Tessa Schlesinger has been a writer since birth. She was published early, is opinionated, and, in her 7th decade, still continues to write.
Ernest Hemingway Was a Powerful Writer
Ernest Hemingway was a powerful writer—yet his prose was simple. The essence of powerful writing is that once the reader has left the page, the meaning and the story lingers on long afterwards.
Powerful writing comprises several elements—command of language, clarity of meaning, rhythm, and above all, powerful insight.
What Does It Mean to Have a Good Command of Language?
How you are able to express yourself is dependent on the extent of your vocabulary and your understanding of grammar and structure. The English language has somewhere between 170,000 and 180,000 words depending on which dictionary you use.
In order to have sufficient words at your disposal, you should know at least 25,000 words. The best way to learn is to start reading a dictionary. Also, as a small child, I was taught to look up every word in the dictionary if I did not know the meaning of it. So, even to this day, if I come across a word in a book that I do not understand, I refer to a dictionary immediately.
A good writer never uses the same word more than once or twice in an article, and if it is a long book, it should be at least two or three pages apart. So if your character is jumping over hoops, the first time you might use the word ‘jump.’ The second time it would be ‘leaped’ and, perhaps, the third time, it would be ‘hopped.’ In years gone by, when SEO demanded that we use the same words repeatedly in order to establish keywords, writing was horrendous. Thankfully, Google now has a policy that we are to use related words with the same meaning. This means we have no more reason not to use our expansive vocabularies.
There is another reason, though, for having many more words at one’s finger-tips. Sometimes it makes a sentence very bulky if you have to explain a concept. So, for instance, rather than explaining that someone had a very good feeling about someone else’s misfortune, you would simply state that he had a sense of schadenfreude.
Grammar, spelling, and structure are vital to being able to manipulate meaning and mood when writing. Fewer and fewer people realize the power of grammar. Grammar is the cornerstone of good writing and the cherry on top for powerful writing. Using ellipsis indiscriminately, not inserting commas where there is a natural pause, eliminating periods, or simply spelling incorrectly removes power from your narrative.
The Importance of Clarity of Meaning
Writing cannot be powerful if it is not understood by the reader. This means that the choice of words must be kept to a reasonably elemental level and not confound those who do not have a Ph.D in English.
I love Hemingway for the simple reason that he uses language so simply! If you are a sesquipedalian writer, you may well come across as pretentious but, in addition, your reader will also put down your book!
The trick to meaning is understanding. That’s not as easy as it looks. Einstein once said something to the effect that if you couldn’t explain something so that an idiot could understand it, it meant you didn’t understand it sufficiently well. So if you are battling to put something into words, you need to do some more thinking about what it is you want to say.
Learn About Ernest Hemingway
The Importance of Rhythm in Writing
Many writers, while grammatically correct and content perfect, have no understanding of rhythm. They cannot quite figure what is wrong with their writing and are constantly seeking to improve it. Yet not many can assist them because the area is not often spoken about.
This is where rhythm comes in. The ear has a natural inclination to gravitate towards rhythm in sound. The more rhythmic a sentence or paragraph, the more pleasing it is to the ear. While prose does not need to rhyme, it does need a particular variation in length of words and sentence in order to be pleasing. Some words are better in a particular sentence than others.
Some degree of rhythm can be learnt, the rest was either acquired through reading from a sufficiently early age, or it’s unlikely that it is achieved later in life. Here’s what you can learn:
When writing, vary the lengths of your sentences. Make one sentence four words long and the next one twelve words long. The one after that would be eighteen words long, and the one following would be seven words long. This paces your writing and makes it easier to read.
Those who persist in writing over long sentences with multi-polysyllable words are doomed to have their work unread. It slows down the pace of reading and is difficult to understand. In the same way, consistently writing short sentences increases the pace of reading. It is, however, unpleasant to read it because it gives a jerky effect.
Powerful Insights: Think Don't Feel
There are those in life who base their decisions on rational analysis of factual information and there are those who base their decisions on their feelings and intuition. The former are thinkers and the latter are feelers.
Writers are thinkers. Being able to explain something in depth is a result of rational analysis, and it is this explanation which stirs the feelings of his readers. Feelers, however, frustrate readers. Saying something like “He felt awful” does not make the reader feel awful. On the other hand, saying something like “Jane felt herself toppling off the platform. As she did so, she heard the train coming and knew that there would be no more tomorrows. She thought of the baby she was leaving behind.” It is description of events that makes the reader feel—not the description of their feelings.
Now to take that one step further—the insights that are rare and revealing. When you explain something that people accept but have never really thought about, you bring insight. Insight adds power to writing. As I’ve made my admiration of Hemingway’s writing known, I’m going to quote to you one of his insights as an example: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self.”
Now you’re going to remember that, aren’t you? That’s because it gave you a piece of information that you had never thought about before, plus, of course, it was very simply put. That’s the power of good writing.
Becoming a Powerful Writer
If you are going to be a writer, there is no reason why you wouldn’t stretch to become a powerful writer. Writers already tend to be grammatically correct. Some have greater vocabularies than others, but those who are limited can easily increase their vocabulary by simply learning ten new words from a dictionary every day and trying them in new sentences. Those who are thinkers will already be accustomed to analyzing all things without involving their own feelings. The more we think, the more insights we have. Powerful writing is the result of deep insights clearly expressed in a rhythmic way.
© 2017 Tessa Schlesinger
RedElf from Canada on April 17, 2018:
Much food for thought. Many thanks
Kathy Burton from Florida on February 17, 2018:
Thanks for the hub. The first thing I am going to do since reading this hub is go back to an article I have in draft and see if I can't vary the sentence structure more. Maybe that will make me happier with it. I think I will be reading this hub more than once.
Gary Mark Levin on July 05, 2017:
I enjoyed your article and the video about Hemingway. I have read some of his books years ago. Time to do a refresh ! Lots of time to read once again.
James Ross on May 26, 2017:
As always, knowledgeable and sensible. I can almost forgive you for intimating that I had no business philosophizing about talent since I didn't have any. (Not to worry, my work on display had a lot to answer for, not the least of which is my churlish tendency to show unpolished work around.)
As I consider the comments about rhythm, I note that I have stubbornly refused to consider it. I would speculate that it is not us early readers, but the listeners who have the overall advantage—but only if they can gather the wherewithal to focus their inner ear on their work.
Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 13, 2017:
Some good and sensible advice here.