Part 2 of 4
I don’t know anything about writing, but I know what I like
Provost believes every word has a job to do, and it’s up to the writer to find out what that job is, even though it may change from story to story. He wants the writer to think about what he or she is doing and why. By close examination some learning is bound to take place along the way. His book focuses on the words of working writers to exemplify successful writing. His definition of successful writing means only that someone sold a piece and it was published, which is probably a goal of anyone reading the book.
Although he does a great job of explaining the workings of good sentence structure and choosing words wisely, he also digs a little further into the way words work and their interaction with our brains. I haven’t read anything like this before in any of the “why writing works or doesn’t series,” and found his perception insightful.
He mentions only in passing, unfortunately, the difficulty in understanding and interpreting the way the brain perceives letters and words on a page. This also may explain some of the mystery behind successful writing and why there are no certain formulas for success. Psycholinguistics is the science of studying this phenomenon we call language, and apparently there are still quite a few large gaps in the research as to why and how we learn to read, talk and recognize the written word.
I wish he had devoted more time and space to this subject, but alas, he decided to go the route of practicality. And although this is the case, for now we will have to leave it at knowing there are scientists working around the clock to further our knowledge in studying the way our eyes send messages to our brain. Some day we may understand why we recognize and enjoy great phrases like “It was a dark and stormy night.”
It can be useful just to know that psycholinguistics exists because it can explain why our latest novel or story hasn’t sold. No one will quite know what you are talking about, and although I don’t usually advocate trying to deceive (see my example of the witness protection program later in this review) sometimes it just sounds better than “Oh, my publisher just isn’t as trend-conscious as I am.” Yeah, right.
Actually, a psycholinguist sounds like one of those crazy people standing on the corner downtown shouting random words viciously at anyone who will listen. Although we may not know why or how, we can learn which words to use by practice. Maybe that is what our friends on street corners are doing.
Provost referred to this as the job words do, and he likes to consider them as his employees. They all have jobs to do and can vary by looks and meanings. Each word should be chosen with care to ensure it’s pulling its own weight. Deadbeats should be dismissed so the others don’t have to try harder to work around them.
Form and content naturally work together to create a symphony of words that are (preferably) perfect together. There are no rules to follow regarding which style goes with which words, so experimenting is necessary. When it is right, you and your readers will know. The hidden talents of the words will rise to the top when everything comes together. Because once you release them by publishing them, they have to work hard to keep their meanings intact. Readers won’t know what you meant if they can’t understand what you are saying.
To be continued …