Monday, February 23, 2015

Reads for Writers: The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth Provides a Masterclass

From Kate’s Writing Crate…


As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.
          Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice and/or creativity.


          We know when something sounds right or wrong as we read and write, but we don’t always know why. In The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase, Mark Forsyth (The Inky Fool blogger) explains it all in delightful detail.

          With verve and wit, British author Forsyth illustrates figures of speech from alliteration to zeugmas with examples from Shakespeare to Sting.

          On pages 45-46:

“Hyperbaton is when you put words in an odd order…[J.R.R.] Tolkien wrote his first story aged seven…about a ‘green great dragon.’ He showed it to his mother who told him…that it had to be a great green one instead.

“The reason for Tolkien’s mistake…is that adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun…It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses this list, but almost none of us could write it out.

 “…Have you ever heard that patter-pitter of tiny feet? Or the dong-ding of a bell? Or hop-hip music? That’s because when you repeat a word with a different vowel, the order is always I A O.”


On pages 113-114:

“Roses are red. Violets are blue. That, at its simplest, is isocolon. Two clauses that are grammatically parallel…Cassius Clay said ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’…And when Rick tells Ilsa ‘Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of…’”


Forsyth proposes there are formulas to some of these elements that can be used to great effect in our writing, too.

          On pages 23-24:

“…in essence antitheses are simple: first you mention one thing: then you mention another…Oscar Wilde was the master of these, with lines like ‘The well-bred contradict other people. The wise contradict themselves.’…‘Journalism is unreadable, and literature is not read’…

“…these are all just plays on the basic formula…: X is Y, and not X is not Y.”


On pages 70-73:

“Diacope…is a verbal sandwich: a word or phrase is repeated after a brief interruption. You take two Bonds and stuff a James in the middle...a structure of A B A. But you can extend that to A A B A …‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’”


          On pages 92-93:

“When you end each sentence [or clause] with the same word [or clause], that’s epistrophe.

“This means half the songs ever written are just extended examples…Whether it’s Leonard Cohen ending every verse with hallelujah…[or] When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s also epistrophe because it always ends with amore…

“When the music stops, epistrophe can…be…jabbing at the air for emphasis. That’s the sort that Abraham Lincoln used when he said “government of the people, by the people, for the people…”


          Even though I’ll never remember all 43 literary terms Forsyth illustrates, I’m now more conscious of turns of phases as I read and write. That’s why I recommend this book: It’s both a pleasure to read and to use for reference—a true masterclass.


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