June 3, 2009 / Write Away

Taking the lead

Written by Donna Skates

One way for writers to learn style is to mimic the style of professionals. Every writer should have a style notebook and should practice something new either daily or weekly.

I ask writers to find sentences or paragraphs that interest them in some way. Then they follow the same four-step process throughout the notebook. First, cut out the sentence and glue it down. Second, rewrite the sentence word for word to get a feel for the it. Third, try to describe on paper what it was they liked about the sentence. Finally, they use the same style technique, but with subject matter that could relate to a yearbook story.

The following are some examples from a student’s notebook:

1a. The sentence.
Be forewarned: What you are about to read may or may not be real.

1b. Why I liked it?
I liked several things about this sentence. The warning up front caught my interest. I liked the sentence following the colon with the capital letter. I’ve never used a colon that way before. And I liked the repetition of may in the last part.

1c. My sentence.
Get ready: What you are about to do may or may not be dangerous. (This could be used in a story about a sport, a hobby, a part-time job, drugs, alcohol–many possibilities.)

2a. The sentence.
This is the time we live in. Snap decisions. Limited liability and limited loyalty.

2b. Why I liked it?
I liked the intentional fragments. I also liked the repetition of limited and the alliteration.

2c. My sentence.
This is the part-time job I’ve chosen. Little money. Lots of pressure, but lots of love. (This could be used in a story about part-time jobs. This one could be about working in an animal shelter.)

I think this type of exercise really pays off. Almost every student wants to write better, but good writing is so elusive – for them and for me. You know it when you see it, but you cannot always define it. By starting with one sentence at a time, the mystery becomes a little bit less puzzling.

Donna Skates