Monday, May 2, 2011

A Couple of Key Ingredients in Good Writing

Yesterday afternoon, I attended a program at our public library. Thomas Fox Averill, professor of English at Washburn University in Topeka Kansas, spoke about a book he's edited. What Kansas Means To Me is a compilation of essays and poems that all deal with the title of the book. The book would probably hold appeal only for those who are Kansans by birth or have lived here a long time or have family here.

The point is that Mr. Averill held the audience in the palm of his hand. It wasn't his subject matter that did it, however, but the way in which he presented the information. Warmth and humor are the keywords to his presentation. He is also a writer, and I feel certain his writing reflects those same two qualities.

He reached out to the audience with  a little humor and held them for the entire presentation with warmth. Granted, the information he gave was of interest, but he made it more so. Had he given a list of things about Kansas and sat down, his program would not have been a memorable one at all. Interesting perhaps, but not memorable at all.

In our writing, we face the same type of situation. Present the facts, report what happened and maybe you have an article or a story. Add those two key ingredients--warmth and humor--and you'll have a piece of writing that is most likely going to be published. Of course, there are some subjects that prohibit the use of humor, but the warmth can still be evident. In fact, in sad or tragic stories, maybe that warmth is needed to help soften the facts.

So, how do you do this? It's not easy to be funny, and there are certainly degrees of  humor. Some people are naturally funny while others may have a dry wit and still more have to force humor. The latter one seldom works. Find a writer whom you like for humor and warmth and read analytically. How did he/she accomplish these key factors? Read enough and you'll begin to understand.

Like all things, it takes practice to perfect writing this way. The next time you write a story or article, let it simmer a few days, then read it as objectively as you can and see if you were successful in using humor and creating a bit of warmth.

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