaking that you will come to recognize your voice as a writer.
It is hard to add sound and color to 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 to achieve 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.
There are two ways to know when your writing has sound and color. First, you will feel it in your writing; the second, a bit more objective, 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, “Winston Spencer 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 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 in my book “The Art of Clear Writing,” (available on amazon.com through Kindle Books and in print), 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 golf club or a tennis racket. So it is with writing. Mastery of the guidelines and techniques explained in my book will go a long way to improve the clarity of your writing, but you still have to write to achieve maximum effect.
Copyright © 2013. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.