Article Writing and "The Writer's Voice."
Hemingway. A Magisterial "Voice."
Article Writing and the “Voice.”
Writing articles, or farticles as we called them in one of my newspapers, can be done in several ways. There is the hot news story, usually followed up by one or more narrative pieces in the days to come, depending on how important the item was. National disasters, for example, usually start small and then spread into thousands - even millions - of words as the press and media arrives at the scene and begin to accumulate material. Witness the Thai tsunami and the Pakistan floods to name but two, the latter still receiving massive press attention and resulting editorial in August 2010.
Then there are first person articles as a result of the writer having lived through an interesting event and she or he wanting to bring it to the readers. If you are unlucky enough to be the queen, or Victoria Beckham, this can be as inconsequential as finding a fly in your soup (actually written about some years ago with regard to the queen mother’s dinner), or, if it’s just you, an event of more import will be needed, such as having just escaped death from a salt-water croc., had your balls removed and eaten in the Amazon, or experienced a night in the sack with Angelina Jolie (or Brad, or better, both), otherwise readers could care less about the unsung and unheralded scribe who found a cockroach in his fish and chips. (unless he ate it and it exited through his left eye!). You get the drift?
Next comes good old general interest pieces, such as happenings in the natural world, usually with some twist to them to capture that ever elusive reader interest. This weary scribe has used many articles on nasty insects to effect in hub pages, for example, garnering no little reader comment. A flip through the magazines on sale at Smith’s or Tesco will soon give you an idea of what’s hot and what’s not in this limitless field. Kids and sex are always popular as well as, frig it, diets! Then there is motoring and travel, well, you get the drift, anything can make up the bones of a general interest farticle as long as it is well written, has some new slants on old ideas (careful, ain’t much really new under the sun).
Articles that will always have a market and a steady readership are of the “how to” persuasion, this is especially true as the recession bites hard and hits our pockets: how to fix your own car, your house, compose your own will, bankruptcy and divorce and the zillion other subjects where money can be saved by doing it yourself. These go hand-in-hand with the “self-help” books and articles and form a huge part of the hits Google and Wiki, etc., get from the public eager to save a bit and occupy their time.
There are many ways to garner reader interest but the most important is to construct an absorbing first paragraph. This is the magic piece of verbiage which will grab the reader and lead him on to subsequent paragraphs and the meat of your story. I am not writing a hub on journalism today, but I will briefly mention the golden rule of a hot news opening paragraph which employs the 5 W’s and the H. This, as I suspect most will know, is the “who, what, where, when, why and how.” If your opening paragraph answers these question, it is accepted journalistic practice - and taught in most schools. You might wish to refer to Kipling’s “The Elephant’s Child” doggerel from his “Just So” stories to see this rule poetically expressed.
It is not so mandatory to use this rule in entertaining, non-news writing, although it is best to keep it hovering around somewhere in the mind. I mean, “The knife came down, there was blood everywhere, the scream was left echoing around as death again claimed it’s victim.” see what happens when the rule is largely ignored? Although - and here’s a tip. This could actually be the leading sentence in paragraph one in a narrative article because is would have the reader begging for the 5 W’s and the H, which would be addressed forthwith in paragraph two, or even a bit later…and who said writing’s not an art?
A thing I believe usually only comes with time and is a result of life’s abrasive effect is your “writer’s voice.” In time, you will either develop one that attracts reader’s, or not. One thing is iron-clad. Without this elusive “voice,” you will not make it as a writer at any level, from newspaper “filler” to writing major works of fiction. In fact, it may be just as important in non-fiction to keep a reader’s interest through often dry editorial. Look at Bill Bryson’s writing, for example, his light and deft humorous touch takes your hand through several tomes on what could be stultifying subjects…he even made Shakespeare’s life come to…life! A writers’ voice, that magic ingredient that charms and attracts the reader, or causes him to heave the treatise into the trash, or save it for the bottom of the budgie cage, contains syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue and humor, among several other ingredients. But that is like saying life is made up of a list of exotic chemicals: it still won’t be “life” until the magic spark is added which makes it begin to live. You will find it difficult to copy another writer’s unique voice. Many have tried to be a Hemingway, a Steinbeck or, indeed, a Grisham or a Kellerman, to name just a few. They might even be able to produce a credible plot and characters, but they won’t be best- sellers unless (as often happens!) a top author takes their manuscript and adds “the voice” that has sold a million copies. In the case of "Papa" Hemingway, his terse, spare style was engendered by his years as a reporter and war correspondent. Like the best poetry, perhaps some of the best prose follows the dictum of using as few words as possible to make your point. I personally believe a little dolling-up doesn't hurt - that's why Hemingway made the big bucks and I didn't, perhaps.
It ain’t new, but if you want to be a writer, WRITE! Pick on something you know and see how your experiences look on the page. Would-be writers have so many opportunities to be published today with the internet. When this scribe first started to write magazine articles 30 years ago, I had to type them on a manual, edit and edit again and then type the manuscript-ready copy to send the editor, Big expense in paper, ribbons, envelopes and postage…and frustration as they all came back rejected for one reason or another. A few were published, but I finally gave up, too hard for me, and took a job in a newspaper. But you!!! Good lawd, just join Hubpages and contribute. OK, there’s not much money in it for most (me included, I‘m just an old fart filling in the unforgiving minute with…farticles, what else?), but, writer, hey, you are writing, and receiving critique as you gain followers and comments.
When you do feel confident you have this “voice,” you can venture further afield: it’s not going to be easy to get into newspapers and magazines; it never was and it’s much worse today. You might attempt a small book and self-publish: not looked down upon today, many do it and it’s so hard to break through the “catch 22” of being accepted by an established royalty publishing house - you have to have been published for them to be interested, unless, shamefully, you are Rooney or Beckham, (two numb-skulls who have no voice or writing ability but allow their names to be added to ghost-written bios which idiots buy because they are nauseating “celebrities!”). Perhaps there exists a “soccer voice,” written by a well-rounded gas-bag! (Please note: I published 3 small books in 2006 which are still selling. The thief who published them, Rosalind Franklin of Diggory Press, kept - and still keeps - all the money, so do take care in “RIB!”).
Last word. The old saw of “what is black and white and red all over,” the newspaper, should also say, “and is immediately forgotten!” Unless you write “War and Peace,” (easier than reading the damn thing), however enamored you may be with your literary efforts, they represent no more than a few minutes mild diversion to your readers who are busy most of the time “getting a life.” In fact, you will get far more out of researching them and writing them. But with today’s internet set-up, your piece will stand and may be returned-to, time and time again, as the busy spiders pick them up and other casual users are attracted by (and don’t forget!) Your catchy title! See ya soon…Bob