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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Important Writing Principle #17: Precision

To be precise in writing doesn’t mean that you simply use your Thesaurus. Precision paints a sharper picture in the mind’s eye of the reader. Authors visualize the scene they are writing down to the last detail. Unfortunately, this picture doesn’t always transmit to the reader. The author assumes the reader will see the details, when in reality, it is the reverse.
Some authors try to make their writing more precise by making it wordier. This usually doesn’t work, and the writing becomes heavy, stagnant - without movement.
There is a trick that I use that will help you to be more precise in what you want to say. I call it the Triangle of Precision. Imagine a triangle, sitting with the point up. The point represents a scene with the least amount of detail, i.e. “She took me home in her vehicle.” Vehicle is the word at the apex of the triangle. As we fill in information about the vehicle, we begin to descend the triangle, filling in larger areas. Vehicle becomes car. Car becomes an Audi. An Audi becomes an A6, etc, until you are at the bottom of the triangle and the sentence now reads: “She took me home in her brand new 2012 metallic blue A6 Audi, custom built with tan leather seats, a wooden dash and so many steel-aluminum parts that it made me feel like I was sitting in a can of tuna fish."

Here is a ‘before/after scene from my mystery/thriller The Deal Master that will further illustrate the advantages of the Precision Triangle.

Draft: "Vinnie sat in a chair in the center of Gillette’s office. A spotlight cast deep shadows around him. It looked like a scene from a movie."
After rewrites: "Like a scene from a movie, Vinnie sat up straight in a chair in the center of Gillette’s office. A spotlight over his head cast deep, dark shadows that looked like large black holes under his eyes, his cheeks and his feet. The blinds were drawn, the door was closed, and the rest of the room was in total darkness."