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A Time to Go Negative

Going all negative isn’t always a bad thing.

This is the realization I came to last week after I realized I was taking a shower with a spider.

Not a ginormous one, by any means. But he was still decently sized. And yellow.

I despise yellow spiders.

Though the experience did give me a great Facebook status to post: “Yellow spiders that don’t want to die shouldn’t try to share shower space with me.”

I was quite pleased with that one, certain it would get some laughs and likes.

Sure enough, not five minutes later, someone had given it their stamp of approval, which gave me another chance to evaluate my exact wording. Because that’s what editor do. That’s how we roll.

We’re neurotic like that.

Regardless, reading over the single sentence, I realized that it didn’t flow quite as well as it could. “Yellow spiders that don’t want to die shouldn’t try to share shower space with me” felt a little wordy. Like a punchline gone too long.

So I switched it to: “Yellow spiders that want to live shouldn’t try to share shower space with me.”

And just like that, I was satisfied.

If that sounds like a neurotically nitpicky difference, I already admitted that it was. Yet neurotically nitpicky differences can lead to some really powerful, poignant or otherwise perfect sentences that speak to readers on levels they don’t even recognize – yet still take hold.

This includes knowing when to use negatives to make a point, and when to stay positive.

To some degree, as with the yellow spiders sentence above, this can come down to a matter of length. Statements that stand alone often do so best when they’re short, or at least shorter…

  • Anyone anywhere can do that.

  • The stock dropped significantly today.

  • Considerate it this way.

Though size is hardly the only consideration that needs to be made. There’s also the matter of effect. As the writer, what word, words or concepts are you trying to emphasize?

If you’re trying to motivate people out of a negative mindset, “Anyone anywhere can do that” just might not work as well as, “There isn’t anyone anywhere who can’t do that.”

If a particular publicly traded company is having a rough streak, not just a rough day, it also might be more appropriate to go negative: “The stock didn’t drop as far as it did yesterday, but it still dropped significantly.”

And if you’re trying to persuade political opponents to your way of thinking, you could always start out by acknowledging their perspective before leading into yours with, “But don’t only consider it that way; consider it this way too.”

There are other factors to consider, of course, but one final point I’d like to bring up is placement. As in, what is your sentence surrounded by?

If there are already too many other negatives in the paragraph or piece, that can confuse or complicate your message. Which, I’m assuming, isn’t what you want to do.

Essentially, evaluate each sentence as it comes, determining whether it stands out stronger on a positive note. Or not.

Other than that, go as “negative” as you want!



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