A writer must always be aware of ambiguity, of how the written word can be misinterpreted or misunderstood when not accompanied by suggestions of body language, voice tones, facial expressions etc. These ‘actions’ help a reader determine exactly what we want to convey. Of course ambiguity is often used intentionally to confuse or convey for instance, humour. But beware of so many words/phrases in the English language which have more than a single meaning and might make your writing ambiguous. Using ambiguity intentionally can add richness to your writing, but being caught out with vague, indistinct or careless language will help label a writer an amateur.
Words alone can be very confusing, especially if the eye (or in my case this time, my ear) misses a vital word/phrase. My husband read aloud a piece written in yesterday’s paper which illustrates this quite well. Being slightly hard of hearing, I missed the very first couple of (essential) words and was quite involved with the article by the time he’d finished. I’d decided this woman must be an idiot to be taken in by such a rake. Read on and see if you get my point that using ambiguity can enrich writing/make it so enjoyable to read. This columnist is a master at drawing readers in with her style.
Written by popular New Zealand columnist Jaquie Brown
(I then missed the first two vital words)
……thinks he is the master of seduction, but I’ve never been interested in him. Not my type.
He says crass things like “I can’t wait to get you into bed.” Creep.
I’ve been curious though because everyone talks about him.
I’ve managed to keep him at bay, by washing my hands until they nearly bled and chewing Vitamin C tablets defiantly,
(yeah, okay, I should have wondered what this bit was actually on about but I was already getting annoyed at the bloke)
but his persistence finally won me over.
The courtship was swift and he got me into bed quickly. We spent three delirious, sweaty weeks together. Women’s intuition told me he’d leave me in the end, and he did. Typical.
But to add insult to infection, I found out I wasn’t his only conquest. He’s been with half of New Zealand, including my family. It’s enough to make you sick.”
Because I missed those vital words “the Flu” at the beginning of the piece, I was taken in by the writer’s use of language. Her intentional use of ambiguous words added, in this case, humour to the article. Used with care ambiguity deepens and enlivens an article/scene/piece of writing. But take care. Having someone else read your work or reading it aloud to yourself will often catch moments of ambiguity.