Thursday, June 21, 2012

Nouns: Aim for precision, clarity & specificity


Instead of having your character eat "dessert," name the dessert 
to offer cultural, geographical or other details to the reader. 


Your writing needs these three characteristics:
Precision
Clarity
Specificity

While your verbs lend muscle to actions, and the narrative arc slides the plot along, your nouns should offer crisp description.

Yes, I said nouns, not adjectives or adverbs. You can use adjectives and adverbs, but these words should be useful accessories to already informative nouns. For example, if you were to mention the lunch that a narrator was eating, you could add on an adjective (big, small, light, etc.) but if you start with a better word than the generic lunch, you could describe the exact dish: pesto pasta, BBQ ribs, supermarket sushi, etc. Each draws a very different picture. (Yes, I love food.)

Your goal is to name objects in order to give the reader as many details as possible. Of course, you don’t want to go overboard and have pages and pages of unnecessary description.  (See how every rule has some flexibility?) Instead, if you are going to mention something, why not use that space for a description that gives the reader as much information as possible?

Choose your nouns wisely. We’ve all read papers whose vocabulary choices show that the reader has used big words, but doesn’t understand what they mean. The thesaurus can be a helpful tool, but not if you simply drop in random, big words into sentences.

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