• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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The First the Last My Everything


This is not a test. I read the following sentence today in a memoir: My aunt covered me with a white blanket. It stopped me in my tracks. Why did the writer use the adjective “white?” What difference did it make? What did it tell me about the scene? Did it have any emotional resonance. Did it help furnish the scene? I started running through other options: a red blanket, a cotton blanket, a woolen blanket, a satin blanket, an LL Bean blanket, an old blanket, a raggedy blanket, a quilted blanket, a blood stained blanket, a goo goo bear blanket, a banky. The whole reason to use adjectives as far as I can tell is to add veracity through specificity. If you’re going to tell me the color of the blanket, it needs to do some work.

Agree? Disagree?

13 Responses

  1. Agree. (I assume the whiteness is a metaphor that suggested SOMETHING in the scene — like, ya know, innocence, purity, blankness, blah, blah, blah.) I don’t believe that I, as the writer, always knows what the adjective’s purpose is when I first use it, but, generally, I tend to trust it.

  2. My sister used to carry what my mom called the pink binkt, a blanket so old it was barely woven, and she’d pluck out a piece of fluff and rub it along the side of her nose for comfort.

    Sorry, I’ve had an edible and the brain does wander. What was the question again?

  3. Evidently a white blanket stops people in their tracks. 😊

    As a novice fiction writer, finding a balance between adding sufficient descriptive detail to paint a picture but allowing the reader to fill in sufficient detail to make the image personal is one of the greatest challenges of writing. Too much is “over-writing” while too little is “insufficient detail.”

    In your example, it is a matter of context, isn’t it? The color is irrelevant unless the white is going to become blood-stained a page later, or if it is a family heirloom or hand-stitched by the aunt to show a depth of affection. Otherwise, our wondering “why white?” is a gratuitous distraction from the narrative, not specificity.

  4. Agree. Question though, a long memoir or short? You know the old saying, “if in the first act you show a white blanket, in the next act it must be fired.”

  5. I disagree. Why burden every adjective with such a big task? Some adjectives just add a pleasing color, real or metaphorical. All basic colors have symbolic associations, whether or not the writer or any particular reader is aware of it at the time of writing and reading. In the sentence you cite, “white” might provide a grace note or unheard note for one or another reader.

    • I agree with your disagreement, and I’ll go further and claim some affinity for the much maligned adverb and adverbial clause. Semicolons, even!

  6. Agree 100%
    Veracity through specificity. Song of Songs 19:24
    Maybe the white has big meaning later on.
    Maybe she was a virgin, a bride, dead, dead virgin bride. Betrothed to Barry.

  7. Agree. If it is important that the blanket be identified as white, then white and/or blanket colors damn well better show up again in the piece; otherwise the offense is Dereliction of Composition. Some writers toss adjectives around like they’re free, while in fact, each one is a debit charged against the account.

    On a more serious note, white writers have a tendency to note the race of almost anyone in their piece who is not white, while not noting the race of the presumed white characters. Watch it, white writer — ask yourself, Why am I noting this?

    And all writers ought to be sparing to the point of parsimony with the adjectives. Goes for adverbs, too. Use only those that are necessary. See how it trims and lightens your work, allowing it to jog around on the page, run a sprint or a marathon.

  8. Note: The writer didn’t say, “My aunt covered me with the white blanket.” Now that would have colored the relevance of the blanket.

  9. I love the white blanket. Simple, quiet, clean, unassuming.

  10. I line the white blanket. Simple, quiet, clean, unassuming.


    Sent from my iPhone


  11. Agree. It needs to have some relevance, and I’m repeating what most have said. (Lesson 1. Don’t mention the gun without using it)

  12. Good point you’re making. White doesn’t say much. If it’s snow, we already know that. It’s the only non-color. There is absolutely no color in white. It’s like dead. Maybe that’s why brides wear it. Angels wear white. Imagine an angel in red. Vanilla isn’t white. It’s brown. Ever see a vanilla plant? Been to Madagascar? White chocolate? What’s that all about?

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