Writing in Generalities–Bad, Bad, Bad

Below are two examples of the same post.  The first one is an example of bad writing.  Although the first is shorter, it is written in broad generalities with no hint of personality or flair.  These kind of general statements are so flat, boring and negative that the reader can barely tolerate to consume them.  It is generic.  Anyone could have written the first one.  A good writer does not want to sound generic.  Style is often referred to as the voice of the writer.  Some experts will tell you that the reader is not suppose to aware of the writer.  This is not true.  As we read we do come to know the writer.  We even begin to visualize them and their surroundings.

The second example gives a clear impression of the writer’s personality.  And it is written in such a way that it almost challenges the reader to respond.  Who, after all, wants to read something that doesn’t have some zing to it?  And what is better for a writer than getting a rile out of the reader?

Example two also lists some points and/or examples (valid or invalid) that back-up an opinion. It is not written in generalities, even though the opinion itself might be considered a sweeping condemnation.  Get it???  Good writing is all about the details.

Also, the use of humor when expressing a negative or unpopular opinion helps propel the argument and dispel the reader’s outright rejection of a different point of view.

Note the different titles given to each one.

***

Example One:

I Hate Shopping 

I don’t have anything to wear.  My closet is completely empty, but I really hate to shop for clothes.  The color, material and craftsmanship that’s being offered to the female consumer is an insult to my intelligence.   Designers don’t know what people want to buy, and they’re really pulling a fast-one on women….blah, blah, blah….(Ugh, it’s so awful that I can’t go on…)

 ***

Example Two:

Not Being Naked

Ordinarily, I’m not given over to girly discussion about pretty duds, but I’ve got to tell you that the state of closet is reaching critical depletion.  For the first time in my life, I actually have more hangers than I do clothes.  It has been years since I found a shop with more blouses that I wanted to purchase than money I had to spend on them.

I will admit to being a reluctant and impatient shopper, but I do try. Bravely, try to shop.  Honestly.  Each time I go, I start out with high hopes of finding something that I’ll really love.  But I have some serious issues with the merchandise, and I’ve had these issues for many a year:

Color:  Whenever I enter a dress shop, I’m immediately struck blind by the gaudy colors.  I’m not a dowager or a wallflower or a hag.  I don’t go around in beige, muttering to myself, but I’m not interested in glowing in the dark either.

Will I give up my green dollars for a lime shirt?  Mmmm, no.  Well, maybe.  Does that come with tequila?  How about hot pink?  Well, only if I get a job as a cross-walk guard. Gothic black?  No, I don’t fly with that coven, either.

Material:  The quality of material used to make women’s clothing these days is shockingly poor: Scratchy, itchy, synthetic and thin to the point that a female must buy two shirts and layer them to keep the state of her undies a secret from the general public.    

Craftsmanship:  Buttons threads stretched big enough to hang my cell phone on, crotches unraveling at the first good sit-down and pockets so shallow that they aren’t deep enough to securely hold a single American dollar, much less a good place to stash a credit card.  Women’s clothing should come with a two-wear expiration clause, not a two year termination.

Style:  Dress shops have only two sections.  There’s the slut spot, also known as The Junior Department, and grandma’s heirlooms, also known as The Women’s Department. I never really cared for the slut look; I’ve always preferred for my status in this area to be a mystery, at least, for a time.  I’m not quite ready for the grandma look, and I’m not likely to find anything in my size there, either.

Goofiness:  Is it really stylish for a grown woman to wear bows, ribbons, and lace?  Aren’t prints with hearts, angels and puppies a little silly after the age of two?  And just how old does someone have to get before manufacturers realize that a real woman wouldn’t be caught dead with a cartoon character on her chest?

Length:  This one really frustrates me.

  • Jeans:  How in the hell can designers screw-up blue jeans?  Who invented those low-cut jeans, anyway?  A person would have to be a complete skeleton to not have a gut in low-cut jeans.
  • Shorts:  One year the shorts leave your cheeks hanging out; the next year you can’t find anything except knee grippers.
  • Shirts:  That top button keeps getting lower and lower every year.  By 2012 that top button will be all the way down to my navel.
  • Sweaters:  As if I need one, but really, sweaters are just plain weird looking.
  • Dresses:  We’re back to slut shop, grandma’s heirlooms, the occasional gypsies swirl and the ridiculous but unforgettable  whatever-happen-to-baby-jane look.

So, come on, girls.  Tell me the truth.  When you shop for clothes, don’t you settle for something less than what you wanted?  Don’t you halfhearted make your purchases?  Doesn’t part of you hope that it will look better after you get it home and add some accessories?  In fact, when was the last time you bought an article of clothing that didn’t need something extra?  Aren’t you regularly disappointed? 

If not….then tell me where you shop!!! 

 *** 

Author’s Note:  Do you see what I’m saying about generalities.  Broad, unsubstantiated statements are dull and easily dismissed.  Good writing is all about the details.  Here’s another example:  Your child comes home one day and says, I hate school.’  He won’t tell you anything else.

Naturally, you’re concerned about your kid, but this general statement only frustrates you.  Imagine  your reaction to a general statement when you are not emotionally involved with the speaker.  Click, click, click.

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5 thoughts on “Writing in Generalities–Bad, Bad, Bad

  1. I love examples. I was reading along with example two like yes, yes yes.
    This idea applies to so much in writing–avoiding clichés, show don’t tell (that first example sounded very much like telling), voice, etc.

    • Exactly. I love examples too.

      I’ve been re-reading ‘Writing Well’ by Donald Hall. There’s so much stuff in that book that you can’t skip anything. He starts out by having his class write something–little do they know that they will be re-writing that same essay over and over until he’s satisfied. They all start out by telling and generalizing. They end by being specific and making points.

  2. Perfered the first, the second I couldn’t even swallow with my nose pinched.

    The first was specific enough. I is specific. Even the latter sentences could have been twisted to be the thoughts and beliefs of I. The first fully introduces to readers an I who e.g. will be late for a date or job interview or class, or an I who is fashion conscious or body isn’t average or magazine ideal.

    It was perfect, what came after was high class pompous crap.

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