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September 21, 2011

            Lists, lists, everywhere there are lists.

            The crew consisted of John, the barber, Mary the receptionist, Gary the mechanic, Ruth the pregnant housewife, Harry the old man, Aldo the kindly Dwarf, Zorba the mime, Charlie the deaf mute, and Hillary the vice president of the women’s library league. They staked out the soda shop and watched for anything unusual.

            How long did it take before your eyes glazed over? That is the problem with lists. They can be repetitious, boring, too much information at one time and tedious. They can develop a rhythm that puts the reader in a kind of hypnosis that makes them lose their place. Some readers eat this stuff up. The more words the better. However, most contemporary readers are not as patient as they used to be. They’d like to get to the point. Some say people don’t read anymore, but that simply isn’t true. People still read. However, the way they read has changed. Long endless wordy tomes are not as easily digested as they used to be. People want something that is more palatable to a faster lifestyle. Does that mean you should be afraid of words? Of course not! Just present them in a more palatable fashion, that’s all.

            Now, is this a list?

            The dark castle loomed overhead. Two towers rose above crenellated parapets, each with gun turrets bristling with cannons. The cone-shaped roofs held slick red tiles with hooks lining the seams. Every other stone in the masonry pattern contained a piece of coal set into the center of the block. Green moss grew down from the center crenellations as if green slime were overflowing from inside the castle walls. A red glow emanated from the un-glassed windows dotting the wall under the parapets. This being the west side of the castle, there were no doors. The blank wall below the windows ended in a deep moat filled with murky water and vicious creatures of unknown species.

            If one were to stretch things, it might be considered a list. However, it is really a narrative description. That’s not the same as a list. A description can carry on forever and become as boring as a list. However a short paragraph, similar to the above, is perfectly okay. Maybe even twice as long, if the verbiage is colorful and interesting. Be careful what you define as a list before you start cutting!

            A list can be used for effect. For example (taken from my short story Galf):

            Whenever we would go down to visit Grandpa in Playa Del Ray (Playa Della Ray), whether Ivan and Ray were there or not, the conversation was usually about galf. Galf clubs, galf balls, galf carts, galf tees, galf courses. I mustn’t forget galf pros and galf score cards.

            In this case, the list was used for effect. I kept it short, only two short sentences, ten and nine words each.

            If you are just trying to pass off information, don’t do it with lists. Spread it out in bits and pieces so the reader never sees it as a list and never has a chance to get bored and skip the information.

            There are many more examples but you should get the idea.

            Happy writing.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2011 2:24 am

    Good job as usual Fred, very informative. I hope I’m not on one of your lists? I wish I were a little younger, I would eat up your advice. I slowed down with my writing when my wife wasn’t well and I was taking care of her. I’ve never gotten back as other interests popped up, such as promoting what I had already done. Of course my chromatic harp is taking up a little time every day, plus my business with my partner Mario Grossi selling and renting new and used instruments. That’s going along well, especially with school now in session…Take care–Felix

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