Descriptive Versus Interpretive Language
So we've been talking about what to say. And now I want to talk about how to say it. Well, um, doing it well is the best protection you've got. Um, from all the naysayers that you should pay no attention to whatsoever. So this is going to be our nuts and bolts segment. Um, the tools. I'm gonna talk about the tools for creating drama, tension, color, surprise in your writing, we're gonna exile a whole lot of words from your vocabulary. But don't worry. Um, there are a lot more where they came from. Better ones. Um, we're gonna talk about taking out extraneous details. So the ones that are left, um, have more power, Uh, and serve your your storytelling better. Um, we're going to begin with discussion of descriptive versus interpretive language. Um, and I e went through a bunch of student writings and I pulled out, um, some examples off interpretive language. I was overwhelmed. She was intense feeling on the edge. He gets emotional, live in the present, indecisive and wrought up. He exude...
d confidence. A terrible person, brilliant colors, emotionally unavailable. It was unnerve ing. It had its own realities. Ah, surreal experience. by giving me those adjectives, you have denied me the opportunity to make my own assessment of the picture. You've told me what you see in the picture instead of just giving me the picture. Um, you know, I sometimes think about what happens in a in a therapist's office and in a therapist office. We tell our stories, we do not go into the therapist office and say, Um, I experienced a trauma that had the effect of creating ah, lot of paranoid sensation. We go in and we tell what happens in our day or are weak or our childhood. We give stories, and ultimately it is from those stories that the therapist, or ideally, ourselves, figures out what it means. But the writers of these phrases jumped right to the bottom line. What what it means without letting us see how to get there. Ah, surreal experience. I have No. If I asked everybody in this room to describe a surreal experience, we would get 30 different descriptions and they might be radically different. Um, so I want to urge you not to do that. And now I'm going to talk about dead language and actually, there's No way that I know to convey dead language and the heavy, boring, effective it than to dump a whole lot of it on you and just feel the weight of this. So this is going to go on for maybe a minute and a half, just, you know, fasten your seatbelt for not a whole lot. Close your eyes. As I read this. Here goes thes air, all from student work, not shaming anybody. These people went on to write great stuff. Self imposed exile, desperate moments, creating a fantasy relationship coexisting with the more mundane truth of my life. It was unnerve ing when I needed her most belonging to my roots. Lucky beyond belief, my internal conflict attractive enough but nothing exceptional. My own personal nightmare. Avoiding the truth. A nice life full of nice things. Mental clarity. The good, the bad and the ugly. The loss of her mother, their own personal nightmare. Ah, collective gasp! Ah, sort of purgatory for what seemed like forever. This list does I know her features coalesced Assorted online dating story, her post divorce post 50 chapter in her life, his extended lovemaking, uh, to bring some happiness to her life. It did not end well. Even more compassionate and tender. Didn't miss a beat full of adventure and intrigue. Utterly embarrassed. Inappropriate solicitations from older men merely coexisting one of the most vivid and pressing memories I have of my childhood. Experiencing themselves in all their riel physicality, her curiosity and genuine openhearted charm. Daredevil antics to deliver in detail what we had seen accurately. Just through descriptions. The magnitude of this place is past work, bringing it on home, the safe container of my early youth, the bandwagon of popularity, so much loss of time, of relationships, of aloneness and confusion. Ah, little thing called puberty. The religious type a daughter from a broken family, his deceit, the confusion of our life. Now I'm going to ask you what of those 100 or so phrases can you remember and say back to me, That's not fair. Last one, I think you get the point that these air, not memorable phrases. Maybe you can come up with one or two of thumb, but basically this is dead language. I actually believe that there's probably, ah physiological thing about our brain that it does not hold onto language like this in the way that it does language that is concrete and specific. There. I usually title that list when I read one of them to a group of students that always comes from their work. They can always remember their own one. That one will be seared indelibly in their mind. I always title this. Can you draw a picture of this phrase, or can you make a movie of it? And you should be able to, and it has nothing to do with your drawing ability. Obviously it is. Is there a picture that your brain conform? And when there's not, your writing is not grounded. Your writing is floating around in the vague and imprecise, and I can't hold onto it. Um, so banish it. Um, I want to do a little exercise with some of that dead language. Utterly embarrassed. Dead language. Who's got an image for me of a moment. They were utterly embarrassed. We're talking about embarrassing things here today. Go for it. This is a moment that stands out for me. Is I had, um I was, I guess, experimenting with shoplifting, and I love how you put it on. I had them go and, uh, very well didn't last long. And I had this empty purse to fill and had this bright idea to buy to fill it. And I thought, Okay, what do I need? Oh, I guess I got some panties and I picked out some really bright, cute ones, and I got busted. And I just had this vision of this saleslady, you know, yelling at me to open up my purse, and she pulls it out and she's shaking it in front of my face and scolding me in front of its particularly sad because they were cute panties if they'd just been ugly. Perfect. Okay. Are we gonna forget the panty story? Panties pulled out of the purse that were shoplifted? I think not. Utterly embarrassing. Excellent. Yes. You know, I speak a lot about and you're gonna hear more about in this segment, being economical with your with your language. But sometimes it's worth using the extra words to tell. Tell the really great story and the specific story. Absolutely. Yes. And incidentally, you did another thing quite apart from giving us a picture. You did something brave. You told us unheroic aspect of your behavior and as a matter of fact in this book, this is my most recent book, The best of us. I describe a moment that I shoplifted my husband, Waas dying of cancer, and we hung out a whole lot at CVS, sometimes for hours waiting for opioid prescriptions to be filled. You have to work very hard sometimes to get those prescriptions filled. And I was supposed to buy a hair brush and I had it in my hand. And by the time we had waited an hour and a half to get the fentanyl, I decided I wasn't gonna pay for that damn hair brush. And my editor actually said, Really, if you want to tell that story about shoplifting a brush, yes, because I want you to trust me, and I trust you now. I trust you, Ed. Yes? You want to say something else? Yea, but yeah. Okay, but I was 62 when I did mine. So I beat you. Okay. Utterly embarrassed. Yes, my dating woes. Well, this is a no brainer. Who's got one of those? Yeah, Yeah, yeah, yeah. Candace e sure you so this could go with utterly embarrassed and dating woes. Eso I was on a second or third date with somebody who I had over for a drink at my house. And I didn't have his number in my phone as his name. And my friend had messaged me on DSO How's this date going? And I responded a very unfavorable response about how the date was going and I sent it to him. Hey was in my house in the other room, and as soon as I hit send, I could just feel my cheeks turn right on. You know, it is a wonderfully specific story. It's a scene. It's got characters. It's got pictures. Yeah. How's that relationship going? Candace, don't think I need to know. Daredevil antics. Yeah, Nobody had any daredevil antics. Okay? Their own personal nightmare. Own personal nightmare. And if you don't want to volunteer one, the important thing is to think in your head of a picture off one