Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Adding an 'E' to the ABCs of Writing

Guest post by Mike Consol

Much is made of the ABCs of writing - accuracy, brevity, clarity - but there is a fourth more, advanced component to good writing. That's "euphony," a word many people do not know. It's time to change that. Euphony means agreeable sound, especially in the phonetic quality of words. Lyrical writing is euphony. To master the ABCs of writing will certainly make you a strong and effective writer. But you can be accurate, brief and clear and pretty dull if your writing is devoid of euphony. So it's something we need to pay attention to.

Creating a pleasing or musical sound between words sometimes requires adding a little extra verbiage, sometimes less verbiage. Either way the payoff is well worth it. More often it's a matter of choosing the right words and arranging them in a lyrical order. Word choice is always critical; so it the arrangement or order of those words. Take the example of music stars Darryl Hall and John Oates. When they explored on the music scene fans quickly shortened their name to simply Hall and Oates. It was a choice that demonstrated their sense of euphony. Compare that shorthand name to the alternative: Oates and Hall. It just doesn't flow. It lacks melody. It just doesn't sound right.

Similarly, the big public relations firm Hill & Knowlton would have called its sonic sensibilities into question if the partners had instead named the firm Knowlton & Hill. The latter isn't awful, just less melodious. Nuance is critical to good writing.

Let consider some other examples of word pairings.

>> Abercrombie & Fitch vs. Fitch & Abercrombie
>> Baskin-Robbins vs. Robbins-Baskin
>> Black & Decker vs. Decker & Black
>> Peter, Paul and Mary vs. Mary, Paul and Peter
>> Romeo and Juliet vs. Juliet and Romeo
>> Thelma and Louise vs. Louise and Thelma
>> Peaches and cream vs. cream and peaches

In each case the former is a combination that offers more word affinity than the latter. Those are just brief word combinations. Let's consider some full-length sentences. In his bestselling novel Bonfire of the Vanities author Tom Wolfe wrote: "The clerk was a bull-necked Italian named Charles Bruzzelli."

A lesser writer might have promulgated the same thought but settled for this less lyrical arrangement. Perhaps something like this: "The clerk was an Italian named Charles Bruzzelli and he was bull-necked."

Comedic Florida novelist Carl Hiaasen wrote: "As we glided through the woods to the music of birds and the splish-splash of our paddles stitching the black water, I tried to summon an image of Chapman."

An editor with a tin ear might have drafted the thought a little differently, maybe like so: "As we glided through the woods I tried to summon an image of Chapman to the music of birds and the splish-splash of our paddles stitching the black water."

British author Douglas Adams, of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame, gave us this gem: "The turmoil of the day stood still for a moment and kept a respectful distance."

A sloppy spell of thinking from Adams might have instead produced this: "Keeping a respectful distance, the turmoil of the day stood still for a moment."

We can all be pleased that the legendary John Updike wrote: "He tries shaving without looking at his face, which is never the face he wanted. Too much nose, not enough chin," rather than, "He had too much nose and not enough chin, which wasn't the face he wanted. So have tried shaving without looking at his face."

Ditto for this Updike sentence: "It is important to strike within the first few moments of awakening, before the dream's delicate structure is crushed under humdrum reality's weight," which could have alternatively been drafted as, "Before the dream's delicate structure is crushed under humdrum reality's weight, it is important to strike within the first few moments of awakening."

The quality of the authors' thinking in every case makes even the lesser rewrites far more interesting than most English sentences. Still, the importance of nuance and arrangement in achieving the highest level of euphony is apparent.

None of this is meant to diminish the importance of the ABCs of writing. Accuracy, brevity and clarity are prerequisites to achieving euphony. You would be hard pressed to make flabby, muddled and inaccurate writing sound pleasing to the ear.

Simply put, euphony is required to take one from a good to great writer.

Mike Consol is president of http://www.MikeConsol.com. He provides corporate training seminars for communication skills, business writing, PowerPoint presentation skills and media training (both traditional media and social media). Consol spent 17 years with American City Business Journals, the nation's largest publisher of metropolitan business journals with 40 weekly newspapers across the United States. While at ACBJ, Consol held a variety of key posts.


  1. I wrote a novel and self published I did not know about your publishing company. But now I'm trying to sell my novel and I'm looking for ways to get it 'out' there. Thanks for some good info on your blog. I write a weekly blog Scifi Sundays with the hipriestess 5 cent tales, and the name of my book is Birthing the Lucifer star by d e bartley

  2. I think that it should be fairly obvious that it's familiarity rather than any sense of euphony that make those paired word examples sound 'right.'

    The prose examples are a different matter, of course.


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