The Leading Hook: Engaging Reader Interest

Most writers will agree that summarising the theme of your story, whether you’re writing a feature article, or an executive summary in a proposal, is central to orientating the reader, and creating great expectations on what’s to follow…

You’ve jotted down your main points. Check.

You’ve ordered your points into a coherent, and logical structure. Check.

You’ve reviewed your main points to see if any are ‘off message’ or irrelevant to your story. Check.

I have always said, that getting the structure of your story in place first, is the most time consuming and often frustrating part. Once this is well-ordered, the writing should flow.

Now, how to get started? Once your structure is in place, it’s always important to introduce your theme to the reader to set the expectation. Most people are time poor, or easily lose interest, so getting the summary right, will determine whether your audience will stay the course.

The easiest way to write a great summary is to write it as you would speak it first. Listen to the words in your head, write it down and then say it out loud, as if you were speaking to your audience.  Writing your summary in a conversational-style will help illustrate your story – which allows the audience to think in pictures.

Prose that sounds human, especially in the English language, gives sentences a natural rhythm. The sense that there is a distinctive human voice behind the words, creates intimacy – which is the key to engaging your reader’s interest. Avoid abstract nouns and passive voice. Always write in an active voice, to keep the story moving past the summary to the juicy bits of your story. A way to do this is to use active verbs with objects.

Once you’ve written your summary, go back over it to check for any words that may jar the reader’s ear. Remove any awkward words. The best way to make your summary sound like honey, is to use narrative devices such as consonance and assonance – subtle rhyming sounds, keep the reader in the dream – which is what the writer wants – particularly if the intention of your story is to persuade your audience.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

The Corporate Circus: Walking the Tightrope between Private and Public Consequence

Given the recent ethical and moral quagmire the VW Scandal and 7-Eleven companies have been embroiled in, an old colleague wrote an excellent article on encouraging collaborative leadership internally, as well as partnering with external NGO or Public Sector organisations’ dealing with congruent issues – to seek new perspectives on ethically problematic situations.

My colleague’s article reminded me of a situation, a couple of years ago, when I developed and delivered Probity and Ethics training over a few months for a major utility company – as part of good governance for its community relations program. What struck me during this process, was how little – across a very diagonal chain of command – colleagues knew how to methodically work through a process of moral reasoning – to arrive at a morally, and ethically, acceptable outcome both personally, and on an organisational level.

Regardless of who we are, or what our position, everyone, at some point in their career, will be confronted with a Moral Quandary.

In essence, a Moral Quandary is when we are faced with two or more competing right things to choose from.

What arises from a quandary, are Moral Dilemmas.

At this point, it can be very easy to knee-jerk into a foetal position and understandably, react the way most people do – which is to protect and defend oneself, and one’s position – especially when a situation threatens a person’s livelihood or standing – regardless of the public consequence.

Taking time to methodically work through different Moral Dilemmas – as a process of elimination to arrive at a decision to take action or take no action (deciding to do nothing is also an action!) means that when an organisation or an individual is called to account – they should be able to adequately demonstrate, and most importantly, be accountable, for the decision which they arrived at.

Broadly, Moral Dilemmas may include –

  • Truth vs loyalty
  • Individual vs community
  • Short-term vs long-term
  • Justice vs mercy

By considering all the facts at hand, and holding our moral quandary under every potential, competing dilemma, we can work through a dialectic process to arrive at a decision that we can personally live with.  In doing so, we are forced to ask ourselves hard questions such as:

  • Am I compromising too easily or too soon to avoid trouble?
  • Is my integrity threatened? Where do I draw the line?
  • Am I being hypocritical?
  • Have I reached a balance between my personal convictions and the facts at hand?

Unfortunately, most corporates think posting a Code of Conduct on the Noticeboard, and handing it out at inductions should absolve them of future gross misconduct by employees.

The reality however, is that a Code of Conduct is really just a set of agreed rules for a group of individuals to defer to when all else fails. It is a necessarily minimal requirement, which is prescriptive and without compromise. It we are truthful, we must acknowledge that this is not really a true reflection of how we live and interact with the world.

Indeed, in the case of 7-Eleven and VW, their leaders, who are meant to endorse and disseminate their company’s Code of Conduct, miserably failed in its application.

Corporations that genuinely desire innovation and personal accountability must invest in proper ethical training, whereby individuals are encouraged to exercise professional judgement and to never just defer to minimal requirements.  Paradoxically, by taking applied ethics seriously, an organisation is protected from a culture of compliance, whereby colleagues (across all levels) just follow instructions, regardless of common sense or personal discretion – which inevitably always leads to disastrous outcomes, and the VW and 7-Eleven scandals are sober examples of this.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

 

 

 

Narrative Voices – To Third or Not to First Person?

Right. You’ve done your research, plotted your story, given your characters a back story, meaning and a sweet smile. Now all you have to do is make a decision on how you’re going to write your characters to life on a page.

The most common way to approach a story – in any medium (e.g. feature article, film, novel etc) is a combination of third and first person.

While in the heat of the creative process, you may not be thinking “here I will write first person, there third…” there is process – a negotiation, or continual compensation, artists make, to best express what one’s trying to say, or to what effect or response, you’re trying to elicit from your audience.

Being aware of this process bubbling away in the background, does help the writer to make better narrative choices, which ultimately improves the quality of your writing.

Third Person, helps to set the scene, give context to a situation, and positions the audience.

First Person, creates intimacy, likeability or detestability (depending on your character), and it helps the audience to engage with, and ultimately – care about your character and what happens to them.

The challenge for the writer is in striking a balance between the two narrative voices. Overuse of Third Person, can sometimes lead to too much exposition – which is just lazy writing. Underuse of it can result in disorientation for the audience and, lack of context results in shallow characters…

Overuse of First Person is equally slippery; too much dialogue turns into fractured monologues and we’re likely to fall asleep…too little First Person point of view makes it hard to empathise and care about the character’s personality.

When writing, think about the images / scene in your head as if you’re watching a film. A good Director will know when a close up shot is needed here, or a panoramic shot is required over there. Changing point of views, all helps to create a textually rich experience for the viewer – and these creative decisions are no different when putting pen to paper.

Till next time crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Psst! Writing in Second Person is unusual in narration – unless you’re writing on behalf of a Corporate Institution – where both the individual and organisation try to impress a denial of culpability (some vague ‘we’ is tossed about the page)… The only other scenario where Second Person is acceptable is in a collaborative piece.

Secrets to Writing a High Distinction Essay

For many professionals, grappling with full-time work and post-graduate education is now the norm. Between work and family commitments, it can be fair to assume that when it comes to finding time to write an essay, there is little joy in the process – the reality is that the best thing about writing an essay is finishing it.

For those who are time poor, I have outlined a methodology which I have refined (after years of study) to get your essay finished as soon as possible and, to help promote your essay from a Pass to a High Distinction! No thanks is necessary – just make yo’ momma proud!

Method before you start writing

  1. Before you commit to a thesis/position, do your research first. This will help with new ideas, which in turn, will help you formulate a clearer position/response to the essay question
  2. Make sure your position directly answers the essay question before you start writing
  3. Locate your sources. Only use academic sources (credible sources are considered those that are published by University Press or known academic publishing houses (e.g. Allen & Unwin etc)
  4. Copy all the extracts you want to use to support your thesis onto one document
  5. Arrange/chunk the extracts according to theme
  6. Write a bullet point outline of your essay to help you orientate your thinking and order your argument logically and sequentially. The structure of your essay should start with (a) Your thesis/claim (b) two or three paragraph summary on how you will support your claim (i.e. sources, argument and counter-arguments) (c) logically ordered body of evidence (d) any counter arguments (e) Leave the broader implications/outcomes/unanswered questions your essay evokes to your conclusion – this helps you tie your ending back to your thesis (i.e. thesis + antithesis = synthesis).

You’re now ready to start writing!

Method when writing

  1. To demonstrate a good understanding of your thesis/position and provide substantial evidence to support your position, try to find as many examples through different modes of expression to give further weight to your claim i.e. setting, language, narrative device, imagery, symbolism etc.
  2. Never use general, blanket statements in an essay e.g. “Everyone knows that…” or “It is true that…” or “some people say…”
  3. Never write in absolutes – instead, use transitional or connective words/phrases such as: suggests, argues, posits, claims, presents us with, we may assume, accordingly, consequently, considering, as a result etc…
  4. Always write in the third person, past tense in essays, unless otherwise stated.
  5. For citations, always reference the source according to Harvard convention unless otherwise stated
  6. Always make sure you directly answer the essay question. Do not talk about related ideas or periphery associations – it dilutes your claim and is not the central focus
  7. Use other perspectives to find a ‘counter-argument’ and discuss this to show you have considered the subject matter in-depth.
  8. After you have finished your essay, walk away. Re-read your assignment question and then go through your essay again to make sure you have addressed all of the essay question criteria in your essay.
  9. Always read your essay aloud so you can self-correct any syntax/spelling/punctuation errors. These are ‘easy marks’ so it is a shame to lose points on these grounds!

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Psst! The essay form has been around since the seventeenth century (e.g. Thomas Browne and Cowley’s essays). However, it wasn’t until Charles Lamb (1775-1834), whom is considered an early master of the genre, that the essay form crystalized as a genre in its own right. His famous ‘Dissertation Upon Roast Pig’ is a fine example for those whom are interested in solid argumentation laced with mock seriousness!

An Important Distinction: O or Oh?

No doubt, fellow compositors, one of life’s little crackers that may or may not have baked your noodle will be answered for you today – When do you write O or Oh? Sit back, and watch me try to make this little ditty as interesting as finding a pineapple in your sock drawer.

Use an ‘O’ when you are forming a vocative i.e. addressing or invoking a person or thing, and, when it is closely associated with the noun or thing. It should not separated by punctuation. For example:

“O Mighty Putin!”

“O for the wing of a fried chicken!”

“O Palmer loyal friend of China!”

Use ‘Oh’ as an independent exclamation, which is followed by a comma or exclamation mark. For example:

“Oh! It wasn’t me!”

“Oh…that’s not mine.”

“Oh, when is the boss coming back?”

Till next time, crack some queer whids!

WordSmith Jo

To Hyphen or not to Hyphen?

According to Harts Rules, the Hyphen is used in compounds used attributively, to clarify the unification of the sense, (Oxford University Press).

Put simply, what my good mate Harts is trying to say, is that when an adverb is used to qualify an adjective and the meaning or sense of the compound is obvious, it is not necessary to hyphen e.g. ‘a beautifully furnished house’.

However, where the sense of the adverb may not immediately be understood, and, it forms a single concept with the adjective, a hyphen should be used e.g. ‘She is a well-known clown’ or ‘It’s a new-found mole’.

Where a noun and an adjective or vice versa are used attributively in combination, the hyphen should also be used e.g. ‘come meet my poverty-stricken family’. Hmm, he sounds like a catch ladies!

Till next time, crack a whid!

WordSmith Jo