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Dramatizing Your Ideas 101Excerpted from Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing 3rdedition by John R. Trimble Prentice-Hall 2011 10 ~ Dramatizing Your Ideas My first newspaper city editor gave me a piece of advice that I have always remembered: "When you write a page of copy, kid,” he said, "take it out of your typewriter and read it over. If any part of it bores you, then God only knows it's going to bore the reader. ~Tommy Thompson, author of Blood and Money Being, like all those who have worked in Hollywood, some-what of a connoisseur of the damp fart, I place Mr. [Edmund] Wilson high on the list. His careful and pedestrian and some-times rather intelligent book reviews misguide one into think-ing there is something in his head besides mucilage. There is-n't. ~Raymond Chandler, author of Farewell, My Lovely andThe Big Sleep f you survived that high-school initiation rite known as the "Five-Paragraph Theme," you probably learned to view form rather me-chanically as a rigid organizing structure into which you dutifully slotted your ideas. But for pros and accomplished amateurs alike, form is happily a good deal more creative. They've learned to think of it as artful presen-tation. Thus understood, it actually can involve just about everything on the page: punctuation, layout, word choice, phrasing, sentence structure, paragraphing, plotline—even the content itself, which can be signifi-cantly reshaped in myriad ways, one being by tough-love cutting. (Pros can it “murdering your darlings.”) And these elements, it turns out, carry I
Dramatizing Your Ideas 102 rhetorical potential. That is, they can help create desired effects in the reader. And what is the chief such effect? For me, and probably for you as well, it’s pleasure. No one voluntarily reads for long without pleas-ure. But no one writes for long without it, either. So achieving artful presentation proves as important to writers as to readers. One pro who thought a lot about artful presentation was Barbara Tuchman, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction until her death in 1989, the country's premier popular historian. Her book Practicing History opens with an amusing account of how, years before, she'd botched her maiden attempt at history writing—her under-graduate honors thesis at Radcliffe. “The experience was terrible,” she recalls, “because I could not make the piece sound, or rather read, the way I wanted it to. The writing fell so far short of the ideas. . . . I fin-ished it, dissatisfied. So was the department: ‘Style undistinguished,’ it noted.” Translation: You bored us. But being a plucky 20-year-old, she refused to quit writing. In-stead, she boldly chose journalism as a career, thinking it would give her useful training. Eventually feeling more secure as a writer, she bade farewell to journalism and resumed "practicing history" in earnest.