“a disemboweling guard llama raised by nuns”

I would have given up my first cup of Raging Sage coffee in the morning to have written this line.

But I had the pleasure of hearing this line by Luke Runyon on NPR’s Morning Edition. Runyon’s piece, “Nuns on the Ranch Give a Heavenly Twist to Beef,” offers a clear example of how effective writing makes or breaks the information we sift through, the entertainment we consume, and the education we seek. Writing hangs out all over the place: in the texts we receive and send, in the blogs and tweets we read and post, in the scripts of our favorite movies and TV shows, and in the news feeds we subscribe to.

Journalistic writing is its own genre, and Runyon’s piece follows that genre as applied to a radio story. A radio news story is put together differently than a news story produced only in print. The sound collage that fits together the interviewed voices and the narrator’s voice requires attention to voice and rhythm in different ways from print-only voice and rhythm. But the radio piece is anchored in effective writing, skilled craft, which is easy to recognize in the title of Runyon’s piece, in the structure, in his choice of facts and quotes. I heard Runyon’s piece first in the car and held onto that “disembowelling guard llama raised by nuns” phrase as one that I wanted to write about. OK–I guffawed in the car when I heard that phrase. Then, when I read the piece online when I got home, I missed the sound. Even though the voices are absent from the print piece, I heard their echoes as I read. I heard Sister Maria Walburger-Schortemeyer’s laugh as she explained that praying is like a cow chewing a cud and that the Lord is not only a shepherd but also a cowboy. These are fantastic lines. And we get to hear and read those lines because Runyon knows his craft: he knows how to select the right quotes and how to place those quotes for the effect he wants. He entertains and informs.

Good writing almost disappears. Listeners tuned into Runyon’s piece may not notice the writing, but they will laugh and smile, nod their heads, and finish out the piece with a sense of satisfaction–of having learned something and having enjoyed the process of learning. Runyon’s craft makes that difference.

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synesthesia

I like the sound of that word.

I’ve also always liked how synesthesia works in writing. Practicing synesthesia is like a jolt from a high-octane energy drink. Your writing boosts off your page and pings off the nearest star, smelling of thunder and yelling red.

Ooh. That last phrase was delicious. Notice the synesthesia? I used smell for thunder instead of sound, and I used sound for red instead of sight. I mixed up the expected senses.

What does a baby’s smile sound like? How does a gravestone taste? What smell marks your anxiety?

Now, literary synesthesia is one thing–pretty straightforward and a helpful writing tool. Actual synesthesia is much more complex–I’m fascinated by what I’ve learned just from the Wikipedia entry. I wonder how I would negotiate the world if I were a synesthete with color-graphemic synesthesia (letters and numbers have colors) or chromesthesia (sounds or music trigger colors).

Sounds like a helluva writing prompt. Go to the Wikipedia page, pick a form of synesthesia, and then write a descriptive passage through the lens of that form of synesthesia. May your creativity bounce through clouds.