I am a student of language. I learned French and German (to add to my mother tongue of English). I’ve spent 25 years with words as my tools, as a copywriter, content editor and songwriter.
So I love it when I hear a turn of phrase that shows that the writer is truly gifted.
To me, the clever turn of phrase shows the true gift; it’s the intricacy of the carving in homemade furniture that you’ll never find in that boxy bookcase from Ikea.
It’s been said that if you’re going to write, you are either going to be a plotter or a seat of the pantser. I also see two categories: storyteller and storycrafter.
I look at the turns of phrase that show me the author is a craftsman, and I enjoy their gift as much as their story.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with by-the-numbers stories – in the same way that I think there’s a place for the Flugelmachen bookcase at Ikea – but an author gifted with words shows a level of craftsmanship that I truly enjoy.
One of the best examples that I’ve ever seen is in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where he described massive, bulky spaceships as “hanging in the air in the same way that bricks don’t”. Brilliant.
That throws my eye out and engages my mind by being discordant. Reading and then stumbling across that line is like listening to 20 minutes of electronic dance music and then hearing an introduction to a song played by just a cello or the light trill of a piccolo. It’s a welcome relief and something that stops me in my tracks.
There was a lyric by an artist called Steve Taylor back in the 1990s. The song was about people’s over-reliance on psychology and how things are analysed to within an inch of their lives. The line went: “first came stats pulling habits out of rats”. That one spoonerism and twist on a tired cliche (rabbits out of hats) has stayed with me for decades simply because of how darn smart it is.
That’s the writer I hope to be; someone who entertains not just by the destination but the journey on which they go to get there.