2.04.2020

Add the Warp to the Weave

Many neophyte authors are aware of the journalistic maxim of being impartial. The writer should not editorialize. Yet this dictum can be taken too far, to the point that the neutral voice is a boring voice. If you are just laying out facts in an assembly line, the reading experience will feel industrial as well. The narrative can start to read like a hodgepodge of collected information—which, of course, is exactly what it was before you started putting the pieces together.

Authors need authority in their narrative voice. Certain writers have no problem adopting a strong voice. If you’ve ever read any books on marketing, you’ll see immediately what I mean. These people are born salesmen, and their books are meant to persuade a reader to adopt their advice. Authors in other fields don’t have to go quite so far, because such forcefulness may undermine the seriousness of your prose. But the sales approach does engage a reader. Given that writing is by its very nature a manipulative art, you can put yourself forward more.

You need above all else to take control of your narrative. How an author writes sets them apart in any field. You need only think of a figure like Malcolm Gladwell to realize this is true. When you seize command, the book comes to life. You should not be content merely to be a gatherer of data, letting your material speak for itself. In between all of those nuggets needs to run a narrative thread that is all your own. Point up to the reader the importance of a fact. Don’t be afraid to be ironic or wry at appropriate moments.

As you gain confidence in stitching together one research nugget to another, you’ll see certain themes that you wanted to include all along start to emerge on the paper. You can then judge how that section you’re writing fits into the whole. The price of a telephone line in 1910, for instance, becomes an issue for the man who could not afford a phone and his wife dies before medical help can arrive. You have to be bold enough to grab the reins of control and steer the reader in the directions you want her to go. The reader will be pleased to go along for the ride.

Exercise:  A significant step in taking command of your narrative starts with the first paragraph in a chapter. If you remember your grammar class, that is known as a topic paragraph. Think about the four or five basic areas you want to cover in the chapter. Distill each area down to a sentence, or two if needed. Once you challenge yourself, you’ll be surprised by how easy it is. Pretty soon you’ll string together those sentences—and there you have it, a governing logic for the entire chapter to come.

“Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to popular belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young.” 
—W. Somerset Maugham

Copyright @ 2020, John Paine

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