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Rules of Vivd Writing

"If those who have studied the art of writing are in accord on any one point, it is on this: the surest way to arouse and hold the attention of the reader is by being specific, definite and concrete. The greatest writers...are effective largely because they deal in particulars and report the details that matter."—William Strunk, Jr., The Elements of Style

If you want vivid writing that will make the reader feel like he or she is really there, it is essential that you follow two rules:

1. be specific
2. show, don�t tell

Compare the following pairs and see which you like better: food, or a turkey sandwich on wheat bread with havarti cheese and mustard? A book, or a tattered, well-read black paperback copy of Kafka�s short stories? Trash, or a crumpled Coke can shining bright red in the dirt? You probably gravitate towards the examples with specific detail, the ones that paint a picture. Think about why you like them. They give you more information. Because there's more for you to think about, they're just more interesting. You feel like you are there because you can picture it, you can see it in your mind. Think about what makes a good lie—lots of detail. If you're able to remember something very specifically, then it must be true! The same principle is at work here. You want to say exactly how something is.

Now compare these pairs of sentences: "He was poor" or "He wore outdated clothes that looked like they had been picked up from the Goodwill store and stared at my sandwich while I ate it." "It was dark" or "I couldn�t see the other end of the room." "It was a beautiful day" or "The sky was blue and cloudless, and birds chirped in the trees." "He ran by quickly" or "The girl behind me let out a yelp when I stepped on her foot while watching the race. I turned around to briefly excuse myself, but by the time I turned back the lead runner had already passed." An important rule in writing is show, don't tell. You don't just want to say something happened, you want to give us specific detail to prove your point, just like you need detail to prove an argument. You want to show how we know someone was poor, or fast. If you just make statements, the reader won't be convinced.

Take a piece of writing that you've previously written and look for places where you can add specific detail and "showing." Make sure you are using all five senses. Make your piece one whole page longer.


Once you complete this exercise, you can get a critique from a writing teacher.


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