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17. Writing

Journalistic writing asks for precision. It’s clear and to the point, because it has no time to waste. It’s easy to understand because everybody must be able to learn from it. But it’s also elegant. It has its own amplitude, and varies with its genre. 

First question : what do I want to say ?

You only write well if you know precisely what you want to write. Whichever your genre of choice, you must stick to the essentials, to a message you’ll highlight straight away, in the very first lines of the text.

For example, for a report : “Caesar came by boat, he’ll go back swimming !” A calm Britanix says so with a smile, as he sharpens his battle-axe in between two cups of tea. The leader of the Briton doesn’t seem quite panicked, even though the Roman legion landed on Dover beach just yesterday. His counter-attack is ready… Caesar doesn’t know it yet, but he’s walking straight into a trap.”

Two basic questions : Who am I telling this, how do I say it ?

  • The journalist writes for a familiar audience. His writing is at the service of his readers. But all newspapers don’t have the same readership. A pro will adapt his writing to meet the needs of his readers. If he’s writing for young reader, he’ll be educationalist : “The army of Roman general Julius Caesar, who just invaded Great Britain, is made up of professional soldiers devoted to their leader, because their pay depends on his victories”. If he’s writing for military experts, he’ll become an expert himself : “Julius Caesar put the vanguard of the ninth legion under the command of Labienus, his first lieutenant, well known for his tactical genius”.
  • The journalist doesn’t write for himself, rather for the others. He’ll adapt his writings to meet the need of his readers, but keeps in mind that he’s writing for each one of them. His writing is simple, understandable to everyone. It’s made up of short sentences, uses the right words, and avoids embellishments. It runs fast. Its tempo is the present tense of the news. Its sobriety is its strength. It gives out lots of information in a few words : “His horse limps. His cloak is muddy, his breastplate covered in blood. He can’t ride anymore. He looks like a ghost. Caesar, wounded, retreats.”

Here’s the key : have fun when writing

Journalistic writing has its code, but it’s far from stereotyped. It’s reflects life in all of its shades. Beginners who think it’s necessary to imitate old timers are making a mistake. Journalistic writing is not formatted. Thank God for the readers ! Else contents would look so alike that reading the newspaper would be a shore. Each journalist must find his style, and develop it, make his writings unique. You’ll get there by taking pleasure in writing every day. It’s about working to make your writing unique, to report on colors, pictures, noises, perfumes in your own way. The journalist learns to write as he breathes by playing with figures of speech, which give life to your reasoning.

Play with words :

  • Find appropriate analogies ! Let your imagination run free and find the good comparisons. An image is worth a thousand words. The Roman legions are walking ? What do they look like, making their way towards London ? The comparison comes to mind straight away : “Caesar’s processional caterpillars are marching towards London.”
  • Personify abstract ideas ! See, walking in Caesar’s footsteps, “Justice pursuing Crime” under the watchful eye of “the wrathful Republic”. But careful : don’t go overkill with the allegories ; they’re the exact opposite of sobriety.
  • Create new types of individuals ! Turn names into common nouns. “Starting today, in Great Britain, you’ll call a hero “a britanix”… and for an unpleasant peacock, “a Caesar” !” 
  • Use euphemisms! Imply more by saying less: “Caesar’s situation isn’t quite imperial…”
  • Practice irony ! Express an idea through its opposite: “This grand slice of Roman civilization, if it keeps on deploying its military genius, will end up taking forced baths…”

Play on words placement : 

  • Pile up the words ! Build gradations : “Goodbye, veals, cows, pigs, Briton wild boards. Such a process makes your writing more nervous.
  • Create repetitions ! Rhythm your text by repeating the last word of a sentence at the beginning of the following one : “There was a legionnaire in the henhouse. The henhouse was quiet.” Or you can repeat the same word at the beginning and in the middle of the same sentence : “The legionnaire was in the henhouse, the legionnaire was famished…” Such a process also allows for editorial digressions : “Since the Briton are outnumbered, since Caesar thinks everything’s allowed, since basic human rights are denied…”
  • Use a “mirror effect”. Write your ending sentence as a parallel to the opener : “His horse is limping… his horse dies”. Or keep it for your last sentence : “Yesterday, his white horse symbolized his glory. Limping, bloody, his dying horse now symbolizes his fall.”
  • Surprise your reader by going against the tide ! Break your sentences construction : “Caesar’s nose, had it been less thin, the whole geography of Gaul would have been turned around.” 

Play with word music : 

  • Build musical harmonies ! Make your sentence rhyme, when the context grants you the right for some eloquence : “The Britons could live in squalor, but they’ll never accept to live without honor.”
  • Sprinkle a little poetry ! Try some alliteration, which consists in repeating the same sound : “It was no mistake that Caesar’s muse was called Cambuse”. Or you can go for some assonance, which consists in repeating the same vowel : “Veni, vidi, vici”, “I came, I saw, I conquered”.
  • Be kinda colloquial. This works for daily life accounts. “G’Day !” ,“G’Nite!”

A good article brings as much pleasure to its writer as to its readers.