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September 26, 2017 AT 5:30 pm

Writing Hacks: Strengthen Your Writing by Transforming Negative Descriptions into Positive Descriptions

Language is a technology. It’s a particularly strange one that’s made of squiggles and sounds and maps of meaning, but like any other technology, it’s hackable. So’s writing.

Often we describe things in the negative. This affects tone and rhythm. When you’re stuck in a rut of negative description, think about getting across the same content with positive language. It might open up your work.

From the inimitable Kathy Steinemann:

Negative: Wren plodded into the kitchen. She had never liked cooking, especially when it involved feeding strangers she barely knew. It wasn’t fair.

Focusing on the negative is like writing with a downbeat. But what if it’s written like this:

Positive: Wren strolled into the kitchen. Four for dinner. Best way to impress them would be to prepare a memorable meal, right? Internet recipes. Mom on speed dial. She could do this.

Same content. Stronger spin. Here are more examples:

Negative: Professor Watkins scratched his beard. “The latest statistics don’t support many of the initial conclusions. However, there isn’t much research available.”

The professor might be conflicted or concerned, as demonstrated by his beard scratching.  Don’t and isn’t add to the negativity.

Less negative: Professor Watkins stroked his beard. “The latest statistics support few of the initial conclusions. However, much more research is necessary.”

The edited version contains negative words, but they’re less noticeable.

Negative: Zach glowered at me. “The problem is that nobody listens to me, least of all you.”

Is it possible to remove most of the negatives but retain the tension?

Less negative: Zach swallowed, hard, and gazed at me. “I need to be acknowledged, especially by you.”

The first passage gives us an angry Zach. The second Zach seems wounded or disappointed.

More from Kathy Steineman here!


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