Friday Fun – Creating Emphasis in Your Writing

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: We recently asked you what questions you’d like answered in our Friday Fun post. Today, we’re answering the following reader question:

FriFunQuestion8

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: Hello, Faye. There are probably dozens of ways to emphasize a particular statement or detail in your writing, and which ones work for you will be a matter of personal style as well as what makes sense in the context of your work. I’m a fan of white space and short, punchy sentences. I like setting important bits off visually by literally putting space around them. For instance, I might give a five-word sentence its own paragraph, leaving blank space above and below it. I also like paring my sentences down to the fewest possible words so that there’s nothing left to cloud my meaning. Simple is often better when you’re trying to make a point, so keeping it short and sweet is a good bet.

You can also use cinematic writing to draw the reader in so that they are able to understand exactly why you are so vehement about a particular point. In your example above, you mentioned that you detest cruelty to animals. Instead of just saying that, describe a scene of cruelty and use all the descriptive powers at your disposal to make the reader see the horror and by seeing it not only understand your passion, but come to adopt it for themselves.

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: This question goes directly to the heart of style, and each writer develops her own, so there is no “right” answer per se, just the best choices that suit the circumstances layered with your voice and personal preference.

Grammatically, “and” is one of seven coordinating conjunctions, used to link equal parts. It’s been said that “and” is one of the hardest words to use effectively. When joining two independent clauses or complicated items in a series, it can be replaced with a semi-colon; or, as Jamie suggests above, when used between two independent clauses, it can be eliminated with a period.

And white space, for emphasis.

As you can imagine, there are whole books about writing effective sentences. Coordinating conjunctions are just one tool; punctuation is another, and word order is a third – of many. You might look at The Harbrace College Handbook or similar manual of style for insights. There are also writers whose prose style can take your breath away, and there’s nothing like reading great prose to learn effective methods. A great example of tremendous writing is The Really Big One by Kathryn Schulz, for which she just won a Pulitzer.

Good luck!

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: I think Jamie and Deborah have great comments. All I can add is, I recently saw a statement  that said that when you use ‘but’ in a sentence, it negates everything that came before it.

So, “I like you, but you make me crazy.” is contradictory and it’s difficult to ascertain which part of the statement is true.

In your example, I’d keep the statements separate (maybe even different paragraphs as they are opposites) so that neither loses its importance.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: Hi Faye! I agree with all of the above advice. The only thing I can add is an element of style I’ve taken from the world of public speaking: Always put the most important part of the sentence at the end. I think, for your purposes, you could end with …”and I detest cruelty to animals.” Keep it clear and declarative. And use lots of white space, as already mentioned. Good luck!

 

7 thoughts on “Friday Fun – Creating Emphasis in Your Writing

  1. A hot topic indeed. Having read the great replies above I reckon I have learnt a lot in this short post. Thank you. I would keep the sentences short and sharp as it depicts strength and urgency.

  2. Emphasis, if one should really wish to make a point, is best made by listening to the sound of each syllable as it falls to the ground, and disappears. Where a comma belongs is sometimes little more than a bit of timing; other times, however, it is about isolating the moment itself and then turning around on the heel of your boot, as it were, and stepping in a counter-clockwise direction.

  3. Thanks all, good reinforcement from this post. I sometimes use some of these without being aware of it – white space, the effect of “but” and putting the strong statement at the end. By the way “The Really Big One” is shockingly effective…

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