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Now, don't get me wrong. A good story is a good story and I'll trudge through a poorly-written, ungrammatical account if I'm really interested. But good writing makes the story interesting. The tone can also influence readers' thinking or actions. For example, let's start with a fictional news article.

(Anytown Tribune) ANYTOWN, USA—Yesterday, a court ordered John Doe to leave his house after it was found that its location violated city ordinances. Mr. Doe says he'll appeal the ruling.

(Anytown Gazette) ANYTOWN, USA—Local man and devoted churchgoer John Doe was driven from his home after a court ruled that it was just outside the designated residential area. Mr. Doe, astonished by the ruling, promises to persevere. "It's bogus," he says, "only a very small portion of the house is even over the newly-defined border."

Both these articles tell the same story. However, the Tribune affects a neutral tone (while they might be accused of selective reporting of the facts, perhaps the courts have a good rebuttal and neither has been printed because it's a minor story).

However, the Gazette article, without clearly stating it, seems to strongly favor John Doe's argument. The first sentence describes him as a "local man and churchgoer"—he's one of us and he's an honest, God-fearing man to boot. "Driven from his home" is an emotionally charged portion, particularly because "home" carries warmer connotations than "house" or "dwelling." They also point out the infraction is relatively minor, use the word "persevere," which has honorable connotations, and allow a quotation from Mr. Doe but not from the courts.

In essence, both articles have told the same story, yet said something different.

For a good example of extremely careful wording, look no further than advertising. Advertisers have a very good motivation to word effectively: they're paying for every second of time they get. But how much is actually about the product in an ad?

Well, why don't we look at commercials for softcore pornography like Girls Gone Wild? Wording like "Watch these hot young college girls bare it all!" sounds much dirtier (and thus, more erotic) than, say, "Attractive teenagers undress." But perhaps more interesting is the occasional shot where a girl is showing her breasts to the camera with the words "REAL GIRLS" emblazoned across in lieu of the traditional mosaic or black bar. I'm sure you can figure out the purpose, but what about the message? Real girls? As opposed to what? Robots? Transsexuals? The idea is that the words go by too quickly for processing, so you associate "real" and "quality" in your head. And girls, well, they wouldn't want you to forget what you're buying.

Wording also applies to nonfictional stories. Do you really think, for example, that humor columnist Eric Snider has that many more comical episodes in his life than you or I? It's doubtful. However, with careful wording, embellishment, and selective memory, even a moderately interesting or dull story can seem funny or exciting. Someone who always tells good stories is likely simply better at picking out and describing in an entertaining fashion portions of his experience than living a wild life of mystery and intrigue.

But none of this makes me a half-decent author of fiction. In fiction, It's not the words you write, it's the story you tell. And an innate sense some of us are born with and some of us just aren't. I know my limits.

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