My first favorite chapter in “Championship Writing: 50 ways to improve your writing” by Paula LaRocque (introduced earlier today here) is Chapter 5, “The writing path can be bumpy or smooth.”
LaRocque gets down to basics, as good writing must, by writing that “Finding the right words often makes the difference between mediocre and distinguished work. The right words are also critical in writing interesting stories rather than boring reports.”
Titles of bureaucracies and events strike LaRocque, assistant managing editor and writing coach at The Dallas Morning News, as troublesome. While such titles are “long, pretentious and often meaningless,” she writes, they are needed. Sometimes, they must be used in order to identify things — but “clear, brief, generic” labels help readers.
I enjoy LaRocque’s commentary in clear sentences like this one: “If the necessary abstraction is unfortunate, the unnecessary abstraction is abominable.”
Concrete expression is more understandable. LaRocque says that short, familiar words promote concrete expression, because they are “small, strong and suited to story-telling.”
(Evidently alliteration helps, too.)
To keep your own writing smooth and interesting, LaRocque suggests writing as you speak. “A good guideline: If we couldn’t or wouldn’t say it that way, we probably shouldn’t write it that way, either. The unsayable is also the unreadable.”
Speech is wordy, she notes, “So the task is to write conversationally, then to edit mercilessly to remove the padding.”
Is your writing smooth? Try her comparison: “Words can be likened to the bricks that make up a walkway. Whether the way is smooth and easy depends upon the fit of each brick.”
Walk along to the next installment, “Short words,” next week. To be sure to catch it, subscribe by clicking the button above.