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Voyages Of Discovery -- Part II

Posted on Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 11:40 PM

More on how to make your Voyage of Discovery the reader's.

By Peter P. Jacobi

We continue the discussion about those two related Voyages of Discovery, the writer's and the one that the writer wants to make happen, the reader's.

The successful writer keeps certain techniques and opportunities and responsibilities in mind while pursuing the task of writing, each and all designed to woo and win the reader for his or her Voyage of Discovery. The points are numerous, but you cannot wish them away. They beckon. They belong.

One -- Accuracy, Brevity, and Clarity

The journalistic trio that never should be forgotten or ignored. Whether you're dealing with a fine point of costuming in 17th-century France or a corporate meeting coming up in Dallas or showing your reader how and where to hunt for trilobites, you must make sure the facts are right. Be accurate. Readers deserve to be repaid for their trust in you with information that's reliable and true. Let them catch you with an error, and trouble you will have.

Brevity works in something meant to be brief and something designed to be far longer. Don't waste space. Be as sparing as can be. Cut the unnecessary dialogue, the unnecessary scene, the unnecessary action, the unnecessary detail, the unnecessary words and sentences. Know what is excess for your chosen reader.

As for clarity, well, of course! If you obfuscate, if you muddle, if you in any way confuse, the reader will demand an exit from your vessel. A nearly-always reason for travel is pleasure. Confusion destroys pleasure very quickly.

Two -- Completeness

Determine very carefully what the reader needs to completely understand, to know what's going on, what's being said, what's being taught, what's being passed along. What's to be reflected on, what's to be remembered with comprehension.

Don't fall into the trap of telling your reader everything, sharing every speck of information you've gathered, burdening him or her with every bit of contemplation in your head. If you do, the reader will swim in a sea of confusion. Decisions on inclusions and exclusions need to be made. Put yourself in the reader's place, one who knows little or less about the subject. What needs a place in your piece? What doesn't? It's hard to do but imperative. Supply the necessary. Cut the rest.

Three -- Context

Context: that which enriches the critical aspects of your article, which supplies background, which provides an environment for the plot, the main character, the event, which contributed meaning and/or specificity and/or significance and/or enlightenment to the subject under scrutiny.

Four -- Epiphany

Seek a life-changing moment for your central character or institution, when the light of understanding came to the scene. In such a moment, such an event, such a happening, there's inherent drama or a lesson the reader can take away and perhaps use in his or her own life. Epiphany: the follow-up to a shock of recognition, a revelation, an eye-opener that brings change.

Five -- Flow and Rhythm

Flow, quite simply and yet not at all simply, means your copy moves so that the reader knows at every moment where he or she is, has been, and is likely to be going. Flow also means the copy reads smoothly, sounds natural, and gives comfort to mind and ear. To make that happen, listen to your copy. Read it aloud. Test it against those two ears as well as the two eyes.

As for rhythm, I turn, as I did last issue, to James Kilpatrick. He said effective writing "has to have cadence. By that I do not mean metronomic regularity. I certainly don't mean that we should strive for a singsong effect; for if you get to be self-conscious, if you strive for rhythm only, you will wind up getting dizzy, you will sound like Hiawatha. And I pray, you, sir, avoid it. No, I suggest only that we cultivate the inner ear. Let us listen to our sentences as they break upon the mind."

Six -- Focus

Plan your piece so that your approach matches reader interest, that its slant suits a particular audience, that its content coaxes and caresses. You need a clear understanding of what will satisfy your reader. Focus is a way of looking at a subject and its world so that you attract aimed-for readers and hold them. Achieve focus by selecting the right material and keeping out the rest, by writing with a selected reader in mind, and by using language designed to captivate that reader.

Seven -- Harmony and Dissonance

Your manuscript should make music.

Harmony: in music, means sounds pleasing to the ear, soothing, falling gently, comfortably onto the membranes; in language, words chosen and brought together to engender pleasure, calm, easy acceptance, relaxation.

Dissonance: in music, discord, acerbic bite, sounds harsh and grating, potentially uncomfortable for the ear; in language, words harnessed to disturb, words that chill, that shrill, that are seemingly out of place and jarring.

Composers know how to work it, how to spice the nice or untangle the jangle. For those of us dealing with words, take the advice of novelist and essayist Anne Bernays. "Nice writing isn't enough," she says. "It isn't enough to have smooth and pretty language. You have to surprise the reader frequently.... Provoke the reader. Astonish the reader with the unexpected verb or adjective." But remember by the end to bring resolution, that ultimate sense of peace sought by the reader's mind and inner ear.

Eight -- Insight

As you develop your story, provide coverage that passes along to the reader material not generally available elsewhere, that you uncovered in high quality research and reporting, material of a depth that separates you from others who've tackled the same subject. As a reader, I want to come away feeling you've made me an insider to your created world, that you've given me an understanding others around me don't possess.

Nine -- Perspective

That's the writer's effort to help readers understand what something really means or what the writer wants the reader to think it means. Perspective is a point of view; it's guiding the reader toward a new pattern or direction of thought and belief.

Ten -- Reality, Spontaneity, and Visibility

Reality: Giving what you write a sense of presence, closeness, and believability.

Spontaneity: Giving your work a creative spark, the essence of freshness, inventiveness, sparkle, originality, the vigorously new.

Visibility: Giving your story sensual power, something to be seen, heard, felt, smelled, even tasted. Bring me close.

Eleven -- Resonance

In writing, that means a quality of richness, of variety, resulting from your search for words and material that, in tandem, bring about reverberation in a reader's brain and heart, that shake up the senses, that stick to memory. It's writing so juicy to read, so delicious in wordplay and/or so inviting in content that the reader is caught, unable to resist tuning in.

Twelve -- Voice

Individualize your copy, make it yours, give it a distinguishing personality that only you could have contributed because of who you are and how you practice the process of writing and in what manner you use the language. The true artist makes of his or her art an expression, an extension, an outgrowth, a reflection of self. Release your voice. Offer me YOU.

Thirteen -- Zoom

It's a photographic term that can be applied to us as writers. To draw in our readers, we need to locate metaphoric situations that cast a spotlight on our entire subject, to locate a moment, a scene, a quote, a situation that in compressive form clarifies everything we're trying to say. In photography, one uses the camera lens, the zoom lens, to zoom in on a subject and, thereby, draw attention to what is considered a most important element. In writing, we strive for that, too, by finding a way to immerse the reader in an aspect, a tidbit of the story that immediately clarifies what is most significant about the whole.

Enough for you to think about? I think so. But if you aim to provide a Voyage of Discovery, first for yourself, then for your reader, you best heed all of the above.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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