Boffo Writing Styles
A style that excites, that stimulates the senses, that revels in its madcap delicious newness, that takes risks, that dances and weaves and delivers the goods in a voice that retains something from its subjects – that is a boffo style. The quintessential example of this style, as well as its greatest advocate, is Tom Wolfe.
To read Wolfe is to know what the cusp of contemporary writing has achieved. His greatest explication of the theory behind his practice is the book The New Journalism. If you aspire to write non-fiction today, it is probably the most important book you can read. In it he explains how to sponge up the words and thoughts of the people you're writing about and let them make your prose sparkle. Of course you'll also want to read Wolfe's own masterpieces, The Right Stuff, The Electric Kool–Aid Acid Test, and Hooking Up.
Here's an example of boffo science writing from another one of my favorite writers, Chandler Burr: "The creation of a single commercially successful fragrance molecule represents tens of millions of dollars, and the Big Boys employ an army of chemists tasked with creating them." (The Emperor of Scent, chapter 1.) Employing the term "Big Boys" is completely appropriate since it's the term used by the people Burr is writing about – he has scooped up their way of talking, their way of thinking, and made it part of his own voice. Boffo! Once you learn to incorporate the jargon of your subjects like this into your writing your non-fiction will take on a life of its own and begin to gleam like a diamond necklace around the neck of a mule. Your subject could be as dull as a mule, your topic as drab as tar, but if you use the secrets of the boffo stylists, readers will be hooked and will talk about your work with unabashed enthusiasm. (Photo: Tom Wolfe about the time he was writing The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.)