If you’re anything like me, you keep buying new writing books, hoping THIS one will provide the magic key and unlock the door to those powerful stories you know are brewing inside. It’s rather like buying new makeup in the hopes it’ll make you prettier. The latest cosmetics might make slight changes, but the face staring back in the mirror is still the same one.
So what besides plastic surgery (or manuscript surgery) will effect wholesale changes in the way you look (or write)? In writing I believe these changes come about gradually, slowly, and often imperceptibly. After each seminar, book, or critique, I gain new insights. Over time, these accumulate until they become part of my writer’s repertoire.
One day all of these bits of wisdom become so ingrained that they flow naturally. I’m starting to get to that place, but still have a long way to go. Recently, I was excited to read about some tricks for the writer’s toolbox in Word Magic for Writers by Cindy Rogers. Actually, they weren’t new, but it was cool to learn the official names for techniques I already use instinctively.
For example, asyndeton is a list with only commas, with no conjunction. Rogers makes the point that lists like this not only emphasize, but also indicate that the list is ongoing.
Aha! A light bulb went off.
I have a critique partner who likes to make lists like this, but I often insert “and” instinctively. Now I know why. She’s using the technique incorrectly. Her lists aren’t ongoing, nor do they need to be emphasized. She’ll often do it for mundane, unimportant details, yet skip it when it might serve to emphasize a more important list.
Creating a list without using a comma says “Look at me. Pay attention.” Sometimes it feels like literary pretension. And doing it too frequently spoils the effect. It’s like a dash of salt–perfect in tiny amounts, overwhelming if overused.