Saturday, October 26, 2013

Tips for opinion pieces, week 10

Here are a few things to think about when you write and when you do your best to persuade or enlist your reader:

* humor is a graveyard for many writers; if it works, great, but if it just ain't that funny and the writer doesn't know it--then the writing suffers, sometimes fatally

* sarcasm is a particular type of humor with all the up and downsides of humor generally

* anger and disgust are fine emotions, but many writers are ashamed of them and try to mince around the edges--and the writing suffers

* anger and disgust are fine emotions in moderation; when they take over a piece, when the writer starts ranting, accusing his opponents of being homosexual, communist, nazi, atheistical, islamofacist terrorists--the writing has gone off the deep end; emotions are fuel, but if they explode, the writing suffers

* no one really cares about your opinion; people want to be amused, interested, outraged, titillated, stirred up; but the actual opinion is less important than the delivery--I'd rather read an amusing piece by someone I disagreed with than a dreary piece by someone of like mind (and most of the people who agree with me seem to be more than a touch dreary)

* most controversial topics are already taken and the ordinary civilian off the street has nothing at all possibly new to add to that topic: abortion, gun control, capital punishment, evolution, existence of god, vegetarianism, lowering the drinking age to 18, legalization of recreational drugs, and so on--all done, very unlikely there's anything new to say

* which doesn't mean that those old arguments can't be interestingly repackaged, but "interestingly" is a big tough hill to climb--don't kid yourself

* idealism is also a possible approach, but the writer has to avoid sappiness; if your argument is that the world would be a wonderful place if only everyone loved one another, you're setting out on a tough course; more light is shed if the writer taps the dark side of his personality than the lighter and brighter side, even if that sounds like a paradox

* logic and reason are classic and traditional techniques of enlistment, but, on the other hand, the world is full of irrational people whose particular bit of unreason is to imagine that they alone are supremely rational. So, reason has its limits too, but using it will never get you into much trouble.

* emotional appeals have their place, though you never want to get icky or say stuff like 'how would you like it if you had to live your whole life in a feedlot where you stood in your own feces and were so crowded you couldn't even turn around?' Not much, is my answer, but I still appreciate a good steak

* don't waste words; 'I think,' 'in my opinion,' 'from my perspective,' and all such similar phrases are unnecessary and drags on the writing; such phrases should be unspoken but they will be understood; take these asterisked items above as an example--obviously, I'm stating one opinion after another, but I don't waste energy trying to deflect the reader's reaction by softening these opinion statements with a humble 'it's only my opinion but...'--an editorialist has to have some guts!

It occurs to me as I scribble along here that I am, in fact, writing an opinion piece as well as a lecturette. A lot of what I say about writing is debatable, and that pretty much is the short definition of an opinion piece: would someone argue otherwise?

What have I done to persuade or enlist you? I have used the 'avalanche technique' (I just made the name up, so don't be using it with your other instructors.) The avalanche technique is the one where you see the snow coming down the mountain at you at 150 mph and have no time to think, no time to react. You are swept away; resistance is hopeless!

Probably all I have persuaded you of is that this week is hopeless, but that is not so at all. Pick a topic close to home, pick a topic you know intimately and have strong feelings about.


  1. Isn't that some addictive computer thingie?

  2. You like that feedlot image, eh!

  3. Nope - just the steak. A well marbled ribeye searing on the grill, accompanied by some grilled asparagus and corn on the cob. Mmm!

  4. Nope - just the steak. A well marbled ribeye searing on the grill, accompanied by some grilled asparagus and corn on the cob. Mmm!