Saturday, June 26, 2004

More write stuff

In response to my post below on writing, Alex Voy responds: " How about the end of 'A Tale of Two Cities' -- "It is a far, far better thing I do" etc ? "It" and "thing" may be vague, but they make a great line that remains with anyone who's read the book. Maybe Dickens could afford to break the rules."

I thought I should clarify what I meant by the limited use and vagaries of "this," "that," "it," and "those." Words like the ones I just mentioned are not necessarily specific in meaning unless the author makes the meaning specific. That doesn't mean you shouldn't use them -- it just means you should take another look to make sure you cannot use something more specific instead. For instance, you can write "I'm going to pick them up tonight" and the reader is left wondering, what is them referring to? You can qualify it either with "groceries" -- ie, "I'm going to pick the groceries up tonight" or have a previous sentence between so specific that the second one doesn't necessarily need to be so.

Example: He moved the chair so I could sit in it.

It's obvious 'it' refers to the chair in the above example. Something less concrete than that would be:

I sat down on it.

Sat down on what? A rock? A bench? A sofa? That's all I really meant by saying "it" et al were vague if not set up properly. And in the above example, it doesn't take much more effort to write "I sat down on the chair" and the reader will understand immediately what a chair is.

It's always better to be more specific rather than not. "Rose" is more descriptive than "red flower," "golden retriever" more specific than "dog", etc. Ayn Rand says there should be no question about what you as the author really mean by the words you use. If you say "rose", you do not mean a "lily," etc. There should be, in other words, no subtext unless you as the author intended for there to be so. That way there's no need for the reader to interpret anything other than what you've intended to put there.

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