How adding light and lightness will bring effervescence to your prose
How grand is it to open a book and fall in love from the first sentence?
Isn’t it exciting to be swept off your feet from the first page? It’s akin to opening a bottle of champagne — it fizzles and pops and overflows. The words and images burst from the page, calling out exuberantly, laying claim on all your senses, declaring at the top of its voice: this is going to be an adventure! Then again, a book or article or essay can also succeed in making the reader’s spirit soar by following a gentle tone, by soothing unobtrusively like early spring rain. The former and the latter can only happen when the work is imbued with light and lightness.
The reader gets drawn into the book with utter delight, unable to suppress a smile, like a young child coming down the stairs on Christmas day, discovering an unexpected present. From the first pages the reader realizes, the author “gets me,” I have found a new friend, a kindred spirit.
The concept of adding light and lightness to writing applies not only to fiction but also to nonfiction and poetry. The challenge is to make each sentence a pleasant surprise, make each paragraph a delight. It will happen when each word is placed on trial for its life — excess words are culled — because each word matters.
The argument does not imply our writing can only be about sweet rosesand rainbows and bees and butterflies, singing kumbaya in every second paragraph, avoiding the horrors and hurts and brokenness of our world. Our writing has to speak the truth, our truth and be about the truth, but also depict the beauty and wonder and endless possibilities in our complex world, offering and leaving the reader with hope and possible choices.
Five reasons why adding light to our writing will make all the difference:
1. It makes the writing shine. It gives light to the reader, even in the midst of pain. It illuminates the reader. It becomes a lighthouse, showing the way, opening up possibilities. It succeeds in painting word pictures, showing, without telling, in the best possible way.
“Her appearance there — upright and singular and even with that vacancy on her face which belongs to those waiting on a train to arrive — seemed to round out the day with absolution. They rushed to her and she returned their kisses soberly but without any hesitation.”
Thomas Keneally in The Daughters of Mars (Novel)
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
“I look out at Mam at the kitchen table, smoking a cigarette, drinking tea, and crying. I want to get up and tell her I’ll be a man soon and I’ll get a job in the place with the big gate and I’ll come home every Friday night with money for eggs and toast and jam and she can sing again Anyone can see why I wanted your kiss.”
Frank McCourt in Angela’s Ashes (Novel)
2. It gives a rightful place to truth in our writing. Freedom of speech has to be cherished and honored. The author also has to write her truth, be vulnerable, bleed on the page. Truth should always be administered along with grace. Applying truth (rules and laws) without grace and mercy soon enough becomes judgmental and ends with condemnation. The Pharisees offered to uphold the law as the highest good (without room for compassion), while Jesus insisted on truth but bathed in mercy.
“The world thirsts for grace. When grace descends, the world falls silent before it.”
Philip Yancey in What’s so amazing about Grace?
“I write, feeling my way in silence, and along the way discover particles of truth.’
Isabel Allende in Paula
3. Our writing becomes irresistible. It becomes follow-worthy. Turn your writing into a trailblazer endeavor. It offers a solution to people’s problems — even if only to escape the present. It brings healing. It challenges, surprises, and enchants. Such writing can change the world.
“There’s a student who’s ready to sign up. There’s somebody who wants a guide, who wants to go somewhere. If you hesitate to extend yourself with empathy, to hear them, you’re letting us down.”
Seth Godin in This is Marketing (Nonfiction)
“Did changing to a growth mindset solve all my problems? No. But I know that I have a different life because of it — a richer one. And that I’m a more alive, courageous, and open person because of it.”
Carol Dweck in Mindset. (Nonfiction)
4. Its effervescence will delight your reader. Such writing is swift and mysterious and light-footed like a butterfly. Yes, okay — one is allowed one butterfly!
“when I was
young and possible
the names of wild things
and imaginary lovers…”
Debbie Strange in Warp and Weft Tanka Treads (Tanka poetry)
“He sighed at the crushing injustice of having met her too late.”
Isabel Allende in Paula. (Memoir)
“And then there would be a wind — the wind that preceded a storm and carried the smell of rain on its breath.”
Alexander McCall Smith in The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine (Novel)
5. The lightness that adds lightheartedness and humor makes all the difference. Make your reader chuckle, make them laugh out loud — this especially applies to nonfiction. Make them weep, but please, please, make them laugh.
“Ove stomped forward. The cat stood up. Ove stopped. They stood there measuring up each other for a few moments, like two potential troublemakers in a small-town bar. Ove considered throwing one of his clogs at it. The cat looked as if it regretted not bringing its own clogs to lob back.”
Fredrik Backman in A Man called Ove (Novel)
“Gene and Claudia tried for a while to assist me with the Wife Problem. Unfortunately, their approach was based on the traditional dating paradigm, Which I had previously abandoned on the basis that the probability of success did not justify the effort and negative experiences . . . I should be attractive to a wide range of women. In the animal kingdom, I would succeed in reproducing. However, there is something about me that women find unappealing . . .”
Graeme Simsion in The Rosie Project (Novel)
How does one learn to write like that, with effervescence?
· Learn from the masters.
· Read. Read. Read. Learn about closer reading.
· If you only read nonfiction — you are missing out! Add fiction to your reading list!
· If you just read fiction, add nonfiction to the books that you read.
· What? Don’t you read poetry? Get with the program! Start today!
· Write. Write daily.
· Practice. Attend writer’s conferences. Attend training and coaching in writing & reading.
· Rewrite passages that stand out from authors you love in longhand. Yes, in longhand.
· Remain involved in thriving writers’ groups
· Remain a student of life and a lifelong student. Never shy away from opportunities to master new abilities.
· Keep challenging yourself. Push beyond your comfort zone — time and time again.
· Teach the craft. Be generous.
Find your WHY. Clarify and define for yourself: Why do I write? Why do I tell stories? Why do I bother? To make money — and lots of it. To become famous and sought after. To become a household name. To create a subculture and build a tribe of like-minded people. To give an outlet for my creative needs. To help and serve people. To fill their lives with color and joy and hope. To be generous. To impact and change the world. These are all valid reasons. You will find more joy and peace in the long run with the last reasons.
By learning to add light and lightness and effervescence to our writing, we can surprise and delight our readers, present them with an unexpected gift — the gift of writing that transports and hooks them from the first sentence. That delivers and take them on a grand adventure!
Such writing can change the reader — it can change the world.
Let’s make our writing zing. Let’s make it irresistible!
References: (Short quotes.)
1. Thomas Keneally. Daughters of Mars.
2. Philip Yancey. What’s so amazing about grace?
3. Seth Godin. This is Marketing.
4. Carol Dweck. Mindset.
5. Isabel Allende. Paula.
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