• Get Your Story Straight

Writing with Impact: Tools for DIY Writers

I come from a family who are pretty good with their hands but somehow the fix-it gene skipped me. Knowing my limitations, it was years before I bought an electric drill; if I needed to install one of those wall anchors to securely insert a screw, I’d just pound a nail into the wall, enlarge the hole with a screwdriver and then hammer the anchor into the hole.

No wonder all my walls looked like Swiss cheese where the curtain rods were. (Spackle is a fix-it foul-up’s best friend.)

DIY Writing

Just like any good DIYer, a writer needs the right tools for their job too. That means choosing the right words for the impact you want to have on your reader.

Here’s how to decide which words to pull out of your toolbox for three writing jobs:

Writing Funny

Listen to Walter Matthau’s aging ex-vaudeville comic in the Neil Simon movie The Sunshine Boys:

“Words with a K are funny. Alka-Seltzer is funny. Cupcake is funny . . . Words with L and M are not funny.”

Matthau doesn’t explain why K words are funny. They just are. There’s something about the hard crashing of the consonants that just makes you laugh. (Or should I say “chuckle” or “crack up” rather than “laugh”?)

Want to write funny? Keep your words short, punchy and plain – never EVER say “humorous” instead of “funny.” Look for sounds that make your reader . . . cackle.

It helps to have the words add up to an actual joke or funny comment, but that’s a post for a whole other day.

Writing Elegantly

Longer words with graceful modifiers create a sense of refinement and sophistication. If you’re trying to sell jewelry or Swiss watches, your first job is not just to inform but to create the desire to acquire. “We offer meticulously crafted timepieces from renowned watchmakers for those who want to make every minute count.”

Word choice matters here too. What’s the difference between a watch and a timepiece? Several thousand dollars.

For a more elevated tone, spell out words instead of using contractions. Sentences can be a little longer, as long as they’re not so complex that the reader gets lost. And yes, you can use second-person address to help the reader feel a personal connection to your subject.

Writing Dramatically

It’s not so different from comic writing: Short words and sentences work best.

Verbs should be active, a rule that applies in all writing but especially here. Expressive words and phrases will bring your story to life.

Use metaphors familiar to your readers:

I once wrote a news story about conflicts coming to a head between a city commission and city manager; they were “headed for a showdown,” which brought to mind a couple of Wild West gunslingers facing off.

The Miami Herald this week reported that a passenger “had a tantrum at the Miami airport.” Can’t you just picture that scene? (It was an effective combination of comic and dramatic writing.)

Should You Hire a Pro?

Still don’t feel like you have the literary fix-it gene? I’m glad to help.

Just don’t ask me to hang any curtains.

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