Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bunch of Babies!!

My kids were watching a tv show the other day where the characters were trapped in a small unairconditioned room.  Living in Phoenix, AZ my daughter was relating to the feelings of extreme heat these characters were experiencing...until they said it was 103 degrees.  My daughter looked at the screen and said outloud, "103?  What a bunch of babies!"

She was immediately pulled out of the story and no longer felt the sympathy for the characters that was needed to carry the storyline. So the question is to quantitate or not to quantitate. 

Quantitative - of or pertaining to the describing or measuring of quantity.

We have to beware of the fact that when we give a quantitative amount we are telling not showing.  The problem with that comes when we associate the measure with an opinion.  Like the show that said extreme heat was 103 degrees.  The problem comes when others don't share the same opinion.  The show could have kept showing the heat and everyone would be able to relate to it, but as soon as they slapped a number on it, they lost part of their audience.  Now sometimes you may feel this is a suitable risk to get across your point, but do think about what readers you may be losing when you use a quantitative instead of keeping the amount vague. 


  1. Okay, this is exactly my dilemma with my WIP - and it concerns dollars. As in - do I specify how much rent they owe and how much money she does or doesn't have. Aargh. I've tried to write it both ways and can't decide yet.

  2. Tamara, dollars are even harder for me!

    I don't often have occasion to mention an exact temp in fiction, but I have a story where I did mention the temperature as it climbed on the hottest day in this place history. I think it topped out at 117—but now that I look it up, that's 12 degrees hotter than the record high for this city. Maybe I'll have to revise that.

    Maybe I should stick to the heat index instead. (Apparently, at 110 F, even just 17% relative humidity increases the heat index, and this is a fairly humid place.)

  3. Think for a second as a reader. Do you remember the tempertures or dollar figures given in a book you read? Or do you only remember the character's reaction or feelings about it? Focus on the characters and not the quantity. I'm not saying it should never be in there, I'm just saying that the reader doesn't always process that information, they connect instead to the people.
    BTW this was a new epiphany for me cuz I'm very guilty of this as well. I like details so sometimes I get caught up in them.

  4. That's funny. It's like people telling me they're freezing when it's not even in the negatives Fahrenheit. I roll my eyes. You can't be freezing unless you're soaking wet or your nose hairs freeze when you breathe in :)



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