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🖼 Breeding Orphan Words

I want writing that is visual without images or diagrams. Instead, imagery can be laced into prose. How do you do it? Paint from the mind's eye.

Michael Dean
Michael Dean
2 min read

A picture is worth 1,000 words. Maybe more. At 60 frames per second, a one-second clip is worth 60,000 words. What good is writing then? The written word is getting pounded by Instagram stories. Media will only get more and more saturated, until it’s breathing, with a pulse, like a hologram made flesh.

But I’m rooting for the underdog here. I believe in the word. I think it’s harder to shape sentences than shoot videos. Good writers will be rewarded more than ever in an age where most creators rush into video.

I think 2 well-selected words can carry more weight than 120,000 flat words. Here’s an example: “Alice had no idea what Bob was talking about, he was drooling marbles again.”

“Drooling marbles.” It’s only 2 words. But no DSLR camera could ever capture Bob’s incoherent rambles in their true nature. Even if you had (2) one-second video clips, one on Bob’s face, and the other showing Alice’s horror, each at 60 frames per second, you wouldn’t come close to capturing the moment. You’d have the equivalent of 120,000 “flat words,” but you wouldn’t behold Alice’s conviction that Bob is so bat-shit crazy, that even if marbles started spilling out his mouth, it would be less weird than whatever he’s saying.

Writers are breeders of words. If you can breed two orphan words, like “drooling,” and “marbles,” in the right context, you give each word a thousand times the potency.  When word-combinations reach such a density of meaning, they transcend language. They go through a phase-change, blossoming into fully-formed landscapes behind the reader’s eye.

There’s a reason why Harry Potter isn’t a picture book. There’s a reason they rarely show the shark in Jaws. There’s a reason kids close their eyes when their parents tell them fables. Soak your sentences with imagery, and let the reader fill in the blanks.

Don’t get me wrong, I love visuals too, and there’s a place for them, especially today. So much of today’s content is presented in an evaluation window of +/- two seconds, and so visuals are the only reliable medium to transmit intent.

Written content with nested images that readers need to construct themselves might not perform well in the kingdom of analytics. But I’m convinced that whoever accidentally stumbles across imagery-laced prose is more likely to stick around.


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