Clarity In Writing: OR, What I learned about writing during the NYC Terrorist Attack

7 May

I know, long weird title. But true.

The first weekend in May I was literally underground. I was doing caving trip with VWG to Carlsbad Caverns (a must see. all levels from walks to belly crawling and chimneying)

So, when Nashville flood and was basically ignored by the news I had no idea it was underwater. There was more coverage on the car bomb left in Time Square (which, by the way, how the government is calling that a “win” is beyond me… it’s called a lucky break that the bomber was inept *steps off today’s soap box*). Driving in the car, VWG and I flipped stations listening to news and looking for either non-country western music, or country western music that goes against the “the word tear is in 1 out of every 3 CW songs” song — but what we kept hearing was the same everywhere:

A man went into an alley and changed shirts.

That was the NYC bombing suspect.

Seems like a really clear description of what happened. I’d explain what I think happened, but it would be redundant. Aw, what the heck: The suspect went into the alley and changed his shirt.

We have a very clear picture (anyone who has lived/been to a city/watched Law & Order) of what an alley is: It’s typically an area between buildings.
Also, changing shirts: You take one shirt off and put another one on. Three year olds can do this.

Can’t get much simpler than that…especially since that’s the description almost all the news casts were giving.

ONLY, that *isn’t* what happened. When they showed the footage, VWG and I both looked at each other. She thought it was funny. I was annoyed. The suspect actually stepped out of the road into a pedestrian walk area and pulled a shirt off (leaving the shirt underneath on).

There’s a world of difference between those two things. Think how many witnesses thought “I didn’t see anyone in an alley, let alone changing in one” who may very well have walked by him! The day was warm – it wouldn’t be a surprised if they walked by several people pulling a layer off.

It’s called BAD WRITING, people. Clarity is so important. The surprise of learning that people actually relate more to a very specific situation they’ve never been in to a general situation they have been was shocking to me. But, here’s such an important lesson – action is not the place to skimp on details.

A character’s actions not only give a mental picture of what’s occurring in a scene, but they tell you important things about the character and story. Do you have someone who would sneak down a dark city alley and changes clothes in the filth behind a dumpster OR do you have a character who steps onto the sidewalk and cool as can be pulls a layer off and sticks it in his backpack.

See what I’m saying? So yeah, thanks bad news reporting for driving home the importance of clear writing. I’ll remember 🙂

Where’s the craziest place you’ve learned a writing lesson?

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2 Responses to “Clarity In Writing: OR, What I learned about writing during the NYC Terrorist Attack”

  1. Sharla May 7, 2010 at 11:36 am #

    A little different, but still valuable. I learned MUCH about the value of voice, body language, and setting the tone….in what not to do when you’re arguing or conversating by text message.

    Yep. Text messaging can be BAD. There is no inflection. No sound, no tone of voice. “John said stay home.” meant as John knows you’re sick so stay home and take care of yourself…can be taken as John said keep your ass at home and don’t come back.

    No context of the situation around something, can change the meaning. I not only make darn sure I text clearly now, (lol) but I also try very hard to convey body language and tone and ambience in my writing.

  2. briaq May 7, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    So true – it’s amazing to me how we overlook the small stuff while we’re writing AND how quickly readers can spot things we should have 🙂

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