Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Adding Analogies

Because of technical difficulties encountered last week (also known as “life”), I'm still working on the initial draft of Chapter 1 for Dr. Warson’s book.

Its working title is "The Normal Back" – and by default it's very technical. It's a sort of "spinal primer," detailing the anatomy that the reader will need to be familiar with in order to understand the rest of the book.

On the one hand, I believe that readers are inherently intelligent people, and I don't want to dumb the content down too far. On the other hand, I don't want it to be off-puttingly academic. It's going to be a fairly short chapter. But it will set the tone for the rest of the book, and I'm looking for ways to make it more appealing, more readable, and less textbook-like.

One thing that would help would be a recurring analogy that I could use. Something like: "The spine is like a tree..." or "The spine is like a water slide..." or "...an aqueduct..." Something that makes the technical stuff more accessible.

For instance, to use the water slide analogy:

• The spinal column could be compared to an enclosed tunnel in the water slide.
• The water coursing through the tunnel would be the spinal cord.
• The intervertebral foramena would be akin to the various openings in the main slide that led to different offshoot slides.
• And the various offshoot slides could represent the nerves leading into the body.

Analogies of commonly occurring things are a great way to make difficult, dense, or just plain tedious text more interesting. For instance, when explaining the various nuances and functions of the vertebrae, Dr. Warson compares a vertebra to an old-fashioned three-legged milking stool. A (very rough draft) excerpt:

A traditional milking stool has three legs. Each is essential for keeping the seat of the stool stabilized. In the spine, the actual vertebral body represents the seat and one of the legs of the stool. The other two legs are the facet joints created when one vertebra sits atop another.

Pressure from above should be evenly distributed through all three “legs” of the vertebra, just as the weight of the farmer milking the cow is distributed evenly on the stool. If one leg is weak and cannot bear the weight load, the other two cannot compensate. The entire structure is compromised and collapses.

In a few short sentences, a simple analogy helps clarify a concept. It helps the reader better visualize something that may be a little “fuzzy” or “soft.” And – frankly – it helps to maintain a reader’s interest through subject matter that may not be the most engaging when taken on its own merits.

In Praise of Ghosts

I've entered into an interesting dialogue about ghostwriting on a writer's forum. A writer looking for information on ghosting started a thread. Some readers only had negative things to say about writing words for someone else to put his or her name on. I have to say, however, that ghosting was a great boon to my writing career. Not only did the book get into print, but I've also met some amazing and wonderful people (Geoff, Dr. Warson, Charles, Martha, Caroline) as a result.