Monday, March 25, 2013

Specific Choices

In March with the whole lion and lamb thing coming and going, we expect sudden changes of weather, from calm and mild to ferocious winds and cold, so it's a good time to talk about fighting chaos or enjoying clarity, in other words, choices. In this case, specific and concise wording in writing. My students, who are learning non-fiction academic writing, not fiction, still need to learn how one word can add layers of meaning. A meaning they don't have to explain, because the word has done the work for them. One of my favorite examples follows:

A chain link fence surrounds my girlfriend's(boyfriend's) house--change the pronoun to fit yourself accordingly:

Scenario 1) As I reach the gate and lift the latch, a dog comes charging and growling out of the shrubbery. It lunges against the gate, snapping.

Scenario 2) As I reach the gate and lift the latch, a Chihuahua comes charging and growling out of the shrubbery. It lunges against the gate, snapping.

Scenario 3) As I reach the gate and lift the latch, a Rottweiler comes charging and growling out of the shrubbery. It lunges against the gate, snapping.

What is your reaction to each scenario?
Probably: 1) potential risk; 2) limited perhaps comic hazard; 3) imminent threat.

This happens because one word changed. Each situation raises specific responses in the character the reader intuits. Yes a Chihuahua can bite, but a Rottweiler can rip off your face. The character will act accordingly. The more specific the situation, the greater the visceral reaction the reader has. Like the winds of March, nouns and verb choice can dramatically change a situation. One other benefit occurs: elimination of unnecessary explanation makes the writing more concise.

(Cross Posted with Writer's Vineyard)

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