Every Word a Correction

Writers, this is a tiny workshop! The only supplies you need are what you with you this very moment. At the end, you can show your participation with a comment.

Are you ready?

A picture is worth a thousand words.

You’ve likely heard this statement before.

How about the next statement?

A thousand words is worth at least a thousand pictures.

That’s today’s focus.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, several publications printed an essay titled “About Five Thousand One Hundred and Seventy Five Words”, by Samuel R. Delany. I came across the essay in my copy of SF: The Other Side of Realism (1971). Using what I presume to be about 5,175 words, Delany explains how the meaning of each word in a novel relates to every preceding word.

How that works is that the novel’s first word forms an image. The image may be more of an impression, vague and unseen in your subconscious, but it is there. The next word modifies the image, or at least, the emotion tied to the image.

Of course this psychological trick doesn’t only applies to novels. A single word can change any story. Each word modifies your image of the story’s contents.

Let us go through a quick example:


What if the word above were the first word of a story? Are you within the image, below it, or elsewhere? Is it doing anything, or does it wait for the next word? What would you expect next?

Below is the rest of the first sentence in my hypothetical story. To see the words, 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?

Please comment below.

Revised from the original 2009 edition.


  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.

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