#4 of 21: Writing: Avoid Negative Information

Writers often use negative information because it’s easier and can give, to the writer, the illusion of being poetic. An author gives negative information when he tells us what did not happen, rather than what did happen; or what wasn’t there, instead of what was; or what almost happened, instead of what actually happened. This is a very weak way of writing because it offers us no concrete information or images. We can’t feel like we’re there because we don’t vividly see what is happening. About 99% of the time, it’s better to eliminate negative information and rephrase it as positive information.

For example, instead of saying, “He nearly fell,” you could say, “He stumbled.” That is more precise and vivid. Instead of saying, “The stranger, Keller, seldom lapsed from memory,” you could say, “Keller’s image lingered in her mind.”

Here are other examples, from manuscripts I’ve recently read:

  • “I didn’t look back.”
  • “I don’t know what I’m going to do with you gone,” he almost whimpered.
  • But Japper was not a one-man army.
  • “Funny.” Smith didn’t laugh. He didn’t even smile.

Final point on Negative Info:
“not” is never as powerful as “no” or “never”. Check it out… which is more powerful?:

  • You should not do that.
  • Never do that.

(most of this is from http://www.sff.net/Odyssey/tips3.html)

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2 comments

  1. Very good info, I really like how the examples support the idea of creating images using positive statements.

    A little fun fact here; in the navy for my communications I am required to give positive statements at all times to reduce the number of misinterpretations. It all ties back to the telling what is going on, instead of what is not.

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