Pump up your prose

Are you old enough to remember Charles Atlas?
It was probably not the name his family gave him but an apt pseudonym for a man who marketed a muscle-building program he called “Dynamic Tension.”
Without weights or other traditional gym equipment, he turned his 90-pound weakling body into a model of muscular magnificence.
I tell you this story as a metaphor for what you might do with the words you choose, those you discard and the results you get.
With this small volume, you will be encouraged to be ruthless with your prose.
Here are several examples of how a few simple, muscular words can touch emotions and reveal visions far better than long passages, no matter how eloquent.
Martin Luther King, Jr., with a lifetime in the pulpit, used 4 words powerfully again and again during his speech at the Lincoln Memorial. As former Times of London editor Harold Evans wrote in Do I Make Myself Clear, Rev. King invoked the cadences of the Old and New Testaments, “I have a dream.”
Abraham Lincoln stirred listeners at the Gettysburg battlegrounds with words today’s Washington bureaucrats seem to have forgotten, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
While waiting for the isolationist United States to join World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill promised America and his own people, “We shall not fail or falter. We shall not weaken or tire.” Then he finished a broadcast heard on both sides of the Atlantic and on Nazi radios, too, with 10 taut words of appeal to America: ”Give us the tools and we will finish the job.”
This is not literary elegance. It is workmanlike. No tears/ No whining.
Not a single wasted word, Evans writes.
Can we pare down our words? You bet. Make your surviving words stronger by paring away weaker ones surrounding them.
Here is an example from a 31-word news story lead, written and edited by professionals at the Washington Post. They should have been mindful of the simple power of words from King, Lincoln and Churchill.
Newly released data from the Drug Enforcement Administration shows a trend in pill distribution that, according to plaintiffs suing the drug industry, can’t be passed off as reasonable therapeutic medical treatment.
Still puzzling that one out? Me, too.
Here is what I suspect they meant to convey to their readers:
Physician pill-pushing can’t be passed off as reasonable pain relief.
That’s what Drug Enforcement Administration data shows and lawsuits against the drug industry claim.
2 paragraphs, 25 simple words, 5 beginning with the letter “p.”
The longest one, “Administration,” has 5 syllables and 14 letters. It was unavoidable in this case as it is in the proper name of the data’s source.
Look at your words. How many can you cut to strengthen the survivors?

10.5 internet posting tips

Getting started in journalism is tough.
You don’t know what you need to know.
Find good mentors and listen to them.
I did and they taught by example and advice.
Now I try to do follow their example.

Some rules have changed, thanks to technology.
Here are 10.5 tips we gave our newspaper intern,
They are for posting on our site and social media.

1. Check news sites Monday – Friday, These include: 
– Print and online newspapers and news services.
– TV and/or local news radio station sites. 
– Your own inbox for news releases 

2. Stories we need to post should have:
– Local people or angles involved.
–  Be of high interest to our readers.

3. Always attribute where the news came from.
-“according to ___”
–  “___ reported.”

4. Write headlines with the names of towns involved:
– “Gaston wife kills unfaithful husband”
– “County team wins Super Bowl”

5. Remember WIIFM (what’s in it for me). 
Always think about what readers need or want:
– To know that will affect their lives.
– That involves local people they may know.

6. Keep sentences short – 15 words on average. 

7. Use active verbs. Forms of “to be” are static.

8. Use simple 1-, 2- and 3-syllable words. 

9. Translate police and governmental jargon.
Use language the rest of us understand. 

10. Keep postings to no more than 150-160 words.
Our audience is made up of busy people.

10.5. Ask if we need a longer story for print.

And when in doubt, ask us for help.

For my Little Red Book of Compelling Writing;
– email JerryBellune@gmail.com.

Make them see, hear, smell and feel

You may find this hard to believe.
Our outdoor writer Cole Stilwell is 16 and a high school student.
I wish I could have written at 16 as well as he does.

Cole’s hiking buddy is his grandfather, Chuck McCurry.
Chuck wrote our popular Church Buzz column.
Writing well must be in their genes.

All of us are pleased by Cole’s progress.
He started with us as an internet intern.
He still posts news on our website and social media.

Recently, Cole wrote about 2 park rangers in nearby Aiken.
Here are 3 suggestions we shared with him that may help you, too.

1. Always get their life stories. 
People like to tell their stories.
Readers like to read them.
Unfortunately, too often no one listens to them.
They are pleased if you take an interest in them.

Our readers would have liked to know, for example:
– How the park rangers picked their careers.
– What it took them to get there.
– What they love about their chosen work.

2. Use the Big Eye, Big Ear approach to reporting. 
Give readers details so they see and hear what you saw and heard.

For example, they would like to have known what it:
– looked like, 
– sounded like, 
– smelled like, 
– even felt like
kayaking down a blackwater river such as the Edisto.

3. Make them see. 
Our journalism colleague Gene Roberts, a Pulitzer Prize winner at the NY Times and Philadelphia Inquirer, started his career working for a blind North Carolina publisher. 
The publisher’s wife read him the stories for each week’s edition.

Gene’s publisher insisted that he “make me see what you saw.”
He even had Gene write “This Week’s Prettiest Sight.”
Gene hated doing it. The guys at the pool hall kidded him about it.
But he learned a valuable lesson in observation and writing.

I hope this helps you as well as Cole. 
Keep watching, listening, feeling – and writing.

PS, Let me recommend Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life.”
It will inspire you as it has done me.
For an exciting chapter from her book, visit
https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/06/24/annie-dillard-dave-rahm/ .

Properly pacing your prose

What did popular newspaper advice columnist Ann Landers and World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle have in common with journalist-turned-novelist Ernest Hemingway and journalist-turned-politician Winston Churchill? She, like they, wrote an average sentence length of 15 words.
Here is her reply to a philandering husband who asked advice on changing wives and merging families:
Time wounds all heels—and you’ll get yours. There are five children involved in your little racetrack romance. Don’t be surprised if you wake up and wish you had your wife and sons back. You are flirting with a muddy track on Black Friday and, the way you’re headed, you will get exactly what you deserve.
Ann wrote four no-nonsense sentences of 56 words. Her longest was 22 unsparing words. She averaged 14 words a sentence.
Here is a brief example of Hemingway at work:
They shot the six cabinet ministers at half-past six in the morning against the wall of a hospital. There were pools of water in the courtyard. There were wet dead leaves on the paving in the courtyard. It rained hard.
Four sentences, 41 words, 10.25 words a sentence.
Note the absence of commas or other forms of punctuation. Only periods. Not all of Hemingway’s writing is this staccato. But he sought an effect. 
Here is a brief example from Winston Churchill:
It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations is an admirable work and I studied it intently. The quotations when engraved upon the memory give you good thoughts.
3 sentences averaging 12.3 words. No commas. Only periods.
Here is Ernie Pyle’s moving account of the death of infantry company commander, Capt. Henry Waskow:
The first one came early in the morning. They slid him down from the mule and stood him on his feet for a moment. In the half-light he might have been merely a sick man standing there, leaning on the others. Then they laid him on the ground in the shadow of the low stone wall alongside the road.
Four sentences, 60 words, 15 a sentence.
Here one of mine in covering a blizzard that trapped hundreds of families in the mountains of western North Carolina.
They could hear the whir of helicopter blades. It came over the ridgeline and hovered over the house. A soldier in parka and boots was lowered with a metal stretcher. His sons helped their crippled father into the stretcher. Then the copter pilot winched them up and soared off into a chill blue sky. 
Five sentences, 55 words, average 11 words a sentence.
Try it. It takes work to pare your sentences down. But the more you do it, the more you are conscious of it. You will begin automatically to pare down your sentences as you write them.
Your readers will love you for it.

My “Little Red Book on Compelling Writing” gives you inspiring tips such as this to enrich your own writing.
For a $9.99 electronic copy for only $4.99, please call Katie with your credit card at 803-359-7633, Monday – Friday, 9 am – 4 pm, or email me at JerryBellune@gmail.com.
This offer expires in 5 days.

Anecdotal lede: Watch for mushroom clouds

I confess to being an advocate of storytelling.
I also favor the anecdotal lede – with caution.
I once taught this to my Seton Hall students, tongue in cheek.
The story is about a Russian nuclear attack:

Mary Jones went to retrieve the morning paper and guess what?
A giant mushroom cloud hung over her neighborhood.
She wondered if it was going to rain.

You may have to overlook my warped sense of humor.

Our friend Denny Hatch is an ace copywriter.
He cautions us to use this technique with grace and style. 
He certainly doesn’t want us to beat it into chopped liver.

“Your 1st 10 words are more important than the next 10,000,” he writes.
“All writers are in the business of selling. 
“Your single objective is to sell the reader in going on to the next sentence, next paragraph, all the way to the end.” 
This is true of every literary form – letter, article or advertisement. 

“The place to start selling is the lede
“What’s a lede
“The introduction to a news article, the first sentence. 
“The ‘lede’ is a deliberate misspelling of ‘lead.’ 
When printing was done with lead type, it prevented confusion.
The lede not only tells what the story is about.
It invites the reader to read further.

Denny believes many of us start by:
• Clearing our throats.
• Rolling up our sleeves.
• Rubbing our hands together.
By then our poor readers have already gone on to Page 2. 
Create a lousy lede and chances are the reader will go no further.

In “Capitol Weekly,” Will Shuck wrote:
“I am sick to death of the anecdotal lede, that annoying habit of news writers to start a straightforward story by painting a quaint little picture.
“If the story is about a bill requiring pet owners to spay or neuter their dogs (just to pick an imaginary example), the anecdotal lead first tells us how much Janey Johnson loves Missy, her cocker spaniel.
“No doubt Janey and Missy are a lovely pair, but a lot of us have jobs and kids and commutes and precious little time to muse about Missy’s reproductive potential.”

My humble advice is to use the anecdotal lede when it makes sense.
Have an exceptionally good one to open your story.
Take a hint from that fabled novelist Snoopy.
He always opened with “It was a dark and stormy night …”
Mine might open with an early morning mushroom cloud.
Pick your own poison.

Advance orders for my $19.99 “Little Red Book of Compelling Writing” are going at a $10 discount – only $9.99.
Get your order in for the eBook today. It will be out in July.
Call Katie at 803-359-7633 or email me at JerryBellune@yahoo.com