Saturday, December 10, 2016

Make Writing Interesting

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen

Way back yonder, in days of old when nights were cold, I wanted to be a science fiction writer, and took courses on writing. These included college nonfiction writing, and a required course on speechifying (even in 1980, I was speaking out against falsehoods in evolution). One simple thing that stuck with me was to write as if your audience was about 13 years old. (I think one of the creationist sites I read has a general style guide, when not doing hardcore science, to write as if the readers were precocious teenagers.) This seemed like a good approach when attempting to inform people. Then I'd go to my next class and wade through a textbook that was "written at a college sophomore level". Seemed like a contradiction to me.

Unfortunately, the classes on writing do not work in this medium. Online articles have different criteria because people have not only demands on their time, but often have short attention spans. Part of the problem with short attention spans is social media. You'll see what I mean if you study on that.

Many things that I have read, and still read, are desert-sand dry and tedious. Others are cute and funny, but become distracting, and it's easy to miss the point of what the author is trying to communicate. One of the watchwords for my life has been balance, and that applies here, too. My regular readers have probably figured out that I don't want to be boring, but still get important points across. Adding "color" to articles is a good thing. I'll put in the cowboy lingo to break things up and keep my online persona going, but have to taper back so I don't defeat my own purpose and get distracting. At times, I have to use wording that is appropriate for the subject, assuming that those who are reading the post or article are familiar with the necessary expensive words. 

Sometimes, I get put off by sesquipedalian loquaciousness, where I get the feeling that the writer is not so much interested in communicating as in showing off his or her extensive vocabulary. At the other extreme is when someone writes so simplistically, it's rather insulting, and you may feel that the writer is talking down to you.

Much of the time, writing style depends on the audience. Three creation science examples: the Journal of Creation is not going to have cute terminology (see "What life is"), nor is "Answers Research Journal" (see "Do Varves, Tree-Rings, and Radiocarbon Measurements Prove an Old Earth?"), and don't expect to see it in the Creation Research Society Quarterly Journal (see "The Extraterrestrial Search for the Origin of Homochirality"). Authors may put some personality in their articles, but the material is primarily written for scientists, or those with strong science backgrounds. I certainly don't understand much of that material. Major creation science organizations publish material on the layman's level, fortunately, and even include some clever wording that adds color.

There are different approaches to writing material, depending on the audiences. Attempting to reach a balance between simplistic and complicated is important.
Image credit: Morguefile / pippalou
Rent-a-Friend-2000, "a gentleman and a scholar at a very reasonable hourly rate" (Bryan Melugin) writes over at "A Bit of Orange", and I first became of his work because of his videos. I'm partway through a series on "Defining Evolution", and I'm quite taken with both the style and content. There is a storyline of sorts: four friends meet on Thursday nights after work for nachos and conversation. (One small quibble of mine, Mr. Melugin named a seafaring character "Bluebeard", but the Bluebeard legend is about a non-nautical serial killer that may or may not have been real.) The premise is developed through the four-way conversation of the characters. His writing includes humor, side notes, incidental activities, character attitudes, and more. I believe the creation-evolution discussion is effectively and entertainingly presented.

The RaF2K material reminded me of something at the other extreme of using dialogue and a storyline to communicate a concept. It was a novel I read in the 1980s, Genesis by W.A. Harbison. That bad boy was over 600 pages, and I found it to have very little action. Instead, it used dialogue to establish the premise that UFOs are not extraterrestrial at all, but the results of man-made secret projects. There was so much of this dialogue, I felt cheated. (Also, there was also an excessively detailed sex scene in the book that did not advance the storyline as far as I can recollect. If sex between that man and woman was important to the story, there was no need for the prurient details.) Melugin had his communicative dialogue in balance, Harbison did not.

So what's the point? Different audiences react to different writing styles. Many of us prefer to use a lighter approach, especially when trying to have others understand ideas that may be new to them. In my case, I hope readers will follow the links to the featured articles and explore on those sites for more in-depth material if they want it. In the meantime, I'll write in a manner that I hope people can understand, keeping a balance between "talking down" and using excessively complicated language. Oh, and I have to keep from letting my efforts at adding "color" distract the readers.

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