Wednesday, October 03, 2007

weekly writing coach: aphorism rules

Quick: what's the recipe for an aphorism? If you don't know, turn to the new book Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists. Author James Geary calls the aphorism the world's "oldest and shortest literary art form." To help you craft your own, he offers five rules or tests that an aphorism must pass in order to be successful, described here in text from NPR's interview with him yesterday:
"It must be brief. It must be definitive. It must be personal — that's the difference between an aphorism and a proverb. It must be philosophical — that's the difference between an aphorism and a platitude, which is not philosophical," he says. "And the fifth law is it must have a twist. And that can be either a linguistic twist or a psychological twist or even a twist in logic that somehow flips the reader into a totally unexpected place."
Geary cites a number of eloquent women among his collected aphorists. They include Mae West, who, he notes, wrote most of her own material ("It's not the men in my life it's the life in my men") and Eleanor Roosevelt ("A woman is like a teabag — only in hot water do you realize how strong she is").

Where can you use aphorisms? They're apt in speeches, if not overused, and in shorter, more personal communications, such as letters, essays or blog posts. See whether you can craft a few using the five rules that Geary notes above.

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