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Writing with Presence, Part II

Posted on Sunday, January 31, 2016 at 2:49 PM

Aiming for presence in facts, information, and headlines.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Part I covered writing with presence in your language and confidence, in your communication, and in your subject matter. Here's more:

Presence in Your Facts

In USA Today, reporter Traci Watson tells me: "Three trillion. That's the staggering number of trees on Earth, according to a new tally that astounds even the scientists who compiled it. Three trillion is three followed by 12 zeroes, which is more than the number of stars in the Milky Way and more than the number of cells in a human brain. If the new sum is accurate -- and other scientists say it is -- the planet boasts roughly 420 trees for every living person." The facts alone are enough to gain presence in my mind. Presence aimed for and achieved.

Presence in Your Information

New York Times writer David Karp sent a report from Rock Island, Washington, that opens: "Take one bite of a Cosmic Crisp -- dramatically dark, richly flavored and explosively crisp and juicy -- and it's easy to see why it is already being hailed as the most promising and important apple of the future.

"Americans," Karp continues, "have been falling hard for new apples. Of the top ten sellers in the 2014 crop, the only three to post sales gains were recently developed, premium-priced varieties: Ambrosia, Honeycrisp, and Jazz, according to Nielsen data. While sales of Red Delicious, a traditional variety, slumped 15 percent from the previous year, and McIntoshes 9 percent, Ambrosia (whose website calls it 'Food for the Gods') scored a 47 percent leap.

"But fruit breeders around the world have been busy creating an array of even newer varieties -- with flashy names like SweeTango, Juici, Opal and SnapDragon --that could knock Honeycrisp and its generation of fruit from their lucrative perch atop a national apple industry that reaps about $3 billion for farmers each year." I think fascinating information has been effectively verbalized. Presence aimed for and achieved.

Presence in Your Headlines

Sometimes it is the absurd that gains copy a presence, such as a reused set of headlines that are syntactically ambiguous, able to be read in more than one way, and nonsensical. Put them together and they make for a story: "Drunk gets nine months in violin case" and "Iraqi head seeks arms" and "British left waffles on Falkland Islands" and "Teacher strikes idle kids" and "Miners refuse to work after death" and "Kids make nutritious snacks" and "Local high school dropouts cut in half" and "Include your children when baking cookies."

There are more of the same. They're fun. In certain circumstances, they can provide a lesson light.

And here's a two-sentence opening paragraph: "I started keeping a diary twenty-five years ago. It's 800,000 words long."

Sarah Manguso wrote it for her book, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary.

Presence, indeed.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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