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Writing Tips #3: Negative Information

 

Writers often use negative information because it's easier and can give the illusion of being poetic. An author gives negative information when he tells us what did not happen, rather than what did happen; or what wasn't there, instead of what was; or what almost or nearly happened, instead of what actually happened. This is a very weak way of writing, because it offers us no concrete information or images. We can't feel like we're there, because we don't vividly see what is happening. About 99% of the time, it's better to eliminate negative information and rephrase it as positive information.

For example, instead of saying, "He nearly fell," you could say, "He stumbled." That is more precise and more vivid. Instead of saying, "This stranger Keller seldom lapsed from memory," you could say, "Keller's image lingered in her mind."

Other examples, from manuscripts I've recently read:

  • "I didn't look back."
  • "I don't know what I'm going to do with you gone," he almost whimpered.
  • But Japper was not a one-man army.
  • "Funny." Smith didn't laugh. He didn't even smile.

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Except where noted, Content © 1996 - 2004 Jeanne Cavelos
< jcavelos@sff.net >
Updated Nov 17, 2004
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