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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Parsing Writing for Info

Let's consider how much you can impart to a reader without spelling everything out. The human brain doesn't need a lot of data to come up with assumptions. For whatever reason, the brain dislikes blanks the way radio dislikes empty air. For example, here's a recounting of what I did in five minutes this afternoon. In brackets I've put facts that a reader could glean from why I put.

I take the dirty saucer into the kitchen, see that the dishwasher hasn't been unloaded, and put the dish on the counter. My brother was right when he'd argued before the home renovation that my family needed a second dishwasher--one to take the dirty dishes while the first waited to be unloaded.
I'd opted for a second oven instead.
[Now you know that I own a home, have a brother, and like to bake or roast meat.]
I get the orange juice out again, noting that we're out of milk, wondering if my husband is out shopping, and pour a little into my glass. I put the juice back into the fridge and look in a few places until I find the liquid measuring cup. I pour the juice in, find that's a third of a cup, give a thought to pour in a little more to make it an even half (easier to do the math when I write down calories and fiber), put the juice back into the drinking glass, rinse the measuring cup, and balance it on the edge of the dish drainer, which is piled with the pans from last night's meal.
[New data: I'm married to a man who doesn't always tell me where he's going. I'm probably on a diet--who else measures their food? I'm tidy--I dealt with the measuring cup before I drink my juice. Someone washes the dishes after a meal but no one dries and puts them away.]
I drink the juice, the final flourish after my egg, bacon, and scrambled egg sandwich on whole wheat. The glass gets rinsed so the pulp won't dry and prove too much for the dishwasher, and I stack my dishes on top of the few dirty items already on the counter--a cutting board, two paring knives, three spoons, two cereal bowls.
[Info: My diet isn't stringent or I don't follow it well. There are other people in the household, ones who don't tidy up after themselves.]
Something to think about.

Patsy Sims put together a book analyzing what writers impart from the choices they make in their details and wording, Literary Nonfiction: Learning by Example. It's possible to overanaylze, certainly it's possible to ascribe to writers more intent than actually went into the writing, but it's also an education to see what the reader (in this case Patsy) takes from what is written.


Anonymous Richard said...

This is great! It does seem much of the art of writing is in knowing what to leave out and/or letting your reader have the pleasure of adding 2 plus 2—which you've given him, of course.

11:03 AM  

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