Thursday, May 15, 2008

Choose your words carefully

Eugene wrote a story in Monday's paper using a news release and one interview. Because of his use of strong verbs -- tilting, spat, prodded, grappled, for example -- and other description, the story had more life than it might otherwise have had. It's an example of why word choice matters, even if it's in a short daily piece.

How did he come by those strong verbs?

When Eugene interviewed Richard Sullivan, the man who was attacked, he was standing in the doorway where Sullivan's cousin, the alleged attacker, had stood hours before. Eugene asked Richard to act out what had happened.

When Richard moved his hands in a certain way to imitate the clash, Eugene thought of wrestling, and thus, "Sullivan reached for the shotgun and grappled with his attacker ..."

When Richard showed how he went for the gun, Eugene thought first to say he "pushed" it away, but chose instead "...tilting the mouth" of the gun because Sullivan described the action as more instinctive than intentional, so "pushed" seemed too strong and "tilting" seemed right. (I would add that when I read "tilting" I think "tilting up," whereas "push" could be in any direction.

When Eugene described the gun going off, he first wrote that it "let out a round," then thought of his description of the "mouth" of the gun and chose "spat" to go along with that.

Those kinds of choices, in any kind of story, make for stronger writing. There are many examples of this in our paper, and I salute anyone who puts this kind of thought into picking just the right word for what you're trying to say.