Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – being CONCRETE

by Grace

I have completed the Being CONCRETE section in Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of Writing to the Point.  This is part of my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method.  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.

The second part in Step 4 focuses on being “CONCRETE”

B.  BEING CONCRETE:
Use words that are not abstract; that can be seen, touched, smelled, tasted, felt, weighed, measured, lifted, dropped, moved, etc.

Examples:  child, chair, pencil are concrete; freedom, justice, bravery are not

THE ASSIGNMENT
Given an abstract word, write the name of a concrete person or thing you can associate with it.  Here are a few examples, with the abstract word highlighted.

    • compassion / Mother Teresa
    • democracy / voting machine
    • peace / sleeping baby

Next, given a concrete thing, write an abstract word you can associate with it.  Here are a few examples, with the concrete word highlighted.

    • a whip / pain
    • schoolbooks / learning
    • vitamin capsules / health (or hypochondria!)

THE BENEFITS OF BEING CONCRETE
Using concrete terms helps to make writing more clear and more interesting.  Think of a politician who uses abstract terms such as, “We’ll direct all our considerable resources to satisfying the needs of our constituents” instead of, “I’ll spend $10 million of your taxes on a new highway that will help my biggest campaign contributor.”  The latter, using concrete words, is definitely clearer, adding transparency and more “interest” to the message.  Don’t you wish more politicians used the Kerrigan method?

Previous posts in this series:
The Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’
Step 3 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’
Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – being SPECIFIC

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4 Comments to “Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – being CONCRETE”

  1. I’ve got to post my X-1-2-3 sets!

    I never mastered steps 4,5,&6 — but they’re turning out to be amazingly close to linguistic work on ‘cohesion’ in texts — can’t wait to tell you about it!

  2. by the way – I don’t know if you’ve written about the fact that Kerrigan tells students to keep the subject of his X-1-2-3 sentences the same while changing the predicate.

    Turns out that advice meshes with “topic-comment” analysis of sentences.

    All independent clauses have a topic and a comment. The topic is usually, but not always, the subject; the comment is always some part of the predicate (I think). You can write a fantastically coherent paragraph by keeping all your topics the same — or by having the comment of sentence A become the topic of sentence B.

    You can mix these two approaches in one paragraph, and it works very well.

    I also think there is an “implied topic” mode of writing a cohesive paragraph, which is a paragraph that consists of a list of closely related details.

  3. “Cohesion” is definitely a theme in the Kerrigan method. No meandering off point allowed. And I look forward to your X-1-2-3 posts whenever you have time.

  4. Interesting. A later part of the 6-step method is about always linking back to the previous sentence when writing the next one. At least, I seem to remember something like that. I’ll find out later as I make my way through all the steps.

    I have not written about keeping the same subject and just changing the predicate, but I might put up a post about that. My initial reaction to that advice was, “how boring!”. But, I see that it offers a structure for cohesion and clarity. At this point, I figure the “rules” of the Kerrigan method need to be learned before they can be bent when doing more sophisticated writing. However, what is interesting is that the book keeps referring to college students as its audience. Yet I keep thinking this is something that should be taught to middle school and high school students.

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