“When words are scarce they are seldom spent in vain.” William Shakespeare
I am a detail-oriented individual. I believe I inherited this trait from my father, who researches everything before buying or pursuing. It was also an important skill to use with my mother, if I was ever to win an argument. Being meticulous when choosing words is something to which I aspire.
As a writer, it’s a fine-line between the text being enriched versus muddled. Is it better for a character to be incredibly disappointed or dismayed? Each word must be chosen with care. If I get feedback from an editor, I must take it to heart to improve my piece. Is there too much dialogue or not enough? Is the manuscript bogged down with details about surroundings or are there too few? Is the internal monologue superfluous or an inadequate explanation of internal motivations? Editors and agents have told me to show and not tell. I often think about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, The Scarlet Letter, which initially goes on for pages, describing scenes in minute detail with no dialogue. I doubt an editor would offer Mr. Hawthorne a contract today. Is it detail or minutia?
Striking the right balance of detail is crucial in writing and teaching. Students can only listen so long, no matter how exciting a lesson I try to teach. I need to give enough detail to make the material clear, but not so much that they tune me out. It’s also crucial to provide analogies, so they can relate to a theory that is otherwise unclear. Their feedback helps me tailor my lessons, for if a student’s question demonstrates that s/he is lost, I need to try again. Was it my words that confused the student or the method of delivery? How can I make myself clear?
Being misunderstood in writing, teaching, or conversation is frustrating. I want to always be concise about what I am trying to communicate. Writing is the easiest because I can reedit until I get it right. And I can bestow perfect words upon the lips of my characters. Teaching is a bit harder – I aspire for clarity in the moment, the next class, or the following year, when that lesson comes up again. I often wish I was the type of person who was meticulous in selecting each word that I uttered. I've always admired people who exercise that type of restraint.
In conversation, there’s often less care in choosing words. And if words aren’t chosen correctly, they can degenerate into a misunderstanding. Then, trying to remedy a misunderstanding can quickly deteriorate into an argument. Only words will ameliorate the situation, so choose carefully.