Friday, April 4, 2014

Clarity in writing: Lessons learned from tween twins

When I’m writing, everyone in my head knows exactly what I’m talking about.  No one stops me to say, “Hey, what does that word mean?”  (Hint- that’s one good reason for critique partners and beta readers.)

Raising twin Tweens has made me more vigilant in awareness of writing with clarity as I’m frequently questioned:

“What does this word mean?”
“That isn’t what that word means.” 
Ie: A word that had been used frequently ‘back in the day’ may be viewed differently now by your readers. (Ie:  My Twins have informed me the word 'cool' is so not cool anymore.)

No one is ‘busy’ anymore:

Backstory:  Twin #2 rushes into the room, clutching the phone against her chest.  Her eyes wild, her expression...desperate. 

Twin: “Something’s wrong with the phone.  It keep making this weird sound.” Hands phone to me.
Me: Listens. “It’s a busy signal.”
Twin: Blank stare.
Me: “It means someone is on the line.” 
Twin: Another blank stare.
Me: “You’ll have to call her back later.”
Twin: “What?  Later? Can't you call her on your cell phone?” 
Me: “No, they only have one line.  It doesn’t matter what phone you call from.”
Twin: “But how will I reach her?”
Me: “You’ll have to wait and call back.” 
Twin: “Wait?” Look of utter despair. 

Using words and expressions that are going extinct or that are complex or unusual:

Assuming everyone knows what you’re talking about.  Don’t assume.  

There won’t be someone there to explain it in a story, and you wouldn’t want them to need it to be explained.  "Lucy, you got some splainin' to do!"

Expressions make you sound like a crazy, ranting woman

It took several times using the expression on my Twins about the perils of ‘crying wolf’ before I realized they had no idea what I was talking about.  Yet they’d never said anything, simply let me rant on about it to shrug after I left, and summing it up to another ‘crazy mother rant.’  Perhaps.  But the rant was intended to deliver a moral with it, that of not lying or no one will believe you when you are speaking the truth. 

#  You aren’t up with the times
On following the steps on an automated recording on a phone.
Twin: “It’s saying to push the pound sign, what does that mean?”
Me: Points to it on the phone.
 Twin: “You mean a hashtag?”

  The Digital Age:
“What time are we leaving?”
“Quarter till seven.”
“Six forty-five.”
“Why didn’t you just say that?”
Rolls eyes.  

Insight: Roman numerals and the Analog clock vs Digital:  Has also rendered clocks with the time on the face depicted only with Roman Numerals, challenging or useless.  Almost everything has digital numbers on it now.

The same goes for making it too ‘modern’ and using only newfangled lingo of the young- someone else might not understand it

Therefore:  Write with clarity.  Know your audience and Use the simplest word that will do.  Big words don’t impress the reader, it throws them out of the story if they have to stop to get a dictionary.

What words, or expressions, do you feel are becoming extinct? 



J Hali Steele said...

Loved the phone conversation! This was a spot-on fun post to read.

Maureen said...

Thanks J!

garrisonjames said...

Great post. You've given us all a few things to think about...