August, 2020 by Paul De Goes
As a writer, you may feel strongly about a philosophical, moral, or religious subject (think black lives matter, for instance). It’s natural for you to want to share those feelings with your readers, especially if you’re deliberately attempting to persuade or influence them.
If you want your message to be heard, you need to learn how to share those feelings without alienating your audience. Let’s take a look at a sample from one of my early manuscripts to learn how NOT to share your beloved ideals.
The following is the prologue to an urban fantasy novel.
It is so, that with time, tales become distorted and warped beyond their original meaning. So it is with great attention to detail that I here within do set down, as I was told it, the first Chronicle of the Greyston Family. It is a fact that I was not alive when the events here recorded took place, yet with great time spent in inquiry on my part of those who were, I am reasonably sure of the accuracy involved in the tale that is about to unfold.
As it is unveiled, I believe that you will quickly grasp the true meaning of this story. While not at all feasible in today's world of matter and motion, you will see those things we all recognize and have to deal with on a daily basis. You will witness joy and sorrow, pain and comfort, greed and generosity, heartlessness and selflessness all within the spreading patchwork quilt that is, in fact, all worlds, both yours and Arianors'
With my best wishes,
Nephelius Betara, Scribe.
Where to start? Oh yes, voice, that intangible quality of writing that lets you almost hear—but most definitely feel—the author’s personality.
What’s wrong with the voice? Notice the following lines.
“It is so”
“It is a fact”
“you will quickly grasp”
“the true meaning of this story”
“You will see”
“You will witness”
What single word would you use to describe the way these lines make you feel?
For me, the word would be condescension. These words conjure the image of an unsympathetic lecturer of a hundred-and-eight, waxing eloquent on the chasm between his experience or knowledge and mine..
We are more responsive to persuasion when we can relate to the one persuading us. Your goal should be to establish commonality with your reader, bridge the divide between the two of you. Condescension works in the opposite direction.
Next, let’s look at the language of the piece.
“It is with great attention to detail that I here within do set down”
“the events here recorded”
“the tale that is about to unfold”
“As it is unveiled”
“ the spreading patchwork quilt that is, in fact, all worlds”
High or archaic language has a place, but without great care it comes off as pretentious posturing.
John Owen, the erudite 17th century scholar once said, “Could I possess the tinker’s abilities, please your majesty, I would gladly relinquish all my learning.” The ‘tinker’ in question was none other than the uneducated John Bunyan, writer of The Pilgrim’s Progress, and renowned layman’s preacher.
Simply put, your powers of persuasion are directly tied to how clearly and simply you can present your ideas.
Conversely, the more complex and murky your writing, the less effective you will be.
With these two points in mind, let’s rewrite our specimen piece while attempting to preserve its emphasis on and love for history, accuracy, and metaphor. While we’re at it, we’re going to kill the prologue entirely and turn it into an epigraph because “brevity is the soul of wit.”
“It is a tale passed down for generations. How much is true I cannot say, but many years ago a woman gave her life to pass it on to me. Before I die, I pass it on to you.”
—Nephelius Betara, Scribe
And, just like that, we’ve captured the importance of the story and the earnestness of an ailing scribe. Even more importantly, we’ve given Nephelius Betara a richer, more sympathetic voice that will influence and draw in the reader in a way the original prologue never could.
If you want to share your passionate convictions with your readers, by all means do so, but realize that your effectiveness will be directly tied to:
How deeply you can connect with your reader.
How easy your message is to understand.
About Paul De Goes
Paul is a writer, editor, and aspiring author. He writes science fiction and fantasy novels and raises four children with the help of his amazing wife.
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