Every Word a Correction

A picture is worth a thousand words.

You’ve heard this before, right? Well, how about the statement below?

A thousand words is worth at least a thousand pictures. Ah, here’s today’s focus.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, several publications printed an essay by Samuel R. Delany titled “About Five Thousand One Hundred and Seventy Five Words”. In this essay, which is in my copy of SF: The Other Side of Realism, Delany explains how the meaning of each word in a novel relates to every preceding word. The first word, he contends, forms an image. The image may be vague and unseen in your subconscious, but it’s there. The next word modifies the image, or at least, the emotion tied to the image.

A single word, he contends, can change the type and quality of the entire novel, because each word modifies your image of the novel’s contents.


Take another look at the lone word above. What if it were the first word of a novel? What would you expect next? Are you within the image, below it, or elsewhere? Is it doing anything, or does it wait for the next word?

Below is the rest of the first sentence in my hypothetical novel. To see it, click at the end of this paragraph then slid your mouse down to highlight each word. Please pause after each word and note how your image of “Stars” has changed, if at all.





Is the image in your head the same as when you read the first word?


3 thoughts on “Every Word a Correction”

  1. Oh, what fun! You must teach my that trick!
    Of course, my answer is no.
    Initially, I actually saw a star that hung in my room as a child.

    What a nice post.

    I have noticed myself how one word can change a whole atmosphere. As you show, it can alter much more.

  2. The trick is to blend the words with the background by changing the font color. Highlighting temporarily makes light fonts black (and vice versa), so hidden words appear.

    I know a blogger who uses this trick to hide spoilers. I can think of half a dozen applications.

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