Improve Your Writing by Style-Reading
Probably the best way to improve your writing skills is to style-read - read slowly noticing use of language rather than just taking in the content. This article shows you how.
Probably the best way to improve your writing skills is to style-read. When I say ‘style-read’, I mean read slowly noticing use of language rather than just taking in the content. Look at punctuation, repetition and avoidance of it, choice of words, imagery and the rhythm of the sentences. Linger on any phrase that creates more in your mind than the individual words actually say.
I quote below part of an article by Robert Fisk from the front page of today’s Independent. He is a bold and interesting writer whose words have a powerful impact on me not only because of his extraordinary knowledge of the Middle East.
For an introduction to style-reading, look at the article and at my commentary. As always, I am interested in your comments.
An extract from an article with style comments
In the centre of the rebuilt Beirut, the massive old Maronite Cathedral of St George stands beside the even larger mass of the new Mohammad al-Amin mosque. (Massive and mass; cathedral and mosque – you have a visual image to set the scene.)
The mosque's minarets tower over the cathedral, but the Maronites built a spanking new archbishop's house between the two buildings as compensation.(Use of but – many people avoid it because of a vague notion that it is negative. If this includes you, pay attention every time you see it until you appreciate this valuable little conjunction).
Yet every day, the two calls to prayer – the clanging of church bells and the wailing of the muezzin – beat an infernal percussion across the city. (Muezzin – Fisk uses words that his readers may not know and he doesn’t explain them. That would be boring and unnecessary. He uses them in a context that allows us to understand them perfectly, and thus increases our vocabulary.)
Both bells and wails are tape recordings, but they have been turned up to the highest decibel pitch to outdo each other, louder than an aircraft's roar, almost as crazed as the nightclub music from Gemmayzeh across the square. (The aircraft and the nightclub are sounds in our heads that we can use to imagine the volume and intensity of the calls to prayer. Were you surprised that they are tape recordings?)
But the Christians are leaving. (Ponder for the moment on the power of the short sentence.)
Across the Middle East, it is the same story of despairing – sometimes frightened – Christian minorities, and of an exodus that reaches almost Biblical proportions.(Takes us from the detail of a single square in Bierut to the big picture of Middle Eastern religious conflict.)
Almost half of Iraq's Christians have fled their country since the first Gulf War in 1991, most of them after the 2004 invasion – a weird tribute to the self-proclaimed Christian faith of the two Bush presidents who went to war with Iraq – and stand now at 550,000, scarcely 3 per cent of the population. (This is a 54 word sentence. I avoid any as long as this in my writing but you should make your mind up for yourself. Can you read it easily or are you going to make a note to yourself never to write sentences more than two lines long? If you do find that you can read it, how did Fisk help you?)
More than half of Lebanon's Christians now live outside their country. (This short, simple sentence is needed after the long complex one we have just read.)
Once a majority, the nation's one and a half million Christians, most of them Maronite Catholics, comprise perhaps 35 per cent of the Lebanese. Egypt's Coptic Christians – there are at most around eight million – now represent less than 10 per cent of the population. (We begin to get a picture of the fragmentation of the Christian population. Notice that in a sentence it is normally correct to write 35 per cent rather than 35%.)
This is, however, not so much a flight of fear, more a chronicle of a death foretold. (This powerful negative removes the idea you had of fear and replaces it with certainty. Use negatives sparingly and carefully but notice the interesting effects they can have.)
Christians are being outbred by the majority Muslim populations in their countries and they are almost hopelessly divided. In Jerusalem, there are 13 different Christian churches and three patriarchs. (I find that outbred carries a lot of weight here. My mind creates a steady, unstoppable rising tide which will inevitably drown the disparate Christian factions.)
A Muslim holds the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to prevent Armenian and Orthodox priests fighting each other at Easter. (Great little story – only 23 words – but what a message!)
This is not the end of Robert Fisk’s article. To read the rest (and avoid distracting commentary), visit the Independent online.