It a long time since I read a ‘textbook’ but this is something very different ‘The Elements of Eloquence ‘ by Mark Forsyth is simlply brilliant. When I was at school English was boring, the teachers were useless and lazy, they didn’t teach they basically just barked instructions at a class of unruly kids. I went to Altrincham Grammar School which has a reasonably good reputation, my English teacher was Mr Proudfoot and he was a nice bloke but he just didn’t give me the tools I needed to write myself. My house wasn’t full of books like it is now and frankly when did you write when it wasn’t at school or for homework?
The fact is we have all become a nation of writers, no? well I am writing this now – its on a blog, owned by me and it didn’t exist in the 70’s – Blogs didn’t exist, nor Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn or any other Social Network – Texting didn’t exist either, nor email or any of the other electronic means of communication. The problem is that we have grown in to a nation of bad writers – just read some posts from others on your timeline and depending on the education level of your friends you will see all kinds of mistakes – ‘I could of passed the ball…….’ (sic) look familiar? Well now is the time to pick up some tricks from a master – well that’s what I am beginning to think – its the best book ever written!
What about William Shakespeare, The Bible, Oscar Wilde, The Beatles and even Irvine Welsh? well they would have quite the impact without the bag of tricks explained in this book from Anadiplosis to Alliteration through to Anaphora. Examples like the way Yoda uses all his words in the wrong order – Hyperbaton – Know anyone else that talks or writes like that – “A Jedi, you want to be’. Of course if he had simply said ‘You want to be a Jedi?’ it wouldn’t have been half as memorable. Or how about Bond, James Bond – Diacope – the simple repetition that came in response to a line from his squeeze in Dr No. ‘I admire your courage Miss….. ‘Trench’ she replies and on seeing that Sean Connery didn’t look half bad added, ‘Sylvia Trench’ – after this rather silly introduction he replies Bond, James Bond and in a trice one of the most memorable lines in modern filmography is written in to history. Genius? well not really just a very clever use of Diacope. He could of course just have said ‘James Bond’ but you no one would have remembered it.
The book is packed with further techniques that writers use to keep us hooked. Remember the ‘Choose Life’ monologue from Trainspotting? – A great example of a ‘Periodic Sentence’ statement after statement – you have to read/listen to each one until you get to the punchline – frankly that is not so memorable but the Choose life is:
Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?
the trick was also used by Rudyard Kipling in ‘If’ – If you can keep your head…. one long 264 word sentence with the punchline at the end – it whips you along and you can’t stop reading – you have to get to the end for satisfaction – brilliant? brilliant use of a Periodic Sentence. What’s the punchline? – ‘Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it / And what is more – You’ll be a man my son!’
So next time you hear a beatles song; ‘Here, there and everywhere’ or The Wanted – Glad You Came – Anadiplosis – using the end of one sentence to start another, or watch Monty Python ‘That’s a woody word – Synaesthesia – using one sense to describe another, you will know which trick they used and where they nicked it from! A brilliant book which I can’t put down. Copywriters have been using it for years (Lipsmackin thirstquenchin………., Put a Tiger In Your Tank, etc etc etc…), and frankly anyone that wants to grab your attention by writing well should read it! I couldn’t of written this piece without it!
© Nigel Carr