In just about any other endeavor, that headline (swapping out the word “write” with the passion of your choice) makes sense. But for writers it’s a loaded gun, and if misunderstood, not in a good way.
Too many writers misunderstand what it means to write with power.
Too many writers equate power with… eloquence. With descriptive genius. With adjectives.
That’s not writing with power, that’s too often writing with gobs of purple prose.
To fully understand what writing with power really means, one has to know the difference, one needs to get it, and then see it or hear it when it crosses your path.
Let me lay one on you right now.
“All you need is twenty seconds of insane courage, and I promise you something great will come of it.”
There’s only one adjective in there. My jaw dropped into my popcorn when I heard Matt Damon say this in the preview.
We should strive to write sentences like that one.
Power is not about adjectives. Power is all about punch… sub-text, relevance, illumination, heart and soul… the poignant moment, the ironic, the truly humorous… the truth.
Nothing wrong with colorful writing. Just don’t confuse it with powerful writing.
Here’s another example.
Click HERE to go to the Amazon.com page for a novel called Manhattan Nocturne, by Colin Harrison, originally published in 1997 to astounding critical acclaim, and republished in 2008. Click the book cover image marked “Click to look INSIDE,” then click through all the title pages and beyond the quote by Luc Sante (I never heard of him, either), to the first page of the novel itself.
Read the first paragraph. The one that begins with: “I sell mayhem, scandal, murder and doom.”
I believe the term OMG! applies here.
There are four adjectives, two sentences with two each. And yet… this is an astounding example (IMO) of powerful writing.
Colin Harrison, by the way, was once dubbed “the poet laureate of American thriller writers,” and it wasn’t because of his descriptive prose, which in places it certainly is. It was because of his ability to write with power, which fueled his otherwise solid but arguably unremarkable storylines with a delicious reading experience.
Power depends on timing, cadence and relevance.
You have to really understand what a scene is going for — indeed, what the thematic essence of the entire story is — in order to optimize your ability to write powerfully.
Many times — most of the time — less is more. And certainly you shouldn’t seek to make every sentence something quotable. Exposition is as important — and separate from — powerful writing… if you season your writing with powerful moments, you’ll imbue the whole thing with a powerful essence.
Sometimes, though, in those moments, it’s time to swing for the fences and hit it out of the park.
It’s hard to really “learn” this. It’s a sensibility, a nuance, a deft touch. Rather, over time, you can discover it from deep within yourself. You need to summon your inner poet, copywriter, philospher, favorite uncle, JFK’s speechwriter and Abraham Lincoln, all fused and staged with an equisite sense of timing.
Don’t force it, just understand it. And then look for just the right moment to go for it.
What are some of the most powerful single lines you’ve ever read… or perhaps even written?
Vote for your favorite writing website HERE.