Why You Should Be Specific When You Write

Why You Should Be Specific When You Write


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.)

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

Source for image

by Mia Botha

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This article has 5 comments

  1. Blair Scheepers

    Great post. I need to print that poem and hanging it beside my desk.

  2. Wendy Jones

    Thank you. This is the best explanation I have ever seen of making your writing sing. Really helpful

  3. Sarah Campbell

    Such a good example. Thank you.

  4. gilford ila

    What type of poem is “be specific”?

  5. Eliza

    What poetic devices have been used in this poem?

Comments are now closed.