Monday, February 4, 2013


Stink bugs are a huge problem here in Maryland. They're an Asian bug that hitched a ride to the U.S. in a piece of furniture, and since they're not indigenous, they have no natural predators here in the states so they multiply until swarms literally coat your outside walls and swarm you when you walk. And to my knowledge, we have no sure repellent for them either.

So they are a huge nuisance, entering even the cleanest, tightest homes on your clothes and in your grocery bags. We pick them off the walls and pray one doesn't get squished because the scent they give off is . . . well . . . stinky.

My daughter's two-year-old son, Brady, loves these pests. He will obsess over their whereabouts all day crying, "Bug! Bug! Bug!" until he gets hoarse. They're harmless, so Amanda will allow one or two to crawl in his hand so he can see them close up and feel the tickle. When Brady is finished playing with the bug, his mama instructs him to toss it in the toilet and say, "Bye bye, bug," and then . . . you've got it . . . flush the critter away.

For Christmas, Brady's daddy, Nick, bought him a bug terrarium, and they quickly found a few winter survivors for Brady's bug house. This was, perhaps, Brady's favorite Christmas toy. He 'd carry the terrarium around saying, "Bug! Bug!" while proudly displaying his pets for all to see.

One day, however, Brady was hollering, "Bug! Bug! Bug!" ad nauseum, until his voice became hoarse, (and until his mother and sleepless baby sister were about to go mad), so Amanda told Brady, "That's enough, Brady. Time for buggy to go bye-bye." Her plan was to distract Brady on to another activity, but a few moments passed and she heard noise in the bathroom. Unbeknownst to her, Brady had promptly obeyed his mother's directions.

She heard some bumping in the bathroom, and then the flush. When she went in to check on him, Brady had submerged the entire terrarium into the potty, and was attempting to flush his critters and their plastic chateau down the drain.

At the moment, his mother was of mixed humor. She had a mess to clean up, but the innocent attempt of the child to obey her was not lost in that concern. She had given a direction, and Brady had, to the best of his ability, obeyed her.

It provided an interesting reminder about example and direction. Could another line of instruction saved the day? You bet. "Brady, it's time to take the buggies out of their house and make them go bye bye." (Forgive me if this entire scenario makes you want to call PETA, but honestly, we are over-the-top sick of these bugs.)

Just because we know what we are thinking, it in no way guarantees that the listener does . . . or the reader. We need to listen with our eyes, so-to-speak--to create a visual image of what we're saying, so we can see the instructions as the child would. Or as the reader would.

I once saw a kids' show that illustrated what certain phrases might conjure up in a child's mind. It  clearly showed the potential collisions between intention and perception. Consider what a child might imagine from a phrase like, "That really blows my mind!" Frightening...

In order to avoid such miscues in your writing, get additional eyes on your project,  have several people read your work to be sure they see and hear what you intended. A miscue can completely alter point of view, perspective, and in some cases, the entire book, leaving our reader, and our work, well . . . in the toidy.

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