Count on Writing
I count on writing most days. I count on thinking about writing every day. I count on learning more about the craft by reading about writing.
I count on the fact that I write for many reasons. I enjoy it. I have fun with it. I write to learn more about myself. I write to create worlds I will never experience. I write to learn about my characters. I write to entertain. I write to provide thought and feeling through my stories.
You can see there is little rhyme or reason to that list of aims for writing. Each is true, however.
Count for Writing
But why would I count for writing?
In the most recently read book on writing, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark, I discovered the answer in a tool I had never considered in my writing life. Chapter #20 entitled, “Choose the number of elements with a purpose in mind,” tells us that the number of things we list sends a sly message to our readers.
1. Clark states that one characteristic is a powerful declaration. For example:
- Fiona was embarrassed.
- Jacob carried himself with self-assurance.
If we write either of those sentences with more description it takes away from the one thing with which we want the reader to know.
2. Clark says that two descriptions provide the reader comparison or contrast.
- Fiona was embarrassed, because of her elegance.
- Jacob carried himself with self-assurance and arrogance.
When we write to tell our readers more about our characters, two depictions often provide a paradox. We are one thing and another, both/and, at the same time. This offers a way to see our characters in deeper, richer, and more realistic ways.
Think of pairs that communicate more: ham and beans; sweet and sour; France and Finland; war and peace; moon and sun; Mutt and Jeff.
3) Clark illustrates that three components offers a sense of completeness and wholeness.
- Fiona was embarrassed, because of her elegance; but never admitted it.
- Jacob carried himself with self-assurance and arrogance; however, he got things done.
We know much more about these two characters with the third element added to the sentence. They are more fully human. We can see inconsistencies in their character. They become more rounded, realistic folks to the reader.
Three is a magical number that is used in many ways. In terms of a story, we have three acts or the beginning, middle, and end. In terms of the Christian faith, we hold the three-in-one holy (or wholly), the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Our U.S.A. national government is divided into three branches to create balance of power, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
4. Clark informs us that three is greater than four. Three gives a sense of completeness. A listing of four or more, however enters what Clark calls “escape velocity.” A plethora of details can give a moving, literary feel to the writing—if used with experience and skill.
- Fiona was embarrassed, because of her elegance; but never admitted it, because she stood to lose face with the queen.
- Jacob carried himself with self-assurance and arrogance; however, he got things done, because of his position.
When we as writers use four or more to list attributes, or inventory roles, compile elements, and elaborate on what went on before, we generate complexity in the story line or complicity among characters. However, if not used skillfully, we can also cause complications and confusion for readers. Use this one with care.
Clark summarizes his chapter this way:
- Use one for power
- Use two for comparison, contrast
- Use three for completeness, wholeness, roundness
- Use four or more to list, inventory, compile, expand
Here is one example to illustrate how these come together in a paragraph.
“I’m a writer. Google my name and see for yourself. You will find throughout my career I’ve been a curriculum writer, a marketing specialist, a training and staff development specialist, an academic advisor, and college teacher. I’ve written different kinds of materials in different jobs, been edited by other people in each, and published my work formally and informally.”
Sentence #1: one for power
Sentence #2: two actions to conduct
Sentence #3: list of five career roles
Sentence #4: three elements of each role
The paragraph pattern is 1 -2 – 5 – 3. Note that the last sentence is a summarizing statement, worthy of completeness in a listing of three things that substantiates I am a writer, as stated in sentence number one.
Here is another example from the introduction of this post:
“I count on writing most days. I can count on thinking about writing every day. I count on learning more about the craft by reading about writing. (3)
I count on the fact that I write for many reasons. I enjoy it. I have fun with it. I write to learn more about myself. I write to create worlds I will never experience. I write to learn about my characters. I write to entertain. I write to provide thought and feeling through my stories. (4+, actually 8)
You can see there is little rhyme or reason to that list of aims. Each is true, however” (2)
Pattern to the introduction: 3 – 4 – 2 (I use “1” frequently in sentences throughout to give power to each.)
This new knowledge improves my writing.
Readers, how about you? Please offer an example of your own and show the pattern for it. This will give you practice and help others see it repeated.