L.A. Kennedy

Beyond the story

Peter Cole

Competent, effective, functional, engaging journalistic writing can be learnt, and some advice has been provided in this online series. Brilliant writing for newspapers has a plus factor which is hard to define and is not achieved by many. It comes down to style. Keith Waterhouse puts it this way: “What is this style? Why do some stories have it and others not? It would be fruitless to try to define it – as Fats Waller said when asked for a definition of jazz, ‘Lady, if you have to ask, I can’t tell you.’ Obviously it demands flair, plus professionalism – two commodities that have never been in short supply in popular journalism. It demands experience, a quality that can be taken for granted in Fleet Street. For the rest, it consists simply of choosing a handful of words from the half million or so samples available, and arranging them in the best order.”

Penultimate word to David Randall, whose Universal Journalist provides so much easily absorbed advice for the aspiring writer of journalism: “The pleasures of capturing something and pinning it down in words, your words, are immense. So too is the thrill of starting a piece with an assortment of disparate information and finding a pattern in it and new ideas about it as you write.”

Last word to a much admired writer, who practises (daily in his parliamentary sketch) what he preaches, Simon Hoggart. Giving his own advice on writing in Writer’s Market UK 2009, he says: “My advice would be to keep it simple. Dr Johnson said, about re-reading something you’ve written, ‘Wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.’ He was spot on. There is no substitute for clear, direct, straightforward writing. If you are Martin Amis you can get away with elaborate, stylised prose. If you aren’t, you can’t. The best journalism sounds like someone talking directly to you. It’s not a school essay, so you don’t need to begin with a long and ponderous introduction.”

Hoggart provided two examples:

“Wrong: ‘Philately has been described as the hobby for people who are too boring to be interested in beer mats. That is as may be. For me, it has always provided an agreeable and absorbing diversion.’

“Right: ‘It was a second-hand shop in St Ives. I was leafing through the box of old postcards, and there it was: a 1932 Nyasaland Protectorate 2d yellow – without perforations. I thought my heart would stop … ‘”

Write on!

One thought on “How to Write: Style

  1. Loved the example at the end. It instantly gave me a good demonstration of the dos and don’ts of jazzing up your prose. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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