Clarity of Meaning

One of the hardest parts about writing I’ve found is not coming up with ideas, writing enough words or creating characters but expressing my thoughts clearly. It is one thing to write what comes to mind and another to paint a picture of words. I’ve heard people say “you know what I mean, so what does it matter?” I can tell you what it matters.


When we write a story, we want to pass meaning to another person. But it is more than simple translation of thoughts into words to pass on, the meaning has to be deeper than a dictionary can provide. In the way of all art, as the author, you must touch a person’s emotion and heart. You can’t do that with simple meaning. Imagine a movie where the actors didn’t bother wearing costume and it was all filmed from one camera angle. Imagine also that the lines the actors spoke were delivered just as if they were reading a shopping list. Sure, the director / writer could claim you know what the meaning is, but you need more than that to be entertained.


So, if we assume that our words need to move beyond a basic expression of dictionary definition then we need to be sure our meaning is clear. This is the really difficult part of writing. In particular we need to be wary of redundant words and expressions. You could think of it as a form of reading fatigue. There is only so much a person can read and process. The more full you sentences, the harder for the reader to get to the end. So the trick is to fill you writing with as much meaning as possible while being as clear as possible to allow the reader the fullness of your story. Here is an example of what I mean:
“Chuck it here,” Henry said, raising a hand.
Phill threw the ball to him.
Now that seems pretty good right? Almost. Have a look at this revision:
“Chuck it here,” Henry said, raising a hand.
Phill threw the ball.
I cut off “to him” because we can assume that Phill threw the ball to Henry without saying it. I’d only mention where he threw the ball if he didn’t throw it to Henry.


When I revise my work or critique someone else’s I go over each sentence and paragraph to see if there is more words than required to provide meaning. Sometimes it is desirous to have extra words; it may be part of your character’s style or the tone you want to set. If I was writing a steam-punk style story I would probably throw extra words in and make the sentences a little more complex to add to the feel of the Victorian age. Things I look for in particular are the words: up, down, in, out, on, him and her. For the most part those words are redundant. eg: He sat on the bench with her. You could probably reduce that to; “He sat with her.” or even “He sat” because you’ve probably set the scene of the woman sitting on a bench earlier in the paragraph. By streamlining your writing in this manner it also becomes easier to emphasise points or put things into slow motion. Take the example of the man sitting on the bench with the woman, if the rest of the scene or book were cut down to just what is needed for clarity and meaning and then you described the sitting on the bench in excruciating detail using complex sentences and more words than required, you will have drawn attention to that scene. You could make it very dramatic.


About sjohnhughes

Author, nerd, father, runner and more View all posts by sjohnhughes

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