Free Christian Writer Training Course 3, Lesson 5
The Language Of A Good Pieces Of Writing
There is no way in which language used and the message communicated can be separated from each other. The language should always suite the message, and the message should always be expressed language that is appropriate. This brings us to the language that a writer should strive to use.
The discussion upon language brings me first to a misunderstanding that many people have and that must be cleared before anything meaningful can be said. Most beginning writers and the weak of intellect seem to think that only an artificial, pompous, laboured, and jargon-loaded language shows their capability. This is a fallacy. Even the stupidest writer having access to a good Thesaurus can produces volumes in that kind of a language, but it takes a genius to produce material in language that is simple, inviting, fascinating, yet crisp and accurate.
Simplicity of language is not the product of a deficient mind. On the contrary, one’s power to express in a simple and lucid language increases in proportion to the mastery that one has on the subject under discussion and also the language used for it. On the other hand, the complexity, ambiguity, and showiness of one’s language is directly proportional to one’s superficial grasp of the subject being discussed, and also the crudeness with which one still handles the tool of expression that language is.
Look around and you will find both articles as well as decent sized books that expound subjects as simple as hobby development and as complex as Quantum Chromo-Dynamics in equally popular manner. You will find exciting books on mathematically and logically oriented subject like philosophy, classical music, and computer programming.
What distinguishes the writers of these exciting and pleasurable reading is their mastery of the subject discussed as well as the ease with which they are able to express themselves upon the subject. Even the most unschooled person among the target audience can say “Hey, even a person like ME can understand what this author is saying!”. That is a great writing !!
The language of an accomplished scholar, authority, and writer is not marked with difficult or obscure words, but with language that is simple, lucid, fascinating, yet crisp and accurate. It becomes technical only if the intended audience needs it, and even there it does not get difficult for the sake of technicality. Let me tell you a few things about such language:
I-IT IS SIMPLE BUT NOT CHILDISH: When an expert writes or speaks, he is able to put the subject in such terms that even the non expert is able to appreciate the presentation. If such an expert happens to be a good writer also, his writing becomes very special. He is able to write in language that is simple yet not childish. It Is A Serious Error To Equate That Which Is Simple With Childish Writing !!
The language of a properly conceived and executed writing is so simple for the target audience that is sheet excitement to read it. At the same time it does not bore the reader by giving the appearance of childishness.
The simplicity that we are talking about in this lesson is not the product of a mind feeble and incapable of handling mature language, but the work of a trained person who is able to excite with his communication people who do not have his level of grasp of the subject discussed. Such simplicity does not come by keeping one’s linguistic capabilities at the level that one had achieved in kindergarten. Nor does it come by imitating childish speech or writing. Rather, it comes by careful planing and deliberate working and reworking of the manuscript.
The language of a good writing and its great writer is simple enough to excite, yet not childish to be boring. It is the result of mental growth, not of mental handicap. It does not proceed from the pen of an unschooled person, but from the mind of a thoroughly disciplined wordsmith.
2-IT IS DYNAMIC AND CAPTIVATING: Simplicity is not the name of an endless stream of babyish words, phrases, or sentences. Rather, it is presentation in words and in style that are no more complex than what the target audience can appreciate. At the same time this language is not monotonous in any way. Just as variety is the secret of serving food, selection of language and style is the secret of presenting the material in simple language.
The language of a good writing is simple, yet is shows great variety. Instead of being monotonous and boring, it tends to be dynamic and captivating. It might be a little difficult for you to visualize what I mean by language that is simple yet which is dynamic and captivating. The best thing to do is to read first hand the writing of writers who show this quality.
Books And Articles That Captivates Will Always Get Read, In Spite Of The Oppressive Presence Of The Electronic Media !!
C. S. Lewis is a good example of dynamic and captivating English. His writings are contemporary and recent enough to be still available without much difficulty. In fact MacMillan still publishes and distributes his Narnia Chronicles, a collection of novels for children (relished even by adults). His Problem Of Pain and Screwtape Letters are also still easily available. Study the way in which he has used language. It is simple, yet dynamic and captivating.
If you can get hold of Rudyard Kipling’s poem titled `IF’ you will have the same experience. If it is too difficult for you to get any of these, then study a few issues of Reader’s Digest. Go to the Drama In Real Life section. Notice the simple vocabulary they use. Yet the words unfold such drama, such excitement, and such a sense of urgency that a sensitive reader feels he is present at the scene itself. The effect is not produced by using words larger than life but by a carefully written story that is simple enough to excite my ten year old son, yet is so dynamic and captivating that I compete with my son to get my hands upon the magazine.
No writer can ever write like another, and nor is it necessary. However, everyone can develop a language and style that is both captivating as well as dynamic — like the language used by successful writers. Reading and observing the language of others, writing, and rewriting is the answer.
3-IT IS ACCURATE BUT NOT TOO TECHNICAL: Many writers feel that if they simplify the presentation, accuracy will have to be sacrificed. This need not be so. Capable writers have found it possible to explain even the most technical and involved subjects in vocabulary and language that seems quite simple for the task.
I wonder if you have ever seen the popular science books published in the former USSR and sold world over for propaganda. These books powerfully illustrate my point. You will find in this collection, books on physics, philosophy, as well as genetics which have been explained in such a manner that a tenth standard student would exclaim with surprise that he is able to enjoy the subject.
In fact, there is no subject which they ever left untouched in their popular science serieses. What is interesting is that they found a way of writing on even a technical subject like English Grammar in such a way that everyone in our University faculty was excited about this book. Yet the book was so simple that my son who studied in the third standard at that time used to sit with it for hours together.
Writing in a simple manner does not mean that the writer has to compromise with accuracy. Using technical language is not the only way to express the subject unambiguously. Some of the most widely read science, technology, philosophy, and humanities journals are distinguished by the simple language in which they express themselves accurately.
Different level of readers require different levels of accuracy and precision in the material they read. The housewife needs only to be told to use a “pinch” of salt, while the chemist needs to know it sometimes in micrograms. The writing should therefore be no more technical than the need of the intended audience.
Good writing is accurate, but not too technical for the target audience. The reader should be able to exclaim that he/she is able to get a good grasp of the subject and yet the technical person should not be able to say that it communicates error. Plenty of such writings are available around, and studying them will shape the WriterCraft of anyone who is interested to make an impact in his field.
4-IT USES THE MOST ACCESSIBLE VOCABULARY AND EXPRESSION: When both simplicity as well as accuracy are stressed, most beginning writers become exasperated. They feel that the demands are in direct conflict with each other. While it might be true on a rare occasion, it is definitely true for the everyday writings of most writers.
It is possible for a skilled writer to communicate accurately using a vocabulary that does not force the reader to run to the dictionary on every other sentence. This is not to imply that good writings be restricted strictly to the vocabulary used in TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR or HUMPTY DUMPTY SAT ON A WALL. But it does require that it be restricted to a vocabulary that is expected of the audience for which the writings are intended.
Many successful writers are known to restrict themselves to using only the most common words. Lists of such words are available in many books as well as from many language institutes. Some dictionaries also follow this practice — they give all their explanations using the most frequently used words. Of course this might again raise the question of accuracy in your mind. Accuracy along with simplicity is achieved by using proper synonyms.
Many people have this illusion that synonyms are meant only for scholars of English Literature and that these will only make the writings more difficult to understand. This is a mistaken view. Looking into any decent Thesaurus (a dictionary of synonyms) will show that almost every world has several very simple, pictorial, and yet sufficiently satisfactory and accurate synonyms. Using a good Thesaurus will ensure that the writer has plenty of words at his disposal that help him to express himself accurately yet in a language that is accessible to the reader. What’s more, it will help him to avoid unnecessary repetition of the same word over and over again.
Good writers consider the vocabulary capacity of their intended audiences. Then they restrict themselves to a vocabulary that is most accessible to them, yet which does not compromise with accuracy.
5-IT AVOIDS SLANG, CHEAP AND PROFANE EXPRESSION: What is slang is easily understood by the generation that coined it. However, an accessible vocabulary does not imply that one should go down to this level.
Expressions that are slang to the level of vulgar, expressions that are cheap and profane manifest the way in which depraved minds think. This kind of a thinking is not appropriate for any mature and God-fearing person, let alone for a writer or reader who enjoys a personal relationship with God.
Expressions that are slang, cheap, and profane do harm in several ways. First they devaluate the esteem in which the readers hold the writer. Second, they cheapen and reduce the sanctity of the subject discussed. And finally, they reduced abhorrence to sin and vulgarity.
Researches have repeatedly revealed that when people are exposed to the profane for some time, their shock and revulsion to these expressions and subjects decrease. They become less sensitive to the evil tone and even feel free to use it themselves. This is the reason why you notice people belonging to certain groups using slang and vulgar expressions freely and frequently without any shame or guilt. They have been made insensitive to sin and evil by repeated exposure. A good writer understands this and keeps his writings free of such a vocabulary.
This might raise the question of how to portray sin and abomination in one’s writings, specially when one is trying to produce fiction that depicts the fallen lifestyle of sin-loving people. Interestingly, one does not have to stoop down to the level of people being depicted to give a good picture of those people to the readers. There are hundreds of literary ways in which one can create a word picture of sinful people and their unrighteousness without needing to use their profane language.
Just as a medical professor does not have to become ill to show his readers what illness means, the resourceful writer does not have to stoop down to profanity or vulgarity to depict evil. Nor does he have to resort to a cheap vocabulary to communicate in a simple manner with people. The writings of an accomplished writer use language that is most accessible to people, yet he never stoops down to using slang and profane expression.
6-IT USES THE RIGHT PROPORTION OF IDIOMATIC EXPRESSIONS: Just as flowers give a special beauty to gardens, idiomatic expressions, figurative language, the right use of metaphor, anecdotes and catchy expressions impart a special beauty to language.
Idiom, to be effective, should be natural, appropriate for the occasion, and never served in excess. Just as excess of monotonous prose makes reading a bore, excess of idioms makes the writing revolting to read.
For the idiom to flow naturally out of your pen, you should make it a habit to read writers who are at ease with using this kind of language. Not everyone is an expert at it, nor will reading a dictionary of idioms will make you one. This is not to discourage you from buying such a dictionary. Not at all ! If at all possible, every writer should buy at least one dictionary that deals only with idioms. This is to sharpen your grasp upon idiomatic expressions, but this in itself is only the first step. The second one is to read, and the third one is to integrate idiomatic expressions into your speech and writing.
Using non literal language without ambiguity of meaning, and using it effectively, is an art seen in the works of accomplished writers. Language devoid of it is as attractive as a fully shaven lion, and language loaded with it is as repulsive as a swarm of flies. The right proportion of idiomatic expressions makes language lively and captivating, exactly as a properly trimmed bed of flowers makes it a delight to the eyes.
A good subject does not automatically make an article or story good. Nor does an attractive language automatically make it something of substance.
A good language should properly integrate the right subject with attractive presentation. It should motivate the readers towards the right goals in life, while at the same time it warns them against indulgence in things that are improper.
Only commitment to the correct cause and dedication to communicate the message captivatingly will make your writings good. Nothing less than that ought to be acceptable to a Christian writer.