[This is part of the series: 20 Writing Tips From John Erickson]
Good writing is specific.
Let me illustrate.
If I say, “Living in Saudi Arabia was like living on a different planet.” does that tell you anything?
Are you able to draw any conclusions?
Or have I just found another way to say, “I found Saudi Arabia very different than America.”
“I remember the House of Donuts van parked by the theater on the weekend. Pancakes from the dining hall, and buying spring-rolls from one of the enterprising ladies on a folding-table in front of the rec center. Wild cats roaming everywhere. The taste of fresh Tameez and honey. Eating shawarma with extra mayo as you walk back to your car from the souq. The smell of incense emanating from the souq stalls as prayer call begins and shops start to close. Being excited to eat at Wendy’s on your next trip to Jeddah. On the road to Jeddah, seeing thousands walk the road east toward Mecca wearing the white sheets of Hajj. Camping by, and snorkeling in, the Red Sea. Snake Road. See! Maybe less than a few thousand people on the planet have any idea what I am talking about.”
Here is one more.
Is it more memorable to say: “My grandfather was kind to animals.”
Or: “I remember watching my grandfather care for the little kittens at the ranch. There were always a dozen feral cats out there, and he always had a soft heart for the smallest and weakest of them.”
Do you see it?
I think this is a case of finding the universal in the particular.
7. Good writing deals with the specific instead of the general.