Virginia Woolf knew subtlety was the key to craftsmanship when she counseled that “we have to allow the sunken meanings to remain sunken, suggested, not stated.” “All bad writers are in love with the epic,”Hemingway admonished. The talented writer, Delany reminds us, is a master of induction, suggesting the general through the deft deployment of the specific, and in the process producing an even greater dramatic effect than the bombast of sweeping statements ever could:
The talented writer often uses specifics and avoids generalities — generalities that his or her specifics suggest. Because they are suggested, rather than stated, they may register with the reader far more forcefully than if they were articulated. Using specifics to imply generalities — whether they are general emotions we all know or ideas we have all vaguely sensed — is dramatic writing. A trickier proposition that takes just as much talent requires the writer carefully to arrange generalities for a page or five pages, followed by a specific that makes the generalities open up and take on new resonance. … Indeed, it might be called the opposite of “dramatic” writing, but it can be just as strong — if not, sometimes, stronger.
“Words have their own firmness,” Susan Sontag reflected in her diary. “Use the right word, not its second cousin,” Mark Twain famously advised, but great writing isn’t just a mere matter of concision. As E.B. White reminded us, “Writing is not an exercise in excision, it’s a journey into sound.” Delany bisociates this dual requirement for precision and eloquence, with precision and eloquence: