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Manage and manipulate language to be published

By Lucas Wafula | April 11th 2015

Have you ever wondered why some books sell a lot, and may even be turned into films while others don’t? Well, it all depends on what the author chooses to write about and how he or she writes the story.

Most universal themes sell a lot. However, what you should realise as a budding writer is that we are living at a time in history when most universal subjects have been rendered. Think of themes like love, corruption, calamities; surely, someone has written something about them. Then how or what should a budding writer focus on?

My advice has always been, write about what you know, understand and identify with most. One of the mistakes many up-and-coming writers make is that they imagine that what they know is boring. What makes something boring is the way it is presented. Take 'When the Sun Goes Down', for instance. This is a story about HIV and Aids, yet Goro wa Kamau takes a totally different approach to presenting the whole idea of Aids. Instead of the usual promiscuity-infection- stigmatisation - death approach, he chooses to make the main character fall in love with a person living with HIV  – quite novel, completely unexpected.

How about 'Let’s Tell this Story Properly' Jennifer Makumbi? It talks about cheating in relationships. However, instead of having a scorned woman weeping her head off, Makumbi has the main character painting her house – a symbol of renewal- and as she does this, she remembers what happened when her husband died. The story ends when she finishes painting the house and throws out the dead man’s earthly belongings.

However, what stands out in all the these stories mentioned above, and this is something all budding writers should consider, is the realities of life. The woman living with HIV in Goro’s 'When the Sun Goes Down', suffers the pain of the malady and dies of complications from this virus. At the same time, the woman whose husband dies suffers heartache from the knowledge that the man she thought was her husband was indeed living a double life and that the money she had provided is what was sustaining the other woman and her family. These two characters are not insulated from what normal life has to offer – they are not supernatural.

What a budding writer should learn from these examples is that whatever theme one decides to address, he or she should always be realistic – literature should mirror real life. Do not force life to mirror literature – that would be unrealistic and the reader will consider such work a farce hence will not be interested.
As I mentioned earlier, what will make readers interested in your work is how you present it. Think of what draws you to a story; think of that person you like listening to. What makes his or her presentation interesting? It is most likely the way he or she tells the story. Literature is art and splashing paint on a canvas does not make for great art – there must be employment of technique about it. Words, phrases and statements should not just be scattered all over; they must be organised – intentionally.

Develop your style

Any good writer knows that his or her words must, at the end of the story − just like music − strike a perfect cord to leave the reader desiring more. When writing, write, edit and re-write. At the same time, read silently, then read aloud and listen to yourself; does your writing sound like a well-tuned guitar or like a wet drum? While at it, do not insulate yourself from criticism – take it in your stride and enhance your writing by making corrections born out of constructive criticism. It might surprise you how ambitious authors are when it comes to style.
Diyekoye Oyeyinka uses a lot of assonance – the repetition of consonant sounds in a sentence – in his novel 'Stillborn'. At other times, he uses words to create pictures of what could be happening. For example, to describe a traffic jam, he heaps big, long words in a sentence to create a feeling of many immobile vehicles together. He also uses short chapters that are easy to read and finish, as if he is telling the reader to finish the current chapter and move on to the next.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Jennifer Egan, has written a new story, 'Black Box', based on tweets – 140 characters in every paragraph. She actually revealed this story to her twitter followers, a tweet at a time. You might say this is pushing it to a new level but then it takes away the drabness of the ‘usual’. It also gets people interested and keeps them wondering why anyone would resort to tweets to write a story about espionage. Egan does it so well – it is easy to read and follow even though one feels like the tweets are instruction on what to do while spying, but it is quite interesting. This is an author who has used Power Point in her prose before.

Some writers avoid explaining mood or emotions in their works, which is true of real life. If you think about it, rarely do we explain our moods; those around us just know we are happy, sad, or indifferent − either from the prevailing circumstances or by our actions. Some writers, therefore, aspire to bring out these emotions without saying, she looked happy or he was enraged.

They actually edit out phrases that seem to explain emotions and replace them with words that ensure the reader concludes that a certain character is experiencing a particular thing hence, a particular mood. What this does to the story is that it makes it more realistic and engages the reader more; it demands the reader’s attention.

The bottom-line is, develop your own style. Let your work have its own soul. Do not reinvent the wheel; just make it spin faster. However, while at it, you have to keep in mind that no one likes a copycat or an imitation.

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