WestWard Quarterly, the Magazine of Family Reading Writer's Workbench

Writing with a "Ring"

“In North America ninety years ago, our ancestors established a brand new governmental entity. They thought of it in terms of civil rights, and focused on the idea that everybody starts out on an equal basis.  .  . . From these battle casualties that we’re memorializing, we need to pick up their same level of commitment to the program they gave their lives to promote. We’ve got to really make sure these combatants didn’t die for nothing, and work together so that our country — under a Higher Power, of course — will guarantee everybody’s rights all over again. We’ve got to do that so that a government the people vote for, one that benefits them, won’t just go down the drain.”

Fine patriotic sentiments, perhaps, after a major incident in warfare. But consider how President Abraham Lincoln said it on November 19, 1863 at Gettysburg:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. . . . that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Compared to the Gettysburg Address the first example sounds flat and tasteless, doesn’t it? Unlike Lincoln’s words, it has no “ring” to it. It doesn’t sound very “literary.” Today’s fashion may be to make writing sound like ordinary casual or conversational speech. But if what we write sounds just like how we talk, why bother to write? Yes, there’s often a place for the colloquial and, perhaps, even the banal especially if we’re dealing with dialogue. But to compose a poem, essay or narrative that will elevate the reader’s appreciation for your topic — that requires us to write words and expressions that “ring.”

The English language, because of the way it developed, has a larger vocabulary than most other tongues. In English there are many different ways to say the same thing, a multitude of approaches to getting your idea across, a plethora of choices when it comes to how to express oneself. (You get the idea.) Writing would not be a craft if there were not such a variety of possible ways to fashion the writer’s concept. Perhaps we cannot always aspire to the level of the Gettysburg Address, Shakespeare or the King James Bible, but we can employ our craft to select our words and shape our phrases so that they “ring” with a reverberation that’s a cut or two above the mundane.

Happy Writing!