… When we write, though, we want to say as much as we can in as few words as possible, so we find specific nouns (mother, cardiologist, kayaker). Mother is better than female, because it reveals gender as well as personal information. But nouns like soccer mom, mother hen or matron say even more because they also give clues about age and attitude.
The best nouns, then, are concrete rather than abstract, specific rather than general. They are also evocative. To illustrate this, let’s return to boats. Some of the synonyms for boat, like vessel, are so vague they could apply to any means of transportation — or any container, for that matter. Commonplace nouns like boat, ship or sea craft are less abstract. But let’s get precise: how about scow,skiff, yacht and yawl? Brand names like Sunfish, Hobie Cat, Boston Whaler give even more concrete images, while other proper nouns, like the Titanic, the U.S.S. Kentucky and the Hokule‘a allow us to precisely picture an exact boat. Nouns help us paint a scene, understand a character or put a finger on a theme. It’s worth taking the time to get them right.
Hale’s advice is echoed in Step 4 in the Kerrigan method of Writing to the Point.
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. (Chapter 4, page 43)
- GENERAL: In her room I noticed two books.
- SPECIFIC: On the small table near Jessica’s plaid easy chair I noticed Heller’s Catch-22 and Galsworthy’s Man of Property.
This reminds me that I must get back to my Writing to the Point project, which got derailed due to other priorities.