Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Art of Editing

Our son, a high school sophomore, demonstrated over breakfast today why that adage about jazz is just as true about writing: Often it's what you leave out that resonates more than what you put in.

He was reading a story in the San Francisco Chronicle about a trial of a man accused of shooting the bullet that paralyzed a young boy while he was playing piano.

Here's the lede:
(02-02) 17:58 PST OAKLAND -- The 11-year-old boy paralyzed by a gas station robber's bullet while taking a piano lesson in Oakland still plays music and basketball - but now, he does both from a wheelchair.

My son's suggestion: Replace "paralyzed" with "hit" or "struck" or "shot," and you have a better lede. The changed construction adds an element of suspense to the sentence because it leaves out the outcome of the shooting until the end of the sentence. The emotion-coaster that creates in a single sentence is breathtaking: He was shot! Oh, he survived! He can play basketball and piano! Oh! He's paralyzed and in a wheelchair!

Writing is just as much about engaging with readers as it is about the raw conveyance of ideas and information, even in the digital age. Whether it's in print or online or in an email newsletter, good writing engages the mind.
You do that, and the rest will follow.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Catastrophe for Apostrophes

The people who invented the English language seemed determined to destroy it.
Birmingham, England, officials have decided it's okay not to have apostrophes.

Councilor Martin Mullaney, who heads the city's transport scrutiny committee, said he decided to act after yet another interminable debate into whether "Kings Heath," a Birmingham suburb, should be rewritten with an apostrophe.

"I had to make a final decision on this," he said Friday. "We keep debating apostrophes in meetings and we have other things to do."

Martin, why on Earth are you debating apostrophes? There's nothing to debate. They're a crucial part of understanding a written piece of communication.

Perhaps you should pass a law allowing people to spell Birmingham any which way they choose. Or renaming it. I'd vote for Mullaney's Folly.


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