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Fascinating

McCoy: Please, Spock, do me a favor. Don’t say it’s ‘fascinating’.”

Spock: No, not fascinating. But…interesting.

It took me many years to see just how well the screenwriters went about creating Mr. Spock as a character, and this exchange says a lot about Spock’s avoidance of emotionally charged adjectives. However, the exchange also highlights the problem with using adjectives such as “fascinating” and “interesting”.

Something connected to the general concept of “Show, don’t tell” (for more information on that, have a read here) is the way writers tell. Lazy writing – “tell writing” – involves use / overuse of emotionally neutral adjectives such as “shocked,” “surprised,” or “interested”. The problem with these adjectives is that they don’t say much about the quality of the emotional content the writer should be trying to provide. Mister Spock avoids stating that things are “abhorrent,” “delightful” or “aggravating” because those words provide details about an emotional element to the description. For writers (or at least writers not writing about Spock), that’s the wrong course to take. Readers want emotional content!

More specifically, if someone can be shocked in pleasure at a wedding announcement, shocked at a close friend admitting to being a cannibal, and shocked that the cat litter box hasn’t been cleaned for two weeks, it’s obvious that emotionally neutral adjectives are so broad in usage that little meaning can be gleaned. While that’s fine for Mr. Spock, who despite his occasional lapses manages to remain his logical self under most conditions, and manages to do his part to keep the Enterprise and her crew safe, for folks who are trying to write stories, Spock’s approach is not going to help. What is most… fascinating to me about the writers of Spock’s lines above, is that they show very clearly how well they use specific words to convey his mindset. McCoy’s primary gripe with Spock is his supposed lack of emotion, and he calls Spock on his use of an emotionally neutral adjective under a variety of circumstances. The brilliance in the response is that Spock is substituting a slightly different but no less emotionally neutral adjective.

Words such as “interesting,” while indicating a reaction on the part of a character, do the writer little good in explaining what about it the character finds interesting. The reader never wants to hear that the character finds something interesting. The reader wants the character to prove to the reader that something is interesting.

So, live long, and prosper, and show the reader what the character is feeling, rather than tell the reader that the character had a response. The reader thanks you for your effort.