Everywhere you turn you find advice on decluttering.
A friend of mine is trying to rid his home of mountains of clutter, including a collection of six books on decluttering.
Most great writers become ruthless in eliminating adverbs — “an adverb is a crutch for the wrong verb.” They also implore us to be ruthless in rejecting adjectives, especially adjectives that carry a writer’s judgment.
It’s fine to describe something as green; green is a fact. It’s not fine to call it lovely; lovely is an opinion. If you want to convince us that something is lovely, describe it so that we can see it, and allow us to decide if it is lovely.
If someone did something that may have been heroic, don’t call that person heroic; show us the action.
John Hersey’s nonfiction account of the aftermath of the destruction of Hiroshima by the atomic bomb — the only story ever to fill an entire issue of the New Yorker magazine — ran 31,000 words. You will not find in it one adjective that carries Hersey’s judgment.
In a critique of that piece Hendrik Hertzberg wrote: “If ever there was a subject calculated to make a writer overwrought and a piece overwritten, it was the bombing of Hiroshima.” But Hersey’s sentences and paragraphs were “so clear, calm and restrained, that the horror of the story he had to tell” pierced a reader’s consciousness.
Hersey later said about his approach: “A high literary manner, or a show of passion, would have brought me into the story as a mediator. I wanted to avoid such mediation, so the reader’s experience would be as direct as possible.”
In the movie “Midnight in Paris,” the writer/director Woody Allen gives viewers a direct experience of being there. He uses a technique that can be called visual writing: The movie opens not with actors mouthing adjective-laden travelogue hype about the city’s beauty, but instead with an uninterrupted leisurely montage of 62 scenes of the city, supported by music that evokes the spirit of Paris.
Every time I watch those 62 scenes, they lift my spirit. Woody Allen never had to say the word “lovely.” We get it.
Twin Cities writing coach Gary Gilson, a five-time Emmy Award winner in public television, has taught writing-intensive journalism courses at Colorado College. His columns will now run every other week on D2 in the Sunday business section. Contact him at www.writebetterwithgary.com.