Tag Archives: Style

Potent Language in Stories

Potent and moodySOME of the most potent writing advice comes from Strunk and White’s brief but perennially precious book, Elements of Style. In the chapter, Principles of Composition, we learn to ‘prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract.’

Writers who seize and hold the reader’s attention by being definite, specific, and concrete number amongst the greatest – Homer, Dante, Shakespeare. Their writing is potent, in part, because their words render up pictures.

Here is an extract from The Zoo from a short story by Jean Stanford, a lesser known but nonetheless accomplished writer:

Potent Language

‘Daisy and I in time found asylum in a small menagerie down by the railroad tracks. It belonged to a gentle alcoholic ne’er-do-well, who did nothing all day long but drink bathtub gin in Rickey’s and play solitaire and smile to himself and talk to his animals. He had a little stunted red vixen and a deodorized skunk, a parrot from Tahiti that spoke Parisian French, a woebegone coyote, and two capuchin monkeys, so serious and humanized, so small and sad and sweet, and so religious-looking with their tonsured heads that it was impossible not to think of their gibberish was really an ordered language with a grammar that someday some philologist would understand.’

This is a powerful evocation of an environment, a personality, indeed, a world, and all done through the telling use of concrete and specific language. This language is not only useful in evoking an appropriate atmosphere in short stories and novels. It is also important when used adroitly in the ‘action block’ of screenplays, where brief, specific, and concrete language adds to the precise direction needed by actors, set designers, and set dressers to render scenes effectively.

Summary

Use specific, definite, and concrete language to write scenes that create mood and render up potent pictures in the minds of your readers.

Writing with Style

Writing with styleONE of the first things we notice about a writer is her style – the way she arranges the flow of words on paper, indeed, the way she chooses specific words over a myriad of others.

In Elements of Style, Strunk and White point out that style reveals not only the spirit of the writer, but very often, her identity too. Style contributes to her ‘voice’ – her attitude towards her characters, the world and its ideology.

A matter of Style

By way of example here are two passages by two great writers on the subject of languor. The first is quintessential Faulkner:

“He did not still feel weak, he was merely luxuriating in the supremely gutful lassitude of convalescence in which time, hurry, doing, did not exist, the accumulating seconds and minutes and hours to which in its well state the body is slave both waking and sleeping, now reversed and time now the lip-server and mendicant to the body’s pleasure instead of the body thrall to time’s headlong course.”

Now Hemingway:

“Manuel drank his brandy. He felt sleepy himself. It was too hot to go into the town. Besides there was nothing to do. He wanted to see Zurich. He would go to sleep while he waited.”

The difference in style is striking, yet both passages are effective. The first is loquacious, almost verbose. It underpins the subject matter by evoking slowness, inactivity. The second is brief, laconic, yet its very brevity communicates Manuel’s languor through the truncated, sluggish drift of his thoughts.

How, then, does the new writer develop her own style?

Discovering what sort of writing appeals to you the most might be a first step. Giving yourself time to find and develop your individual voice through trail and error is another. The journey is long and hard, as the saying goes, but the rewards are worthwhile – work that is memorable and unique.

Synopsis

Find you own writing style by identifying and immersing yourself in works you admire. Then put your head down and write.

Writing is Rewriting V & VI

Shiny shoes

Style & Polish:

In these final two revisions of your screenplay, or novel, we look at style and polish.

Some Elements of Style:

Pacing

A consistently even pace, whether fast or slow, makes for monotony. Go over your entire story and ensure that there is sufficient variation in pace. A fast scene or sequence is usually followed by a slower or quieter scene to allow readers or audiences to take it all in. Additionally, there should be the same kind of variation within some, if not all, the scenes themselves, for much the same reasons.

Tonal Consistency

Do your characters belong in the same screenplay or novel, or do some seem to spring from completely different styles or genres—romantic comedy, science-fiction, historical drama? Although contrasting characters are a good thing, they should not appear to have walked in from the pages of different stories. This tonal consistency goes for the look and feel of settings and costumes, as well as dialogue and overall imagery. Even a cross-genre film such as Cowboys and Aliens attempts stylistic consistency across these disparate genres.

Transitions

Do your scenes end and lead into each other? If not, use the device of comparison to glue them together more effectively—similar or contrasting dialogue, movement, lighting, and the like.

Emotion

What is the specific emotion you are aiming for in each scene? Have you achieved it? Remember—believable characters with believable desires in believable situations and relationships make for believable emotions. Look for the pitch of the emotion, then tighten it.

The Final Polish

You are now ready to go through your entire script, line by line. Is this or that word, gesture, or description the best you can come up with? Have all grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors been eliminated? If so, your story is ready to present to the world. Good luck!

Summary

Your fifth and sixth drafts concern the elements of style and polish, after which, your story should be ready to be released into the world to fend for itself.

Invitation

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