Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Note To All Writers - Making Your Writing Come Alive

Before I delve into the topic I’ve chosen to write about, I have to make a confession; I’m something of a traditionalist where grammar is concerned.  I find many of today’s coined words, phrases, and expressions empty of meaning and disruptive of the flow of comprehension when I try to read.  The doublespeak of a lot of communication, especially government communication, leaves me cold.
Now, that I have that off my chest, let’s talk about verbification and some of the other grammatical and linguistic conventions that we modern folk seem so enamored of.
What the heck is Verbification?
Verbification, or the process of converting words from one form to another, is a time-honored tradition.  It can be used to express simply what might otherwise take many words.  It is also sometimes a form of wordplay for amusement, as in Shakespeare’s King Richard, when the Duke of York says, “Grace me no graces, and uncle me no uncles.”
Now, that’s a funny phrase, but sometimes, it gets out of hand. Converting nouns to verbs does not always lead to clarity in communication.  Take the following sentence, for example:  “Let’s diarize the outcome of today’s meeting and interface tomorrow so that we can operationalize it.”
Does this make sense to you?  Perhaps after a second or third reading you might get it, but why bother.  Why not go for something simple:  “Let’s record the results of today’s meeting, and meet again tomorrow so that we can implement our plans.”  Isn’t this version better?  If you’re a traditionalist like me, it is.  The first sentence is what you are likely to read or hear in a bureaucratic setting, and while we become accustomed to such forms after a while, I prefer the simple statement. 
An Appeal for Simple, Clear English
I haven’t really figured out the attraction that some people have for inventing new words.  Take ‘dialogue’ for instance.  A perfectly nice noun that some people insist on using as a verb, as in the sentence, “Let’s dialogue on the issue.”  What’s wrong with ‘talk,’ pray tell?
In writing, verbs are the strongest words; the fuel of writing.  They give your writing, fiction or nonfiction, power and impact, and make it more interesting. They do, that is, until you start mucking around with converting nouns to verb, and then they add so much fog to what you write, you risk losing your readers.  Which brings me to another peeve of mine; the practice of turning verbs into nouns; for example, “Let’s conduct a review of the department’s plan for crisis management.”  In this case, the verb ‘review’ has been converted to a noun, and hidden in the sentence, leaving it with far less impact than “Let’s review the department’s plan for crisis management.”
When we convert verbs into nouns, we often need extra verbs in order for our sentence to make sense; turning a simple, short sentence into a rambling collection of words that can, if we’re not extremely careful, lead our readers astray.
None of this is meant to say that we, as writers, should never do this.  Shakespeare did it, and to great advantage.  It is a tradition that dates back to the beginning of the English language in fact.  In fiction, these forms can be used to delineate our characters and make them distinctive; it can add interesting color to what we write.  But, in nonfiction, where we’re striving for maximum understanding, my advice; my plea; is that we proceed cautiously – and, you’ll note here I didn’t say ‘proceed with caution.”  Try to write so that your words ‘live’ on the page; so that they jump out at your readers and engrave themselves in their minds.  Your readers will thank you for it.