Create associations for your reader

This great advice is about the associations you create with the words you choose in your story, and the need for mindful precision. It’s focused on poets and adjectives, but applies equally to flash story writers and to nouns and verbs …

Ted Kooser, in the Poetry Home Repair Manual, writes:  You may have been taught in writing courses that adjectives make for weak writing, and it’s true that an overabundance of adjectives can sap the strength of a poem, but they can be extremely useful in limiting the number of associations that arise in a reader’s mind. If a poet writes, “She had eyes like a chicken, cold and unblinking and glassy.” he or she immediately steers the reader’s associations away from placid laying hens toward a more dangerous chicken, one that shows a little of the reptile in its distant ancestry.  By selecting adjectives, a poet can reduce the number of chickens on the reader’s table from a dozen to maybe one or two.  Add just one modifier and “She had a heart like a broken washing machine” immediately excludes that pleasant gurgling, sloshing machine of your grandmother’s side porch. And adjectives that specify number are especially useful. It is much easier for a reader to envision “three chickens” than “chickens.”  Use adjectives sparingly and with precision to exclude the associations you don’t want, and make the adjectives you do choose work toward the effect you want to achieve.

With this in mind, go back to a story you haven’t looked at in at least a week and circle all the nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Could you make these words more specific to give your reader clearer visualizations during your story?

Also see this related topic, Use Distinct Nouns & Verbs, and more writing tips.

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Categories: writing tips


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