Avoid Confusion for Your Listener
By Annette Rey
I think like a writer and I can’t turn it off; so I find writing material wherever life takes me.
While waiting at a cemetery for a funeral director, I overheard an employee attempt to direct a person to a particular grave section. The words she chose left me confused and it took me some moments to make sense of what she said.
This is what I heard.
“Look for markers that start out smaller, then get larger.”
I sat there wondering why the cemetery planners would deface the area with larger and larger signs. I wondered how large they’d be at the end.
Then, discounting the accuracy of her statement, I tried to interpret what she was trying to say. I determined she meant:
“The numbers on the signs start lower and increase as you go further into the grounds, as in K31-K52.”
That would have been communicating effectively.
You see, not only was her word choice poor (smaller, larger), her subject was markers, the word to which smaller and larger referred. Thus, she was instructing the person to watch for a succession of markers, one larger than the next.
For the sake of the listener, my word choice (lower, increase) refers accurately to my subject – numbers. I would have omitted start lower and as in:
“The numbers on the signs increase as you go further into the grounds, as in K31-K52.”
Do you see how important knowing grammar is to you and all around you?
What you say matters to the listener. You want good directions when you ask for help, right? Well, you also need to be a good communicator when someone asks you for directions so they can find their destination.
This skill is imperative for writers. You are the only source your reader has to lead him through your story. You want him to reach the destination you intend him to find. Be clear in your word choice. Be sure your sentences are saying what you mean.
Do not give your reader a moment to pause or to be confused. If that happens, he is drawn outside of your story, the imagination spell is broken, and he may not be able to connect again. These interruptions can cause you to lose readers.
In real life, I envisioned the listener wandering around the cemetery based on directions she had been given. I know I would have been looking for larger and larger signs – and would not have found them, as they do not exist.