I don't know the exact word for it, but I hope I make it clear what I mean by "impact" soon. My favorite pieces of writing are Rosa Luxemburg's Junius Pamphlet, the lyrics to this Phil Ochs song, and Chapter 25 of the Grapes Of Wrath.

All of these are seperate lines from the song

For underneath her borders, the devil draws no lines

They're guarding all the bastions of their phony legal fort

The sweating of their souls can't wash the blood from off their hands

Where the cross, once made of silver, now is caked with rust, and the Sunday morning sermons pander to their lust

Their bellies bounce inside them when they knock you to the floor, No they don't like taking prisoners in their private little war

All of this stuff sounds really powerful, and incorporates a lot of references and metaphors. How do I begin to work towards this? Are there specific resources?

Violated, dishonored, wading in blood, dripping filth – there stands bourgeois society. This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law – but the ravening beast, the witches’ sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form. (The Junius Pamphlet)

There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificate—died of malnutrition—because the food must rot, must be forced to rot. (The Grapes of Wrath)

I thought that "wordplay" was a better word, but these passages are filled with "impact" even though they aren't really heavy on wordplay or metaphor. It still has very striking imagery, and you can almost feel the rage and despair in their words. What about them is so great? How do I emulate that?

Not really related, but if my question is a bit too "purple" I'd also like some help with that. I feel like I go on too long and use too many descriptors.

  • these are really awkward sentences.. some are quite clumsy. I am sure they go well with the music..... but... i would not call them impactful ... And if you want to write like that.. you should learn music composition.
    – ashleylee
    May 8, 2019 at 15:01
  • They're awkward in isolation but when rewritten slightly they're pretty profound. "Really? You're on their side? YOU turned us in? You're no worker. You're a traitor. Go ahead, keep working for the ones trying to destroy us. Just know that the sweat of your labor can't wash off the blood of innocents." May 8, 2019 at 15:05
  • i think to achieve the impact you want... you NEED musical accompaniment... with the right music.. even banal lines can be impactful.
    – ashleylee
    May 8, 2019 at 15:07

2 Answers 2


I think if any of us could tell you how to write like a Nobel Prize winning author, we wouldn't be in this forum :)

But, seriously, this kind of writing takes a great deal of experience and practice. John Steinbeck wrote dozens of short stories, novellas and novels before he wrote The Grapes of Wrath -- which I believe is the greatest novel ever written, but that's my opinion. I remember reading the end and crying for an hour!

Also, Steinbeck wasn't only a very experienced writer, he LIVED The Grapes of Wrath. He witnessed terrible injustices and that novel was a political statement. Politicians even described him as the most dangerous man in America because his writing had such 'impact'.

There's (unfortunately) no A. B. C. process that will enable you to write like that. But there are things you can do that will start you on the path:

Read widely. Read literary fiction. Study the greats. Consider a degree in creative writing or literature where you will be forced to break these great novels down and understand, in depth, what they are doing and how.

Write short pieces. Literary fiction is much harder than commercial fiction, so start small. Enter competitions and keep entering until you win, it will help you see if your writing is progressing.

Write from the heart and from experience. It's better to write about a small experience you've had (like finding a mouse half dead in your kitchen and having to decide whether to kill it) than to trying to emulate something like The Grapes of Wrath when you haven't LIVED that. Impactful writing comes from deep in your soul, from your emotional experiences. You have to have lived them to write them well.

HTH and good luck!

  • The Grapes of Wrath is virtually unreadable.... With a tale of two cities, I always made it about 70 pages before giving up (tried it over 4 times over a number of years). The Grapes of Wrath.. I have to put down after 5 pages.. Few try write like John Steinbeck anymore, because that style sucked and people finally caught on.
    – ashleylee
    May 8, 2019 at 17:03
  • And John Steinbeck got his Nobel Prize not for his writing but for his Social Justice Warrior content... do you have any idea how much breast milk would be needed to save a grown man from starvation? it is garbage writing (and he is supposed to be a realist writer?)
    – ashleylee
    May 8, 2019 at 17:10
  • 2
    Really? He isn't hard to read at all, especially if you know the accent and have lived in high-poverty low-education areas. The breast feeding thing is obviously not supposed to be literal, and it's been used since roman times as a metaphor for charity. I doubt you actually read the book considering how you said you had to put it down after five pages... Are you a union-buster by any chance? May 8, 2019 at 17:38
  • 1
    I can tell you from bitter experience that the worst thing I've ever written was the hardest thing I've ever written. When I wrote a novel in 10 weeks, just a commercial fiction thriller I had fun with, it was the best thing I'd ever written. And it opened doors for me. Having fun when you write is paramount. Don't underestimate it.
    – GGx
    May 8, 2019 at 17:54
  • 2
    It's time Carlos gave Carlos a break!
    – GGx
    May 8, 2019 at 17:54

I think a lot of us have been damaged by the myth of inborn talent. When I've looked deeply into the biographies of the artists I've most admired, they've spent years working hard on the parts of their craft that seem most effortless. As an example, one of my favorite songwriters, Paul Simon, spent three straight years writing a new song every night, because he was trying to write something as poetic as Bob Dylan's work. And that was after Simon had already written a hit song.

In terms of the specifics, detail is not a strength of mine, so I've studied it a lot. The key, I think, is that descriptive prose needs to work double or triple duty. It not only needs to give you a vivid sensual appreciation of the actual physicality of the thing being described, it also needs to put you in the mind and the mood of the person describing it. It needs to have an emotional quality, and maybe even a moral or spiritual one. It may also need to (subtly) symbolize or reflect the larger themes of the work, or the aims of the particular scene.

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