The Importance of Words

Wilmer Stone read our stories to us in a monotone as if he were reading from the pages of a phone directory. What we learned with each stab of pain was that the words themselves and not the inflections supplied by the reader had to carry the emotion of the story.
– Solutions For Writers by Sol Stein

I’d like to challenge you.

Take the nearest piece of writing – something you’ve been writing or reading – and read it aloud with no emotion or inflection whatsoever.

How does the story change?

I’ve been on and off reading Sol Stein’s Solutions For Writers, one of the few practical and useful writing handbooks.

Best of all, it makes me think.

The words, and not the inflections, have to carry the emotion of the story.

I have a tendency to overuse italics, forcing a stress onto a particular word to make the sentence have a certain emphasis. When revising, I strip the story of all formatting. The only italics that go back in are the ones I simply can’t avoid – and even those I consider a luxury.

I’m sure others have their own guilty pleasures. A personal pet peeve is exclamation marks; while I don’t subscribe to the drastic rule of having max one exclamation mark every three pages, I’d delete them wherever possible.

Exclamation marks and italics have their place, but if abused they lose their meaning. What’s worse is that they impede you from hearing the true meat of your story.

So be sparing. Strip away all inflections. Listen to what the words alone are saying, and make them precise and clear.

When you’ve finished revising, read your story aloud as if you’re reading from the pages of a phone directory.

You may be surprised by what you find.

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