There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to write with authentic wit.
Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.
This week’s Study Dude further explores Mastering the Craft of Writing: How to Write With Clarity, Emphasis, & Style by Stephen Wilbers. He’ll teach you the fine line between metaphors and clichés. He’ll also show you the path to your authentic, witty self.
Teetering Between Metaphors and Clichés
What’s a metaphor? Everyone should know. Except me, that is.
Today, in my mailbox, I received a thick book about metaphors by philosopher Paul Ricoeur, a book which covers the meanings and uses of metaphors from antiquity to modern times.
Later in the day, I went shopping. While standing in line at a Starbucks, a sales clerk asked me about the books I’m reading. So, I mentioned several titles, including the metaphor book. Her response? She broke down and confessed that she, too, hadn’t a clue on how to create?or even identify?a metaphor.
You too might benefit from a brush-up on metaphors. Wilbers, unlike Ricoeur, gives a brief overview of not only metaphors, but also clichés (as sometimes a metaphor can morph into a cliché):
– Insert a metaphor and then revisit it near the end of your essay. Popping in an extension of the metaphor at the end of your piece adds character to your writing.
– Sometimes, inserting a metaphor you revisit in your paper adds to continuity.
– When you revisit your metaphor, do so by making a new point or adding extra support for a prior one.
– Use simple and original metaphors.
– Avoid cliché metaphors.
– Sometimes a simple?and brief?cliché might fit your piece, such as “the notion of …. raises a flag.”
– Although critics rant against using clichés, sometimes clichés add value.
– Whatever you do, don’t say “if you will.” Better yet, don’t say, “Whatever you do.”
– Try to create an original metaphor or, at least, modify a cliché one.
– don’t use multiple clichés. They quickly downgrade your writing.
How do you show your genuine self in writing? One way involves crossing out your multisyllabic nouns and replacing them with short lively words.
One writer for the Voice wrote about a traumatic childhood experience where she found herself harassed and ostracized by her schoolmates. In her article, she used simple, one-syllable words I had never seen before to create authority and style in her writing. I found her voice candid?and genuine.
Wilbers says to seek out the person you wish to be and write as if you are that person. I wish to write like the writers of bestselling nonfiction: as an example, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, who co-wrote The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. Another example of an author I wish to imitate is Daniel H. Pink in his bestseller Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. These authors write simplistically?and apply fragments with ease.
I struggle to find my voice in different writings. Recently, in Wilber’s book, I read about using fragments for style. So, I tried it.
Also, Steven Pinker, in his book A Sense of Style, says to go ahead and start a sentence with “and” or “but” if the breakup of an otherwise long sentence makes the paragraph more pleasing to the eye. So, I tried that too.
And, another book whose name I have since forgotten, recommended to repeat information word-for-word for clarity’s sake. I tried that one, too, but to a fault.
In other words, the more you learn about the tricks of writing, the more you can try them out until they gel.
One caveat: avoid using those sentence fragments or sentences beginning with “and” or “but” in academic writing. But, do use them in creative writing.
Wilbers enlightens on how to appear genuine in your writing:
– When you write, imagine a trait that captures your ideal self. Then, write as if you are that ideal self. If you wish to be “witty,” write with humor. If you wish to sound like a critic, give adequate justification for criticisms you make about an author’s work. If you wish to be “philosophical,” reference philosophers and talk about big questions, such as “Why do we exist?” or “What counts as knowledge?”
– If you want to come across as an expert on a subject, use a more authoritative tone. Slip in some big words? but do so sparingly?so that you improve, not detract, from the overall clarity.
– Avoid multisyllabic nouns if you want to sound genuine. Instead, use simpler, punchier words, sprinkling in more short verbs and less long nouns.
– If something you write sounds overdone, rethink how you might say it to a neighbor.
– When you play around with style, you come closer to realizing your true identity.
– Let us know your ideas, your feelings, when you write. Make us laugh. Reveal the magic moments of your life, the life tests of your journey, the epiphanies of your insights?most of all, we want to hear your heart beat throughout the ink on the page.
Some people have the funny gene. I don’t.
I want to learn the art of wit, though. Wit strikes me as the “king” of humor: classy, intelligent, and funny. Yet, if you search the word “wit” on Amazon, you’ll get endless books on how to write comedy. But next-to-nothing on writing with wit.
Yet, I dream doing a live presentation where I leave the audience belly-laughing. Better yet, I dream of writing essays that introduce elements of wit in a highbrow, British way. And now that I’m writing about wit, I’m afraid to say anything funny.
But, you can choose from many different types of humor, not just witty kinds.
Wilbers gives some insight into the basics of writing for laughs:
– When you want to throw in a midsentence punch line, surround the joke with dashes.
– Use light-hearted or dark humor, depending on your personality.
– Use existentialist humor, which pokes fun at the absurdity and meaninglessness of life.
– You can use humor to deliver a serious point you wish to make.
– Paradoxes involve contradictions that bring to light some truth.
– Situational irony occurs when the character has a certain point of view and the reader has a more accurate insight.
– Sarcasm arises when you make fun of someone or insult them. Ridicule is the vilest type of sarcasm.
– Overstatements exaggerate a point.
– Self-deprecating humor occurs when you poke fun at yourself.
– Wit, the granddaddy of humor, “is the clever use of language to produce a comic twist or surprise [where]… there is a sudden shock of delight as the audience grasps the unexpected and often unlikely connection…” (p. 281)
– Puns take words that sound similarly but have different meanings, and makes light of them. Puns often sound like “groaners.”
So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.
Wilbers, Stephen. (2014). Mastering the Craft of Writing: How to Write with Clarity, Emphasis, & Style. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books.