December 18, 2017

Quotes on concrete details

What writers and others say

“Dot the dragon’s eye, and it comes to life.”
— A phrase used in traditional Chinese painting

“A pint of example is worth a gallon of advice.”
— Anonymous


Quotes on concrete details

“A story should be a roller coaster, not a train track.”
— Anonymous

“The soul never thinks without an image.”
— Aristotle, Greek philosopher

“In any kind of persuasive writing, a critical question to ask is whether your copy brags or whether it proves. And one of the best ways to demonstrate proof is to be specific. Don’t brag that your product comes in a multitude of colors. Tell me it comes in 23 of them. Don’t brag that you can save me money. Tell me how much. Don’t brag that your customers love your service. Have a customer tell me. Specificity reduces the gush factor and gives your writing more credibility — in the process supporting sales/marketing/image messages better than a thousand self-promoting superlatives.”
— BeABetterWriter.com

“To generalize is to be an idiot.”
— William Blake, English poet and artist

“It’s a paradox that the artists who have the widest global purchase are also the ones who have created the most local and distinctive story landscapes. Millions of people around the world are ferociously attached to Tupac Shakur’s version of Compton or J.K. Rowling’s version of a British boarding school or Downton Abbey’s or Brideshead Revisited’s version of an Edwardian estate.

“It makes you appreciate the tremendous power of particularity.

“The whole experience makes me want to pull aside politicians and business leaders and maybe everyone else and offer some pious advice: Don’t try to be everyman. Don’t pretend you’re a member of every community you visit. Don’t try to be citizens of some artificial globalized community. Go deeper into your own tradition. Call more upon the geography of your own past. Be distinct and credible. People will come.”

— David Brooks, Op-Ed columnist, The New York Times

“talking hairdo: A TV journalist concerned more with appearance than the substance of his or her reporting.”
BuzzWhack

“The language of journalism is concrete and specific. A saying at the St. Petersburg Times requires reporters to ‘get the name of the dog, the brand of the beer, the color and make of the sports car.’”
— Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute senior scholar

“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader — not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”
— E.L. Doctorow, author of Ragtime and other critically acclaimed novels

“Make the important interesting.”
— James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly

“Beware of the man who won’t be bothered with details.”
— William Feather, Sr., American publisher and author

“Use concrete terms and your readers will have a clearer idea of your meaning. You enhance your words when you allow readers to visualize what you say.”
— Bryan A. Garner, author, The Elements of Legal Style

“That is the kind of ad I like. Facts, facts, facts.”
— Samuel Goldwyn, American motion picture producer

“The more particular, the more specific you are, the more universal you are.”
— Nancy Hale, 19th-century journalist and author

“Whatever you do, don’t get stuck on the boring middle rungs of the abstraction ladder. Every day, writers churn out millions of words that describe mind-numbing bureaucratic processes without mention of individual human beings or larger meaning. They are stuck somewhere between heaven and earth, and their readers never get to sample the joys of either.”
— Jack Hart, editor at large, the Oregonian, in A Writer’s Coach

“A few vivid details might be more persuasive than a barrage of statistics.”
— Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

“If you really want to shake people out of their reverie and motivate them to sit up and take notice, say those two simple words, for example.”
— Sam Horn, author of POP! Stand Out In Any Crowd

“Without great reporting, a story is like one big comb-over. You can see it from the third paragraph.”
— Ann Hull, reporter for The Washington Post

“Stay specific to what you’re writing about; don’t feel the burden of trying to make it mean a lot more.”
— Ann Hull, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post

“We tend to have a better memory for things that excite our senses or appeal to our emotions than for straight facts and dry statistics. This means that you might overestimate the number of times your colleague wore a red tie, or underestimate how often he wore a gray one, simply because red is a brighter color. Similarly, you might ignore all the enthusiastic online recommendations for a new restaurant because one good friend told you that she recently ate the worst dinner of her life there. Majority consensus contradicts your friend, but her personal story and facial expressions are what you recall every time you walk by the restaurant.”
— Sheena Iyengar, professor at Columbia Business School, in The Art of Choosing

“The easiest thing for the reader to do is to quit reading.”
— Bernard Kilgore, legendary managing editor of The Wall Street Journal

“I talked to an Inuit hunter named John Keogak, who lives on Banks Island, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, some five hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. He told me that he and his fellow-hunters had started to notice that the climate was changing in the mid-eighties. A few years ago, for the first time, people began to see robins, a bird for which the Inuit in his region have no word.”
— Elizabeth Kolbert, climate journalist and staff writer for The New Yorker, in “The Climate of Man”

“Neuroscientists remark on the sensation of joy produced by the chemicals in the brain when the mind is being put to creative and imaginative use, a phenomenon they associate both with the pleasure of sexual orgasm and with the endorphin high experience by athletes in the zones of effortless performance.”

“When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion.”
— Lewis H. Lapham, editor, Lapham’s Quarterly, in “Notes: Playing with Fire,”

“Language that is more concrete and specific creates pictures in the mind of [your] listener, pictures that should come as close as possible to the pictures in your mind.”
— William Lutz, author, The New Doublespeak: Why No One Knows What Anyone’s Saying Anymore

“Good writing moves up and down the ‘abstraction ladder,’ and great writing moves way up and way down.”
— Dr. Carolyn Matalene, professor of English, University of South Carolina

“It is no great exaggeration to say that dolphin-safe tuna flows directly from the barrel of a Canon, that without Kodak there’d be no Endangered Species Act.”
— Bill McKibben, author, Hope, Human and Wild, in “The Problem with Wildlife Photography” for DoubleTake

“We put quotes, votes and anecdotes together, and we build a case. When we’re ready to release it, we go out and hit the opponent, hit him hard. It has to be relentless. … There is almost never that silver bullet. It’s death by a thousand cuts.”
— Jason Miner, who does opposition research for the Democrats, on tracking President George W. Bush

“The writer must write from an abundance of specific, interesting, significant information but the writer must also select the single point, perhaps two, maybe three if they are connected that can be made within the limits of time and space. Then, that point — or those few points — can be developed and documented with in the limits of length.”
— Donald M. Murray, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, in Writing to Deadline: The Journalist at Work

“To everyone’s surprise, it was Arthur Gopal who got the most prestigious job, moving to New York as a reporter for a major newspaper. This was quite a change: doorstepping gunshot victims, getting yelled at by cops, feeding color to rewrite hacks who said things like ‘Yeah, we know the shooting took place in a soup factory, but what kind of soup?’”
— The narrator in Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists

“Example isn’t the main thing influencing others. It’s the only thing.”
— Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Prize-winning theologian, philosopher and medical missionary to Africa

“In discussions of downsizing, you don’t often hear about all the companies that cut payrolls and then continued to struggle. Instead, it’s the stories of companies that have reaped dramatic benefits from downsizing — like G.E. and Procter & Gamble — that become templates for how the process works.”
— James Surowiecki, staff writer at The New Yorker

“Show, don’t tell.”
— Mark Twain, American author and wit

“Don’t say that the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”
— Mark Twain, American author and wit

“If you want to be credible, be specific. … Heinz doesn’t have a ‘multitude’ of varieties; it has 57. Bressler’s doesn’t have a ‘whole lot’ of flavors; it has 33. There aren’t ‘many’ deadly sins; there are seven. Well, eight, if you count vague writing.”
— Doug Williams, a principal in Tomasini-W2K, a marketing, public relations, public affairs and training company

“Information is absorbed in direct proportion to its vividness.”
— Diane West and Jennifer Dreyer, principals, Tamayo Consulting Inc.

“No ideas but in things.”
— William Carlos Williams, poet

“The attention to status detail and dress is absolutely fascinating. I forget the French nobleman who was found guilty of a capital crime, who insisted on arriving in his full regalia — an ermine-trimmed coat and the works — for his beheading. He just wasn’t going to show up looking like a common, vulgar victim. … Style is always a window into what a person thinks of his place in the world or what he wants his place to be in the world.”
— Tom Wolfe, New Journalism pioneer, in an interview with the National Endowment for the Humanities

“Show AND tell.”
— Ann Wylie, writing coach
  • Color Them Fascinated

    Fun facts and juicy details might seem like the Cheez Doodles and Cronuts of communication: tempting, for sure, but a little childish and not particularly good for you.

    Not so. Concrete details are more like salad dressing and aioli — the secret sauces it takes to get the nutritious stuff down. Call it “The Vividness Effect.” It’s been proven in the lab again and again: Colorful details communicate better than dry, abstract information.

    Indeed, readers are more likely to understand and remember vivid details than dry abstractions. One study even showed that colorful details like Darth Vader toothbrushes can change people’s minds.

    At Portland creative writing workshopMaster the Art of the Storyteller — a two-day creative writing master class on July 25-26, 2018 in Portland — you’ll learn how to rivet readers with juicy details. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

    • Show and tell: Help readers understand your big ideas by way of your specific details.
    • Play it SAFE: Six ways to add color to your message.
    • Write like a roller coaster: Are you losing them in the middle? Test your message so you can spot and fix the boring parts.
    • Write to be read: Where to sprinkle “gold coins” throughout your message to keep readers engaged.
    • Go from blah to brilliant in 15 minutes or less: Quick ways to add concrete detail to even the most tedious topics.

    Learn more about the Master Class.

    Register for Master the Art of Storytelling Workshop in Portland.


    Browse all upcoming Master Classes.

    Would you like to hold an in-house Make Your Copy More Creative workshop? Contact Ann directly.


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