Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Ode Less Travelled!

My wife and I are reading through Stephen Fry's new book, The Ode Less Travelled.

Subtitled "Unlocking the Poet Within" it attempts to teach everyday folks how to write their own poems. So, we're having a go.

Here's one I came up with using iambic pentameter. The rules are that it has to be 20 lines long without any rhymes. I cheated on the last two lines, but nobody's perfect :)

I Am Bic Pentameter

I do not have a poet in my breast;
No metaphors or trochees pouring forth.
The world is not poetical to me,
All dirt and shame and empty toilet rolls

That get recycled, burned or thrown from cars
By people unconcerned to keep things clean.
I could not coin a phrase to save my life,
Or pick the choicest word from lists of three;

Well read am I, and clever, to be sure,
But not intent on wasting precious time.
Poetic licences cannot be bought
Or won as raffle prizes at a fair...

You can read the rest of the poem by going to my Helium page here.

If you like writing poetry, you could do a lot worse than get your hands on a copy of Fry's book.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How To Write With Style

Here’s an article I wrote for my Squidoo lens called Style: A Tricky Concept. The basis for the article came from a section in The Ultimate Copywriter.

The concept of writing with a particular style is a difficult one for many writers to grasp.

That might be because they're not sure what it means, or because style is something they think of as being personal and individual. But even so, there are things you can do to help build style into your writing.

Needless to say, you could write a book or two on the topic of style alone. This article is not meant to be the definitive statement on the subject: its aim is to get you started writing in a manner that will make it easier for your own style to shine through. And for that we'll turn to one of the stylistic masters of the twentieth century, Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway began his writing career at the age of 18 as a junior reporter for The Kansas City Star. He only worked there for 6 months, but that was enough. He used the Star's style guide as the basis for almost everything he wrote after that:

1. Use short sentences.
2. Use short first paragraphs.
3. Use vigorous English.
4. Be positive, not negative.

That's all you need to know to inject style into your writing. And here's why...

1. Short sentences are easier to read. They get the information across quickly. They break up paragraphs into digestible chunks. And they stop you from constructing complex sentences full of commas and semicolons.

2. Short first paragraphs help get your story or article underway quickly. They give readers the crux of what you're saying and make them want to read on. They're the hooks that lure readers into the story line.

3. Vigorous English pulls, moves, races, propels readers into your text. It's packed with energy. Words aren't wasted or used unnecessarily. Anything that saps energy should be removed, including flowery adverbs and adjectives.

For example, look at this sentence:

"The young boy had picked up a shiny blue stone and tossed it unceremoniously at the cur."

That's a rather long-winded and clumsy way of saying: "The boy threw a rock at the dog."

If it's a boy, it must be young. If he threw the rock, he must have picked it up. If it's a dog, call it a dog. And forget the ceremony: it's just an action.

4. Finally, there's the notion of positive v. negative. What Hemingway means is that you should state what something is as opposed to what it isn't. Rather than saying the sky isn't blue, say it's dull, grey or cloudy. That new dress isn't inexpensive; it's affordable.

There are lots of other techniques you can learn to help give your writing style. If you write often, you'll pick up many of these naturally. You can also find information online and in good books by authors and editors.

In the meantime, these four tips from Hemingway should be enough to set you on the right path.