Writing Without Logic Gimmicks

Writing is seduction. Stephen King said that.*

I like this metaphor because, whoa, have I beheld terrible attempts at seduction! I’ve worked at night clubs and fancy restaurants. I’ve heard pickup lines bad enough to flatten your beer. I’ve smelled colognes and perfumes so thick the fire alarms went off.

The gimmicks people use to turn each other on, well, I blush a deep-and-existential blush at the rampant folly of it all. If these amorous dunderheads ever want to find a true romantic partner, they have to lose the gimmicks and superficiality.

Much of the writing we read also rings with superficiality and gimmickry. It’s nobody’s fault. We learn many of these tricks in grade school; then in college we learn more. We learn ways to hook the reader, to transition the reader, and to compel the reader where we want them to go. Much of it, though, amounts to cheap cologne and bad pickup lines.

Me, I have faith in the written word. Good prose can do more than simply transfer ideas from an author to a reader. I think good prose can give a reader the author’s presence. Good writing gives readers a friend.

Yeah, writing gimmicks can be effective pragmatically—say, as toaster instructions, or as propaganda—but gimmicks always come at a cost. They sabotage the humanity good prose magically possesses.

A big part of getting at that magic is simply getting rid of gimmicks. While writing my next book, Surprising God ( @SurprisingGod ), I’ve tried to wrestle as many of the following rhetorical words and phrases—and all synonymous words—out of my prose as I can:

• clearly
• of course
• therefore
• thus
• it follows that
• hence
• consequently
• given that


Don’t get me wrong, I adore logically-sound writing. Too often, though, writers douse their prose with these terms to create the illusion of reasoning. Verlyn Klinkenborg helped me see this illusion. These words, he says, “insist upon logic whether it exists or not.”**

Writers use these words and phrases to inadvertently gaslight readers into thinking logical coherence exists even when it doesn’t. The writer prods the reader with these words, like a dominoes, to some rhetorical climax. As I’ve seen this gimmick more clearly, these words remind me of those bumpers in the gutters at the bowling alley, artificially protecting bowlers from failure by forcing the ball to hit the pins.

I’ve even come to see these words as red flags. When I see writers use them I suspect they do so as a compensation, or a mask, to cover underlying logical insecurity. Think of the many times you’ve read a writer exclaim “clearly” about something he’s about to say, only to find his clear thing isn’t that clear or obvious at all.
Logic-dominoes, as I’ve described them above, turn what could be personal testimony and human presence into impersonal coding:
and so forth.

They suck the humanity and hospitality out of our words and sentences.

Writing without these gimmicks has felt like learning how to write all over again—I’m a philosophy major, for gawd’s sake! How can I write without using syllogistic terms?

I can, though.

I’m a work in progress, for sure. It hasn’t been easy. But the payoffs have been great. For instance, without the crutch of dialectical-barricades, I find myself having to think more carefully about what I’m trying to say, which is always good. I also find my writing comes off less pushy and less brash, which is also good.

We’ll see how it all goes.
__ __ __
* “On Writing,” Stephen King, p.134.
** “Several Short Sentences About Writing,” Verlyn Klinkenborg, p.118.

Dan Kent