Among the best advice I’ve ever heard for writers and public speakers was stated in just six words by award-winning speaker Patricia Fripp. “Make every word a picture word,” she said. To illustrate, she recited the answer she got from a scientist, whom she’d asked to define his profession: “It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle in a snowstorm at night, with some pieces missing, and with no idea what the finished picture looks like.” Instead of a dictionary definition, he painted a perfect word picture of his profession.
I was reminded of that advice in a magazine article I read, headlined “iPhone Overload” by Jon Forst. He described a large gathering where so many attendees were using their smart phones that voice and data services all but stopped, sending officials scrambling for more equipment to handle the overload.
Here’s the word picture Forst painted: “Now the wireless providers hawking those Internet-enabled mobile devices are experiencing the digital equivalent of being proprietors of an all-you-can-eat buffet: It seems like the perfect business until the sumo wrestlers show up.”
Another great word picture I recall was painted by a reporter named Dahlia Lithwick, while covering Senate hearings on the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. While most of the media reps described often tedious detail, Lithwick wrote: “Roberts is a man long accustomed to answering really hard questions from extremely smart people, suddenly faced with the almost-harder task of answering obvious questions from less-smart people. He finds himself standing in a batting cage with the pitching machine set way too slow.”
The late rabbi, M. Robert Syme, described words as: “vehicles that can transport us from the drab sands to the dazzling stars.” And the famous Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, wrote at length of his love affair with words, and of “the shape and shade and size and noise of the words as they hummed, strummed, jigged and galloped along.”
In your writing and speaking, go after those picture words, that hum, strum, jig and gallop along, creating word pictures in the minds of your readers and hearers.