Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On precision, briefly.

The other night, I was thinking about good writing, and I decided that it came down to two things: precision and surprise. The surprise will be a topic for another time; today I want to focus on precision.

Precise writing inspires the kind of appreciation one might have for a well-tailored garment. It’s the triumph of a slippery idea, cut from the fray along its contours. It says exactly what it wants to say with just the right words. This justrightness is what separates good writing from bad; the latter can’t quite hit on the idea, so it just keeps shooting. And missing.

Precision means “exactness and accuracy of expression or detail,” but it’s more than this — it’s also an enactment of the aesthetic pleasure it describes. It leaves the mouth like a blown kiss, with lips pursed for the pre. Then comes the chomp of cise, ruthless and exact, claiming its prey before going in for the kill. It’s pure confidence.

It makes me think of incisors, and how trap is another name for mouth, which seems particularly apt here. What is conveyed through the mouth is sensual.


  1. "simplicity" also has something going for it. writing is supposed to be about communication, after all...

  2. i don't think simplicity for simplicity's sake is what makes good writing. some subjects are simple - others are more complex. good writing uses the appropriate words to conjure the idea — this is precision. and it should do so with a certain elegant jouissance — this is surprise.