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Art and Science

Posted on Monday, May 24, 2010 at 2:42 PM

Supply both and the reader will likely have rewards.

By Peter P. Jacobi

I'm in the mood for a summary.

If you want your writing to take wing or if you -- as editor -- want the written material that goes into your publication to do so, understand that you must consider the art of writing, the science of writing, and the results that your readers are likely to expect from your efforts.

Art has to do with the imagination and how you employ it; science with craft. Tend to these carefully and energetically, and you will compel, or at least promote, reader reaction.

The Art

There are nine artistic needs for flight.

One -- Be Willing to Soar

The compulsion must exist within your mental muscle, your emotional sinew to not only imagine possibilities but then to realize them.

Two -- Let Yourself Go

Love the sense of freedom that comes from release of your imagination. Let yourself go. The best writers do that. With them, the reader is never quite sure what's next. That's not unsettling.

It's titillating or delectable or goose bump raising or chuckle inducing.

Three -- Yearn for Adventure

Natalie Goldberg in her book, Writing Down the Bones, says: "Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life ... But there's another part of them that they have been training, the one that lives everything a second time. In a rainstorm, everyone quickly runs down the street with umbrellas, raincoats, newspapers over their heads. Writers go back outside in the rain with a notebook in front of them and pen in hand. They look at the puddles, watch them fill, watch the rain splash in them. You can say a writer practices being dumb. Only a dummy would stand out in the rain and watch a puddle ... It's your interest in living life again in your writing."

Four -- Have Courage

That means a willingness on your part to gamble, a willingness to give, a willingness to be generous. Annie Dillard says: "One of the few things I know about writing is this. Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time."

Five -- Map It

Know why you're writing and where you're heading. Have a map in your head; then, take the reader to your chosen destination. Show what the map indicates. "This is the great moment," insisted the legendary travel writer Freya Stark, "when you see, however distant, the goal of your wandering. The thing which has been living in your imagination suddenly becomes a part of the tangible world."

Six -- Have a Vision

Have vision, and be willing to share it.

Seven -- Use the Senses

Work at your words and message so that the reader -- through your piece of writing -- gains the ability to see, to hear, to smell, to touch, to taste. Be acutely sensual in your copy.

Eight -- Give Meaning to your Subject

Develop and use a ranging and open mind, this to give meaning to your subject through the right words, the right composition, the right logic.

Nine -- Have Passion

"Be still when you have nothing to say," preached D.H. Lawrence. "When genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot."

The Science

Next, combine the artistic demands with science, in the form of "My Magnificent Seven," seven elements essential for your piece of writing to be successful.

One -- the Lead

Provide an invitation to your reader, an introduction, an overture, a prelude. The opening, beginning, lead is the essential tease, an amalgam of idea, information, method, language, and design that causes the reader to decide, "This is for me. I must go on."

Two -- the Thesis

Follow the lead with a thesis, a succinct passage that tells the reader what the piece of writing is about. This is your pre-planned response to a predictable reader reaction: "You've got my attention. Now, let me in on what, more precisely, you're going to be telling or showing me or doing to me if I go on reading. What's ahead?"

Three --the Purpose

That's purpose, the why for your piece of writing. By disclosing purpose, you're striving to be more specific about what points you're going to make, about what you'll offer in the form of carefully selected substance to support your project. Here, you provide a more extended explanation, beyond thesis, of why the reader should spend time on your work, of what he or she will get out of the reading.

Four -- the Direction

A clear sense of direction because badly designed writing meanders or jumps around or turns jerky, bumpy, seemingly wandering or tread-milling on a communications road ill defined. Call it sequencing. Call it flow. Just let your reader know at every point along the way where he or she is heading.

Five -- the Propulsion

Propulsion: your piece of writing should give the reader a sense of motion, the feel of going forward, of transport, of getting somewhere.

Six --the Climax

Supply climax, one or more. Build toward high points, peaks, capstones, pinnacles, summits, factual resolutions or inspirational culminations. There need to be rises in your copy, climbs in temperature, intensities intensified.

Seven-- the Remembrance

The pleasure of reading becomes more pleasurable if there is recall, if there is something that sticks in the reader's mind or that latches on to the heart. Give the reader something to remember and/or use.

Supply art and science, and if all goes well, there will be results. The reader will likely have rewards:

1. Expectation realized
2. Surprise engendered
3. The benefit of your honesty
4. Your voice to savor
5. New worlds discovered
6. Relevance revealed, and
7. Entertainment.

About that last result, author Michael Chabon explains: "The original sense of the word 'entertainment' is a lovely one of mutual support through intertwining, like a pair of trees grown together, interwoven, each sustaining and bearing up the other. It suggests a kind of midair transfer of strength, contact across a void, like the tangling of cable and steel between two lonely bridgeheads. I can't think of a better approximation of the relation between reader and writer."

There's my summary. You do the filling out.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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