It's all about Spin-Doctoring

Vision 66

It's all about Spin-Doctoring

By

Catrin Pitt

Copyright © 2012, Catrin Pitt, All Rights Reserved

 

I remember the days before internet, before personal computers even. I remember doing my school work on a slate board in chalk. Hehe, not really, but I do remember having to hand write everything and, if you made a mistake on the last line, having to rewrite the page. Kids of today think they have it hard.

 

But this isn't about the ease today's students can study and present their works.

 

This is about choice of words.

 

For my last years of high school I went to a private all-girls school. Prim and proper teachers; certainly our head mistress was. A spinster, she held her appearance and decorum to very high standards and we girls were expected to do the same. Our winter school uniform was the same school uniform worn by the first girls attending the school over a hundred years prior to my attending. There were few concessions to the modern age; no gloves nor stockings, the length of the skirt had risen - by an inch - and only the seniors had to wear a blazer. Lessons were conducted to the same old fashioned standards - teachers taught, students listened, did the work and learned.

 

My economics teacher was the only male teacher. He had long blond hair loose around his shoulders He wore jeans and trainers, although he did concede to wear a buttoned shirt (short sleaved), a belt and a tie.He didn't just teach economics; he discussed economics. He bought economics into the classroom and made us learn from real life happenings. Not just book smarts. When there was a drop in the economy we dropped the topic we were studying and turn to the real life problems. He pulled every source of information he could and we discussed the happenings and how it was reported

 

He pointed out the half truths, the forgotten facts, the misrepresentations. He showed us how the choice of words gave a different impression to accurately given information. He showed to us the 'spin-doctoring' the media put forward to us as readers.

 

For example;

  • The price of the shares dropped 4 points overnight.
  • The price of the shares crashed 4 points overnight.
  • The price of the shares plummeted 4 points overnight.
  • The price of the shares settled down 4 points overnight.
  • The price of the shares stabilised 4 points lower overnight.

Same information, different words, different impressions.

 

Years later, when I started writing fiction, I wrote whatever words came to me. It was only when I discovered, to my horror, that I didn't write well that I started to think about the words I chose. I did discover that I was using words in a similar manner to how my economics teacher had explained.

  • The light down the darkened corridor beckoned Jess.
  • The light down the shadow filled corridor welcomed Jess.
  • The light down the pale corridor tempted Jess.
  • The light down the silent corridor bid Jess return.
  • The light down the noise laden corridor pulled Jess.

Same information, different words, different emotions.

 

Since then, in the process of increasing my writing skills, I've taken to this technique in many different ways, and used it to create the emotions I want the reader to feel, and to create a connection between reader and character.

 

But it isn't just about choice of words in one sentence. It involves more than that. It is about using words to paint a complete picture of a character, including their emotions, to create that connection between reader and character. This can't be done with one sentence or one paragraph. It has to be done over the whole story, but it is important for a reader to feel the start of that connection as soon as possible.

 

So how to do that?

 

For me it is a combination of techniques - a different combination each time. I start with something basic and then build it up as suits the character, the story and the situation.

 

Often I start with dialogue. For me the dialogue is the most personal part of a character. It reflects the character's background and the character's current emotions.

 

Jakara said, "The Tishla must continue the mission. That is their primary goal. I can hardly tell the mission to just anyone. Not many would believe it, others I don't trust well enough. The agents of The King's enemy do not fight their battles on the fields."

 

Whilst this dialogue does hold some emotion, in real life we see and hear emotion in more than just the words. We see the facial expressions, the body language, and the actions of the speaker. We hear the pauses and the tone of voice. As readers of words we don't get that secondary information, not unless the author adds it in.

 

Tone of voice is hard, unless saidisms like 'whispered', 'shouted', 'yelled', 'croaked' etc. are used. Another way is to tell the reader that the speaker 'lowered his voice', or 'cleared his throat before forcing the words out.' There is nothing wrong with either of those methods. Each has their right time and place within a story, but I more often use the body language of the character to emphasise the tone of voice without being specific.

 

Humans are very apt at reading body language without thinking about it. We do this every day. Readers will interpret the body language they 'see' in the words. It is up to writers to put it in the story for the readers. And with body language comes emotion and with that the tone of voice.

 

So I add in some body language to start the reader seeing Jakara's emotions. The changes are underlined

 

Jakara glanced over his shoulder, then looked directly at Mishka. "The Tishla must continue the mission. That is their primary goal." Jakara smiled. "I can hardly tell the mission to just anyone. Not many would believe it. Others," He shrugged. "Others I just don't trust well enough. The agents of The King's enemy do not fight their battles on the fields."

 

By Jakara looking over his shoulder the reader should get a feeling of a conspiracy, and that something secret and dangerous is going on. Thus reader should 'hear' a lowered voice, or a whisper.

 

Adding more of the setting will help this. The setting also helps with the emotion.

 

Jakara glanced over his shoulder. The stone walls held in the sounds, but in the quiet darkness he sometimes thought he could hear pained cries of men. His men. Jakara looked up, directly at Mishka. "The Tishla must continue the mission. That is their primary goal." Jakara smiled. "I can hardly tell the mission to just anyone. Not many would believe it. Others," He shrugged. "Others I just don't trust well enough. The agents of The King's enemy do not fight their battles on the fields."

 

So now the reader gets an impression of captivity, of loss, of hurt.

 

Now to build it up some more. Mishka isn't going to just stand there and do nothing. He will react in some way. So we can add in that, and by using Jakara's reaction and impression we can give out more information about Jakara as well as Mishka.

 

Jakara glanced over his shoulder. The stone walls held in the sounds, but in the quiet darkness he sometimes thought he could hear pained cries of men. His men. Jakara looked up, directly at Mishka. "The Tishla must continue the mission. That is their primary goal." Jakara smiled, though he felt no pleasure from the command. And by the frown on Mishka's forehead, his second didn't either. "I can hardly tell the mission to just anyone. Not many would believe it. Others," Jakara shrugged. "Others I just don't trust well enough. The agents of The King's enemy do not fight their battles on the fields." Mishka shook his head. Jakara had to believe it was agreement.

 

Now a few more details about Jakara and his physical well being.

 

Jakara glanced over his shoulder. The stone walls held in the sounds, but in the quiet darkness he sometimes thought he could hear pained cries of men. His men. Jakara looked up, directly at Mishka. "The Tishla must continue the mission." He sucked in a breath; his ribs hurt. "That is their primary goal." Jakara smiled, though he felt no pleasure from the command. And by the frown on Mishka's forehead, his second didn't either. "I can hardly tell the mission to just anyone. Not many would believe it. Others," For a moment he closed his eyes as he drew in another hurtful breath, silently cursing the Gods. "Others I just don't trust well enough. The agents of The King's enemy do not fight their battles on the fields." Mishka shook his head. Jakara had to believe it was agreement.

 

Final words to add are Jakara's thoughts, his internal dialogue. As well as giving out some information, these also give the reader an insight into Jakara, more than actions and words can. And for me it helps the reader to connect to the character.

 

Jakara glanced over his shoulder. The stone walls held in the sounds, but in the quiet darkness he sometimes thought he could hear pained cries of men. His men. Jakara looked up, directly at Mishka. By the Gods he looks as tired as I feel. "The Tishla must continue the mission." He sucked in a breath; his ribs hurt. "That is their primary goal." Jakara smiled, though he felt no pleasure from the command. And by the frown on Mishka's forehead, his second didn't either. "I can hardly tell the mission to just anyone. Not many would believe it. Others," For a moment he closed his eyes as he drew in another hurtful breath, silently cursing the Gods. "Others I just don't trust well enough. The agents of The King's enemy do not fight their battles on the fields." Mishka shook his head. Was that agreement or disbelief? Jakara had to believe it was agreement.

 

Comparing this final passage to the original, there is a lot more on who Jakara is, where he is and what he feels. There are also a lot more words, more than double. I'm not worried about that, but it is a large paragraph to read and take in. So now would be the time to split it up.

 

By breaking up the dialogue into smaller bits with action and description in between I have added in pauses that we hear in real life conversation; in the same manner that commas and full stops add in pauses. By breaking up this larger paragraph into smaller ones I extend those pauses, and I can also emphasis points and thus the reader will take more notice of them.

 

Jakara glanced over his shoulder. The stone walls held in the sounds, but in the quiet darkness he sometimes thought he could hear pained cries of men. His men. Jakara looked up, directly at Mishka. By the Gods he looks as tired as I feel.

"The Tishla must continue the mission." Jakara sucked in a breath; his ribs hurt. "That is their primary goal." He smiled, though he felt no pleasure from the command. And by the frown on Mishka's forehead, his second didn't either.

"I can hardly tell the mission to just anyone. Not many would believe it. Others," For a moment Jakara closed his eyes as he drew in another hurtful breath, silently cursing the Gods. "Others I just don't trust well enough. The agents of The King's enemy do not fight their battles on the fields." Mishka shook his head. Was that agreement or disbelief? Jakara had to believe it was agreement.

 

The dialogue hasn't changed. Surrounding words have been added. A mix of Show, Tell, actions and internal dialogue, they all give more context to the dialogue and to the character speaking them, and incidentally to the character listening. And with the context comes emotions and thus the connection.

 

Writing a story isn't just about presenting the story in words. It's about 'spin-doctoring' the reader into feeling the emotions you want them to feel. It's about the words and how you use them. Every. Single. Word.