Tuesday, May 29, 2007

John Leo "On Good Writing"

John Leo has written stories, columns and essays for a variety of national publications, including Time, the New York Times and U.S. News & World Report. In "On Good Writing," a speech to Ursinus College, he spelled out much of what he's learned about how to put words together with grace and elegance. Here's a taste:

When I started my column in U.S. News & World Report 18 years ago, I decided I would write in a conversational style. This meant I would never use words such as “nonetheless,” “moreover,” “albeit” and “to be sure,” because they are in nobody’s speaking vocabulary. It also meant that I wrote as though I were addressing each reader personally, talking about something that interested us both. My model here, believe it or not, was John Madden, the football announcer. Madden is the most famous TV football analyst, not because he knows the most, though he may, but because he sounds like a friend on the next barstool watching the game and sharing his thoughts with you.

After a month or so, I realized that readers of columns don’t just follow the words. They listen to the background music too. Readers want to know who you are. Is the writer consistent and fair? Does his take on the world relate to me? Is he humorless or playful? Do I want to spend time with him? Is he in the pocket of some cause or political party?

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent piece of advice, especially for young writers. His point about a conversational writing style reminds me of how often I've seen writers stuck in bureaucratic prose suddenly transform their writing for a first-person piece. I suppose that's part of the charm of blogs: personality, conversational tone, point of view. It all comes through. Somehow, we should infuse more of that into our newspapers, as well. -- Rick Thames