1. leafmould
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    leafmould Senior Member

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    Precision in writing - some tips.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by leafmould, Nov 19, 2011.

    I've just watched an episode of the British comedy series Blackadder, in which the "hero" is a soldier feigning madness so he'll be sent home and avoid the fighting.

    He put his underpants on his head and put two pencils up his nose as part of the ruse. I still have in mind this ridiculous image - but you can't be sure what that image is. The English I've used isn't precise enough.

    Did he have a pencil in each nostril, or two pencils in just the one?

    Precision can often be very important in writing, so here is a more precise description:


    He put his underpants on his head and a pencil into each of his nostrils.


    Nope! Still not precise enough to convey the image I saw. Perhaps the pencils were very short and not visible. Again:


    "He put his underpants on his head and had a pencil dangling from each nostril".

    The second useage of "put" is redundant now, eliminating the repetition of the verb - to have pencils dangling from nostrils requires they be put there. We don't know for sure who put them there. That action is not part of the image I am trying to convey to you.

    Also....

    Can pencils "dangle" from nostrils? Not according to on-line dictionaries. "To dangle" means "to hang loosely and be able to swing to and fro". In my image, the pencils are in fact rigidly "sticking out".

    Another edit then:

    He put his underpants on his head and had a pencil sticking out from each nostril.

    or....

    He put his underpants on his head and had a pencil sticking out of each nostril.

    Another decision needing to be made!


    But now you know what I saw on TV today.


    All this for one sentence! Are you sure you want to write? :)



    Further, note that I've used the words "in" and "into" in my writing about these pencils. Why? Because we use "in" when we refer to something static, and "into" when movement is involved.


    Thus:

    "He walked in the kitchen" means that he was in the kitchen, and walking. A little odd - we usually say that someone "is walking around the kitchen", perhaps in a state of nervousness.....a logical conclusion. The "being in the kitchen" is the static element, even though he was moving, so "in" would be correct if we didn't mean that he walked INTO the kitchen from another place.

    "He walked from the garden into the kitchen" is correct.


    Consider the following examples:


    "Please put the apples in the basket" is incorrect.

    "Please put the apples in the basket into the kitchen. The apples on the floor can stay there" is correct.

    "Please put the apples into the basket" is correct.


    Good fun or what? :)
     
  2. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    interesting stuff there.
    One of my signature is:
    'knowledge is power and time is precision and everything else is what you fancy.'

    meaning that you can never pin point precision in writing because it is a 'private matter'.
    so depending on the moods I can one day write he walked through the doorway, and the next I can say he run/went..through the doorway.
    it is a matter of feelings and since feelings are unpredictable then so is writing.

    another point
    someone wearing underpants over their heads and pencils up their nostril does not necessarilymean that person is mad.
    it could mean all sorts.
    and so generalisation and cliches do not stand a chance and are obsolete as afar as the viewer,thinker or reader is concerned.
    this scene reminded me of the movie callled
    ''a fish called wanda''
    there is a scene where on of the actors put chips up someone else's nose.
    so the question that stand out for me:
    was it him that put underpants over his heads or was is it someone's else, like a bully or a joker?
    and so you might ask then
    who is the real mad person now?
    the one wearing the pans or the one whose ideas was to put them on?
     
  3. leafmould
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    leafmould Senior Member

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    Good points.

    But remember that I was trying to convey in words an image, quite specific, of what I had seen. Not the reason how the situation came about, but a description of what it looked like. Of course, in creative writing there would be plenty of scope for extra detail. This was just an example.

    This is the thing about writing. Firstly, one has to have a solid idea of what one wants to do.........and then do it. In the creative process, it is possible to lose sight of the goal, and end up with something completely different. This can be a good thing, though, and lead the writer towards interesting places he or she hadn't thought of at the outset.

    But to describe what I saw, I really need to accurately describe what I saw, and nothing else.
     
  4. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    I agree it is like a Television trying to describe and so fails everytime.
    you would think that a book would give it away to the director and it is all made up but fortunately you can never beat a book to a film.
    itis not possible in the same that transfering a Television story to a book is what you are doing.
    you can describe the scene to yourself and other but I will have my own take on it.
    hence the beauty of writing is that you never run out ideas and ways to put an idea forward.
    precision is predictible and so to precdict language is like trying to predict the weather and so does not work , if it did it would very boring.
     
  5. leafmould
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    leafmould Senior Member

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    Aha!

    I was able to describe what I saw - I saw a man with his underpants on his head and a pencil sticking out from each nostril.

    Of course, that's just the bare fact, but we often need bare facts when writing creatively. The bare facts need to be precise, with no ambiguity. Writing about the colour of the pants, the length of the pencils and the look on the man's face demand the same degree of precision. For example, if we wrote that the man had a 10-inch novelty pencil sticking out from each nostril, and went on to write that the pencils almost touched his chin......................we might think that the man had an unnaturally long chin, or would be dead from pencils lodged in his brain.

    But the writer may have meant that the SHAFTS of the pencils "almost touched his chin", by hanging close to it at that point, and not that the TIPS of the pencils "almost touched his chin", leaving seven inches or so of pencils in his head, above his nose. So it would be better to write about the shafts of the pencils, for clarity, rather that simply pencils.


    See what I mean about precision? If I want the reader to visualize something as I do, I have to be precise.
     
  6. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    haha...and here I am thinking in order for the reader to visualize a scene I have to be descriptive.
    I understand precision as in minutes /time and writing as in details
    details is one thing
    and
    precision is another.
    if you are a French speaker like me then precision means in details.
    I also know whilst you the writer cares about the image you want to convery you are first and foremost doing it the way YOU know best.
    beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the devil is in the details ?!
    I think the details is in the eyes of the beholder and the image is in the mind of the writer.
     
  7. leafmould
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    leafmould Senior Member

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    Of course you have to be descriptive and can be as detailed as you like - although describing the molecules might be stretching it a bit :).

    But descriptive and detailed with precision.

    For me, precision means "accuracy". A precision engineer is one who crafts materials to very fine tolerances.........+ zero sometimes. Well, theoretically at least - spacecraft construction demands such tolerances in the manufacturing process, but in the end the evaluation of + zero is a human opinion.


    Precision in writing is liberating, not a constraint.
     
  8. leafmould
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    leafmould Senior Member

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    Now there's a good story.........

    Ben is an engineer with NASA, and he's the "+ zero man", and he can't take the stress much longer. Some parts have to be so precise that the agency puts the work out to several engineers, whose work all comes back registering "+ zero" - perfect! State-of-the-art measuring equipment cannot detect any difference in quality between the submissions.

    Ben has to decide. Which engineer has achieved the best "+ zero"? How does he reach a decision about which one to use? The look? The feel? Lives and millions of dollars are at stake, and the stress is killing Ben.

    One day, Ben receives a parcel containing $100,000 dollars in cash and a note telling him this is only half - the rest to be paid when Part No. 344-3232-A3C443 is chosen.

    Then a phone call from his daughter, who is not, as Ben thought, still on a hiking holiday in Scotland.................


    Precision in thinking is also valuable - never miss a thing!


    Film title?


    Zero Tolerance has been done............so this is where it all gets difficult :).

    Plus Minus has been done...............so this is where it all gets difficult :).

    The Nothingness Man has not been done................so this is where it all starts to get really difficult :)!

    Ben was never a good father, never a great lover. His wife left him and took everything. Ben has never liked himself. Daughter Jenny means the world to him...............


    "A heart as empty as the space he has come to hate - except for one star".


    Discount premiere tickets for Writingforums members!


    :)
     
  9. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    wow..
    is that your story?
    I see decision making for a mission into space is life dependable.
    what I am not clear about is why does he get the money? what has he done exactly?
    is he not the one to decide which part to chose ?
    I am not following sorry..
     
  10. leafmould
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    leafmould Senior Member

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    Don't follow...........write it, if you like the sound of it!

    Some people bake bread, I have ideas :).

    But I'm a trifle weird. I long ago learned that the having of an idea is as precious as the financial rewards which might come from following it through.

    If I had a lot of money, I might stop having ideas.

    I like having ideas. Vast wealth doesn't interest me at all.


    Nowhere to go, then.
     
  11. leafmould
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    leafmould Senior Member

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    ^^^^^

    Having written that, I do have a pet project of a book I'd like published. Not for the money, but because I think it's okay and might be enjoyed. I'll post up what I have so far after I've done my constructive critiques in the near future.
     
  12. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess this is why they say that "a picture tells more than a thousand words". It's really difficult to get the same impression from a piece of writing as from a film or a photo. I think it's hard to convey that overall picture when you have to "notice" one thing at the time as a writer instead of altogether as a photographer.
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I used to earn part of my living writing technical manuals. Precision was a requirement. There are times when you find that the English language isn't even remotely the best tool for getting certain ideas across. Describing certain kinds of procedures in such a way as they can be clearly understood by an intelligent but uninformed reader can be a real exercise for the writer's brain.

    For example, try to write instructions on how to tie your shoelaces. Everybody knows how to do it, but can you describe the procedure in words, so that a person who has never tied shoelaces before can understand, and correctly tie shoelaces? And can you make this description concise? It's a simple procedure, but describing it requires imagination and precision. It's tougher than it sounds.
     
  14. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    I am guessing it is not necessary whilst lacing your shoes hence the lack of it being described .
    they do say action speaks louder then words and this instance does just that.
    I am also guessing that lacing one's shoe came before language..necessity obliges.
     
  15. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    I am guessing it is not necessary whilst lacing your shoes hence the lack of it being described .
    they do say action speaks louder then words and this instance does just that.
    I am also guessing that lacing one's shoe came before language..necessity obliges.
     
  16. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you're missing the point here...
     
  17. leafmould
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    leafmould Senior Member

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    Language definitely popped up before shoelaces :).
     
  18. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hahaha, I don't know why but this post made my day ! :) thanks, I needed a good laugh!
     
  19. leafmould
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    leafmould Senior Member

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    Put on your shoes and hold each end of the shoelace of one shoe between..............


    Yep! Tough!
     
  20. leafmould
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    leafmould Senior Member

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    :)

    Doesn't everyone?
     
  21. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    Hold one lace in each hand, about halfway down, and cross them over each other. Pass one end through the bottom of the X and pull the ends tight. Pick up both laces again, and hold about halfway down. Make a loop that looks like a bunny ear out of the lace in your right hand, leaving a two inch tail below your hand. With the lace in your left hand, go around the base of the loop in your right hand above where your fingers are holding the loop secure. You will see a small hole has been created between the bottom knot and your fingers. Push the piece of the lace you are holding in your left hand through the hole and grasp the small loop it has made on the other side. now hold the original bunny ear/loop with your right hand, and the new loop with your left hand, and pull them away from each other with even pressure. Congratulations! You have now tied your shoe :p

    (And I openly admit I probably missed something, lol. It really is hard!)

    The point, Cacian, is that the devil is in the details, and you don't know which ones to leave out, unless you can objectively see them all to begin with.
     
  22. leafmould
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    leafmould Senior Member

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    ^^^^^

    Hold one lace in each hand......

    You are about to tie your shoes together :) - there's one lace to each shoe.
     
  23. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    LOL! Okay, okay, hold one side of the lace in each hand... I wrote it as I did it, lmao. Did I miss anything else? (And I was assuming you already had the shoe ON and someone laced it for you, so don't call me on that :p)
     
  24. leafmould
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    leafmould Senior Member

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    I want shoes with bunny ears on them - it might catch on.

    Imagine the rappers, with their laceless trainers, and their jeans bottoms carefully arranged for the right amount of slop......and bunny ears sticking up like daffodil leaves growing from their feet, swaying to and fro as they trundle coolly along.........
     
  25. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe we should go back to using moccasins? Life was easier back then ;)
     

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