Good Writing Secrets Include Synecdoche, Show Don't Tell, and Musicality

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Good writing should show, not tell, the readers what is happening in the story. A good literary piece includes the technique of synecdoche and musicality.

Good writing is performance excellence. Good Writing shares many commonalities with music. Writing’s uncanny resemblance to playing music owes not so much to the similarities of word sounds and musical notes as to how they are arranged to create order out of seeming randomness, even chaos. Rendition, thus, plays a major role in the sort of par-excellent writing that aspires towards the conditions of music.

Good Writing 101: 1.) Show, Don’t Tell

The first rule of good writing implies that the writer should always consider the reader to be superior in cognitive matters, to be at least as intelligent as the writer himself. “Telling” the reader what he needs to know insults the reader’s intelligence. The last thing a writer wants is to risk losing even one reader. The prudent writer should assume that he is always dealing with experienced and very discriminate readers.

On the other hand, “showing” the reader what the writer means exercises the imagination. It provides the reader the opportunity to participate in, or experience, the story’s twists and turns.

It gives reading satisfaction. Here is an example of the difference between “telling” and “showing”:

Telling ( bad writing ): “One hot evening she went hurriedly to his house on foot…

Showing ( good writing ): “When she at last arrived at his house, she bent her knees to take a few minutes of rest. She winced from the pain from her feet. She cursed the mechanic for failing to deliver her car. She felt relieved as her heartbeat slowed as she gathered her breath. She looked at the full moon. She felt something strange. She wanted to take off her drenched shirt.”

Telling is obviously lazy, unimaginative writing. While showing suggests to the reader that you have taken the time to provide him with the best reading experience possible.

Good Writing 101: 2.) Synecdoche

Synecdoche is a figure of speech that substitutes the part for the whole. “Wheels” means the car. “The hand that feeds” can mean our parents. The “shoulder to cry on” could be a father, a brother or a boyfriend. Poets use synecdoche for economy of words. It is also useful in prose. The technique in using Synecdoche in prose is to describe the crucial detail that will suggest everything else close to it, like background.

For instance, if one describes the smoke that seems suspended in space, and the nose twitching from its smell that seems concentrated, it becomes the synecdoche of a windowless room. Other details the alert reader will imagine—without the writer having described them—include, perhaps, that it is nighttime, and that someone has entered the room with a flashlight to discover the snuffed candles.

The main purpose of synecdoche is to engage the reader, stimulate his imagination. Determining the reader’s participative potential is extremely important in the process of writing. Otherwise why write at all, if there is the tendency for the reader to throw the book away after page two because of, among other things, insipidity and/or boredom?

Good Writing 101: 3.) Aspire Towards the Conditions of Music

How many times has it been said that the virtue of Shakespeare lies in his musicality? Good writing always mirrors the human condition. The human condition always involves the interplay of emotions. Nothing engages emotions better than music.

There are many techniques in writing that give words the ability to acquire musicality. They include assonance, dissonance, consonance, alliteration, rhyme, internal rhyming (within a phrase or sentence) and rhythm. Rhythm is very important for phrases, turns of phrase, sentences and whole paragraphs. The wordsmith can mimic the rhythms of, say, heartbeat, footsteps, the sea’s waves, raindrops on a roof, using the sounds of words.

The skilled writer employs these techniques not only for the basic structures of the line. The writer worth his salt knows that images, symbols, metaphors, the objective-correlative (the chain of events, for instance) that evokes a certain emotion—they too are affected by the literary devices that seem confined to the manipulation of sound in a given text. Images, for instance, must also “rhyme,” or “alliterate,” if the story’s form demands it. That is how musicality is maximized.

Thus good prose writing should engage the reader to participate in the experiences that lead to a given effect. It should stimulate the imagination. Most importantly, it should make the reader not only think deeply, but also feel and experience what it means to be a complete human being again.

1 comment

Colin Dovey
Posted on Dec 14, 2010