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good writing   ...   random thoughts
thu 2005-mar-24 18:11:18 pst   ...   permalink

I was thinking recently about writing, and what makes some prose more enjoyable to read. And in particular, I noticed a device that good writers use well (and which I do not): they use similes. By drawing a parallel between their actual literal subject matter and some aspect of another perhaps not-obviously-related context, they are able not only to conjure compelling imagery, but even (and this is part of what I find interesting) to make their statements more concrete by way of abstraction.

Perhaps this is obvious to anyone who, say, wrote a humanities paper at any point in college (I did not) (seriously, not one). I mean, I certainly grok the fact that people learn things well through analogies, and that people are better at generalizing a rule from specific examples than they are at forming specific examples from a general rule. But I guess I hadn't thought to apply roughly the same concept to general prose writing.

I think part of my problem is that I just don't think in similes. When occasionally my brain for some reason starts up a sentence heading towards a simile, I often wind up with silly utterances like "it was going so fast, it was like ... a ... thing that ... goes ... really fast", and then I just let the participants in the conversation who actually have a decent command of the English language take over.

Of course, similes aren't everything. Probably my bigger problem is that my vocabulary just isn't all that big. I do try to avoid words like "thing" and "interesting" which carry very little meaning -- and believe me, it's really a concerted effort -- and I think that helps my writing a bit. (Though I probably wind up using "compelling" way too often as a substitute for "interesting". Ah well.)

Anyway, I don't really have a point here (which of course is another problem with my writing...), so I guess I'll just stop now.

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fri 2005-mar-25 15:35:27 pst
posted by

That post was like a fish out of water, who's been meaning to go to the store to get more, but other things keep coming up. And it should really pick up some more bread if it's going out.

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