The Writer’s Toolbox – Stringing it together

by Kate Paulk

Obviously, words on their own aren’t much good. Particularly when they’re stripped of context and laid out on a page like slabs of meat waiting to be ogled by the next reader. Um. Okay. Maybe a little too colorful there.

Anyway. One of the joys and frustrations of language is that words can mean more than one thing, sometimes at the same time. Add in a bunch of homonyms and homophones, and you’ve got a whole lot of potential meanings in what you’re stringing together.

And of course, the primary purpose of writing is to convey meaning, in the form of emotion, to a reader.

There’s any number of ways to do that – more than I can remember the terminology for. I do have a fondness for inappropriate onomatapoia, though. I may be the only person who actually says “burp” when I burp – and not deliberately, either. It just sort of… happens.

So you’ve got similes, which I used in the first paragraph. Metaphors are usually more direct, and when I use them, turn into a kind of demented pot-pourri of weird. I think it may be the Aussie effect… Strine is a dialect that plays with words in ways that go beyond not work-safe. Entendre is… well… entended.

Satire tends to play better if your readers are cued to recognize it – how often do The Onion pieces get taken for the real thing? If you can get it just close enough that it feels right, you can go a long way – as the actress said to the bishop.

There’s irony and it’s harder (there are harder things than irony – I guess that would make them diamondy) cousin sarcasm. Both are best in small doses: too much and the piece gets too heavy, but a little can bring home a point that wouldn’t be nearly as effective done straight (as the actress… oh, never mind).

And of course, there’s the pun. Often indescribable, sometimes awful, and always interesting. English is loaded with multiple meanings, so the pun will inevitably raise its head and punctuate the topic at hand. I’d hesitate over the near certainty of restarting the punic wars, except that… I don’t think they ever stopped around here. It’s just that my native pun level is about 6 inches below the belt and about that long. Particularly when I’m tired, over-stressed or unwell.

(As a side note: there are people at the Mad Genius Club who have seen me in this state. I’m informed it’s rather scary – although I’m usually too busy with the evil giggle to notice. I wouldn’t be surprised if I giggle in my sleep.)

So there you have it – the super-quick cook’s tour through the pungent part of the writers kitchen. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to unpun.


  1. Pun? Entendre? I don’t think i’ve ever heard or read you using either one, otoh hand I’m not sure I’d recognize either one. Which means I’m in no danger of fallacious comparison to your pun explanation, which is sad since I’m sure it could have been a conversation that stoked the fires and deeply penetrated the issue.

    1. O’Mike,

      You seem to be impersonating a fine, upstanding member of society, what with your concern about matters fallacious. This discussion hasn’t become too hard for you, has it?

      1. No inpersonating in public, I’ve got a reputation as a very moral erect man to maintain. Matter that that enforlds such a reputation is something one should deeply appreciate and explore.

      2. I’m sure no-one here doubts your morality or ability to maintain your standing as an upright man of unflagging determination. Or that you have a connoisseur’s appreciation of matter surrounding your standing. One wonders, though, whether such rigid morality should be displayed in quite such a public fashion. As I understand things, the general public prefers displays of wood to be left on the golf course.

    1. Mo,

      I believe that’s part of the definition of apathy: never mind over don’t matter.

    1. I guess the proliferation of really bad puns killed that – it takes skill to produce a good pun. I suspect it takes even more skill to string a shaggy dog story along to the desired end, particularly when the ending is one of those really agonizing puns (Dad has a whole collection of these, and he can string them out to well over half an hour telling the story before he gets to the punchline – they invariably get laughs).
      Sadly, anyone can manage a bad pun.

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