Ambiguity Is The Kiss Of Death
In writing we try to be as precise as possible. Easier said than done, right? But, it is important, because we want to show the reader the picture in our minds.
I often think that this is what goes wrong when books are turned into movies. The author perhaps left details to chance and the movie folk felt free to interpret. Or they just decided to ignore the details. There’s not much we can do about that, but if we are specific and precise there can no misinterpretation and no miscommunication.
Consider this example:
Be Specific by Mauree Applegate Don’t say you saw a bird: you saw a swallow, Or a great horned owl, a hawk, or oriole. Don’t just tell me that he flew; That’s what any bird can do; Say he darted, circled, swooped or lifted in the blue. Don’t say the sky behind the bird was pretty; It was watermelon pink streaked through with gold; Gold bubbled like a fountain From a pepperminted mountain And shone like Persian rugs when they are old. Don’t tell me that the air was sweet with fragrance; Say it smelled of minted grass and lilac bloom; Don’t say your heart was swinging; Name the tune that it was singing, And how the moonlight’s neon filled the room. Don’t say the evening creatures all were playing; Mention tree toad’s twanging, screeching fiddle notes, Picture cricket’s constant strumming To the mass mosquitoes humming While the frogs are singing bass deep in their throats. Don’t use a word that’s good for all the senses There’s a word for every feeling one can feel. If you want your lines to be terrific; Then do make your words specific, For words can paint a picture that’s real
Lovely, isn’t it?
Why does it work?
The picture is clear. The language is simple. As an exercise, I suggest you try doing what the poet does. Write your first sentence as a first thought. The boy kicked the ball. And now take it further: The dimpled imp launched the soccer ball in a chequered flash. And keep going till you have a sentence that sings. Don’t worry too much in your first draft, but after that, work at being specific.
Happy writing. (And thanks to Deirdre Jonker for sharing this poem with me.)
Source for image
by Mia Botha
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