Saturday, July 7, 2012

Strive to write “absolutely memorable” stories

Don’t generalize. Use specific images.
Avoid abstractions. Be concrete.
There is one thing
that makes [Sinclair Lewis’s] books classics,
makes them absolutely memorable.
It is his imagery—his very specific images.
It makes his writing readable
because you can feel the restaurant [Billie’s Lunch Counter]
with the sticky oilcloth on its tables.…
“Thick handleless cups
on the wet oilcloth-covered counter.
An odor of onions
and the smoke of hot lard.
In the doorway
a young man audibly sucking a toothpick.
An aluminum ashtray labeled,
‘Greetings from Gopher Prairie.’”
(Judy Delton)

This is your time to get out those “crackly words” you’ve been collecting, “the good words, the juicy words, the hot words.” (Priscilla Long, The Writer’s Portable Mentor)

Priscilla Long urges writers to avoid approaching language passively.

She encourages us to sidestep “using only words that come to mind, or words [we] grew up with, … general, conventional diction [word choice] that has little to offer in the way of echo, color, or texture.”

Words that don’t require a dictionary.

Words that are not overused.

“Be specific. Not car, but Plymouth” says Laura Davis. “Not dog, but Yorkshire terrier. Not the flower in the window, but the geranium in the window.”

When you polish your memoir, replace common, generic words with precise words, descriptive words, nuanced words like “Chanel No 5” instead of “expensive perfume.”

If your favorite aunt had a red mailbox, call it a crimson mailbox.

If you’re writing about a hilarious moment, use words like chortle, snort, giggle, hoot, snicker, snigger, guffaw, cackle.

Are you writing a story about your Great-grandfather’s Model T Ford? Did you know it was also called The Tin Lizzie?

If you’re writing about a VIP, consider one of these words: a pooh-bah, big cheese, big shot, heavyweight, high muck-a-muck, bigwig.

If you’re writing about an insignificant person, try: a lightweight, a nobody, a nonentity, a whippersnapper.

Did your father wear jeans? How about Levis? Or were they called dungarees back then?

If your grandfather drove an old, cheap car, call it a jalopy, a rattle trap, a clunker, or a flivver.

Get out your rough drafts and work on generating excitement, energy, and curiosity.

For more ideas, look over Ted Lamphair’s Wild Words (he’s a veteran VOA reporter and essayist).

At the Daily Writing Tips blog you’ll find resources such as a list of three-letter words that pack a punch, 15 words for household rooms and their synonyms, and much more.

Go back to the Judy Delton quote above. Take it in. Savor it.

Then, using her quote for inspiration, revise your stories so they’ll be “absolutely memorable.”


  1. This is really great advice for any kind of writer, but you're right that it will bring those memories alive!

    Funny thing. I first saw this in my email box, and because of the length of the line, I just saw "Strive to write absolutely me". I thought it might be about being true to your own perceptions and voice instead of trying to make it sound like someone else, or better in some way than it really was. Maybe that's a topic for another post. :)

    1. Absolutely! That's a great idea, Lia. :)

      And yes, we do need to be true to ourselves, authentic, honest with our readers. They are counting on us to be ourselves and tell the truth.

      Thanks for stopping by, Lia.


  2. What fun, Linda to match the person, place or thing with such juicy descriptions! I love Lia's mention of the quote-"Strive to be absolutely me." Put the two concepts together and you have a hook to entertain and engage the reader. Thanks again for all your pearls!


    1. Kathy, I like your idea to put the two concepts together to hook and entertain readers. It's so fun working in this writers' "village" with you, Lia, and the others. :)


  3. Loved this post. I feel as if your posts are a kind of oxygen tank for my creative writing--I come here to breathe life into my writing ideas! (And BTW, Sinclair Lewis is one of my favorite writers.)

    1. Hi, Cathy, thanks for your kind comments. I pray and pray that this blog will contain info that's helpful and inspirational to others.

      Like you, I, too, find life and inspiration from other writers' blogs. Like Kathy Pooler says, it takes a village -- all of us together -- to get our important stories in writing and in the hands of our readers. :)

      I hope your week is going well, Cathy. Thanks for stopping by.