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What is Writing style, after all?

**https://The 5 Elements Of A Captivating Writing **
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Date:   2/2/2019 5:07:13 PM   ( 22 mon ) ... viewed 555 times

Go to the profile of Amir Afianian
Amir Afianian

Dec 23, 2018
What is style, after all, but the effective use of words to engage the human mind? — Steven Pinker

I’ve been always enchanted by the writings that hook my attention. What is the mystery?
What are the secret elements that those adroit writers weave into the fabric of their prose?

A superb writer must initially be a superb reader, Steven Pinker a Harvard psycholinguist suggests. Writers acquire their technique by spotting, savoring, and reverse-engineering examples of good prose.

Hence, join me and Steven Pinker on a short journey to unearth some elements of a fascinating prose from a marvelous excerpt written by Richard Dawkins.

** Good Writing
Opening Lines of Richard Dawkin’s Unweaving the Rainbow.

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

I. Good Writing Starts Strong and Provokes Curiosity
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.
Contrast this sentence with a banality (“Recently, scholars have been increasingly concerned with the …”).

{a wonderful composition}

He begins strong, and further, he hooks your attention: We’re lucky because we’ll die? Who wouldn’t want to find out how this mystery will be unfolded?

The starkness of the paradox is reinforced by the diction and meter: short, simple words.

II. Parallel Wording is A Powerful Trope
Most people are never going to die. because they are never going to be born.
The resolution to the paradox — that a bad thing, dying, implies a good thing, having lived — is revealed with a parallel construction: never going to die … never going to be born.

In his classic book — Elements of Style — Strunk, too, hinted on delicacies of using parallel constructions:

Parallel construction, requires that expressions of similar content and function should be outwardly similar. The likeness of form enables the reader to recognize more readily the likeness of content and function. — William Strunk

III. Good Writing is Understood With The Mind’s Eye
The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia.Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton.
Dawkins constantly makes you conjure images in your mind’s eyes: People who never see the light of the day. With a touch of the poetic — the sand grains of Arabia — he seeks to invoke a grandeur rather than opting for a colorless adjective like massive or enormous.

unborn ghosts. A vivid image to convey the abstract notion of a mathematically possible combination of genes, and a wily repurposing of a supernatural concept to advance a naturalistic argument.

IV. Good Writing Can Flip The Way The World is Perceived
In six sentences Dawkins flips the way we think of death, and has stated a rationalist’s case for an appreciation of life in words so stirring that many humanists have asked that it be read at their funerals.

V. Good Writers Enliven Their Prose With Judicious Insertion of Surprise Words
According to studies of writing quality, the two following are distinguishing features between sprightly prose and mush:

A varied vocabulary
Use of Unusual words
However, trying to appear smart or cultivated through turgid prose stuffed with polysyllabic Latinism (cessasion for end, eventuate in for cause) and flabby adjectives (is contributive to instead of contributes to, is determinative of instead of determines) often backfires and one would appear pompous and occasionally ridiculous.

The key is a phenomenon called: phonaesthetics, the feeling of sound. The best words not only pinpoint an idea better than any alternative but echo it in their sound and articulation.

Just listen to your voice and sense your muscles as you articulate your writing to judge whether you have opted for proper words. Consider the following example:

Voluptuous has a voluptuous give-and-take between the lips and the tongue, and titillating also gives the tongue a workout while titillating the ear with coincidental overlap with a naughty word. These associations make a sea of voluptuous models and titillating cover lines more lively than a sea of sexy models and provocative cover lines.

On the other hand, a sea of pulchritudinous models would serve as a lesson on how not to choose words: the ugly pulchritude sounds like the opposite of what it means, and it is one of those words that no one uses unless they want to show off.

In summary, the study of good writings reveals similar patterns of practices:

An insistence on fresh wording and concrete imagery over familiar verbiage and abstract summary.
Attention to the readers’ vantage point and the target of their gaze
the judicious placement of an uncommon word or idiom against a backdrop of simple nouns and verbs
the use of parallel syntax
the occasional planned surprise
the presentation of a telling detail that obviates an explicit pronouncement
the use of mete and sound that resonate with the meaning and mood
Good writers do not write as if they have something important to say, rather, they write as if they have something important to show.

Happy writing.

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