Do you want to make your writing sing?
Do you want it to be passionate, emotional, and to move scores of people to action? Do you want to write your barbaric yawp! over the screens of the world? Here are four professional secrets I’ve used over the years to help ignite my own writing.
Alliteration, Assonance, and Consonance
Writing can be memorable just with a little bit of alliteration. It can lighten the mood, and make a piece light-hearted without being silly or funny. Alliteration is where the first sound of a word are the same — crazy cars, beautiful beaches. Consonance is where internal consonants sound the same — Errant Erik — while assonance is where internal vowels sound the same — awful coffee, fair sherry.
One of my writers recently submitted a post about snow plows entitled “How Now Snow Plow,” which set a lighter mood for the entire piece, and we were able to do something a little lighter about something that’s usually very, well, not light.
Metaphors and Similes
Regular readers know I love metaphors. Metaphors are what give language its richness, its vividness. In the family of language, they’re the Wild Adventurer, that crazy uncle who lives exciting adventures searching for ancient treasure.
Similes, on the other hand, are the English teacher. The weak-chinnned, bespectacled, and slightly timid English teacher. They repeat, relate, and give you an idea of something, but they don’t actually do the thing they’re telling you about. (See, that there is a metaphor.)
“Life is like a box of chocolates,” said Forrest Gump. Meh. Sure, it’s nice, and it’s memorable, but it doesn’t bring anything to life.
But, “men’s words are bullets, that their enemies take up and make use of against them,” said George Savile in Maxims of State.
How sad, that life itself is reduced to a simple simile — a box of chocolates — while mere words can be bullets in the hands of our enemies. A well-turned metaphor can provide a thunderous impact to your writing.
Having said all that, similes can also be a powerful device. Think of any hard-boiled private detective story, when a sexy client entered the office — “She had legs like smooth alabaster towers that rose straight up to the heavens” — and you can see what similes can do for your writing.
While I recommend metaphors in your writing, similes will do in a pinch. But don’t rely on either device too much.
Walt Whitman’s famous line from Leaves of Grass — his “barbaric yawp” — is surrounded by hyperbole. Hyperbole is an exaggeration that is not meant to be taken literally.
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me—he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me;
It flings my likeness after the rest, and true as any, on the shadow’d wilds;
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I love the hyperbole here: a hawk accuses and complains, Whitman shouts over the roofs of the world, and the last scud of day flings his likeness. He’s not saying the hawk’s cries sound like accusations or complaints (which would make it a weak-chinned simile). He’s not saying he wishes his cries would ring out over the roofs of the world, or that they can only be heard 100 yards away. And a scud in Whitman’s day was when a ship runs before a strong wind, but with little sail set. So can it really fling things, especially a person’s likeness?
Whitman’s hyperbole, and excellent use of metaphor, make Leaves of Grass one of the most memorable pieces of literature from the 19th century.
While I normally hate business jargon that gets turned into verbs, I love using action verbs, or even taking similes and turning them into verbs.
Last year, I gave a presentation on “10 Techniques to Rocket Your Blog to Success.” The verb phrase “rocket your blog” was a whole lot more dramatic and powerful than “make your blog take off like a rocket.”
By using the word “rocket” as a verb, I was able to create an image of power and speed, and give the idea that this was something important and powerful.
Even the verb in this post’s headline — ignite — is a lot better than the others I could have chosen: improve, help, boost, embiggen. None of them gave the impression of, well, lighting a fire under your writing. (Five cool points to anyone who can tell me what literary device I just used in that last sentence.)
So, these are just four techniques that I use to help my own writing. What are some of the ones you use? How do you punch up your own writing, and make it memorable? Share your ideas in the comments.
My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.