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For Want Of A Nail. . .Hey, I Found A Nail!

April 22, 2022

“To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement.”
– Mark Twain

I’ve been living in a 12,000 word house for the past month. I’ve walked through every room over a dozen times. I’ve invited my friends . . And less than friends, to walk through my house and offer whatever criticisms they could.

Some wanted it to be bigger. Some thought it was too big. Some thought I should paint the living room white. Others said whatever I do to not paint the living room white.

Is it done?

No. A piece of writing is never done.

Is it done enough? I don’t know. I hope so.

And last night as I was falling asleep I wandered through my story again. And I realized that a word was wrong.

That’s it. Over 12,000 words and there was one, just one that’s I realized was absolutely wrong. A single word can be critical.

“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,

For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For the want of a horse the rider was lost,

For the want of a rider the battle was lost,

For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail”

– “For Want Of A Nail” 13th Century Proverb

Here’s the dialogue I had written.

“Ah, yeah, I had a paper. . .”


Dr Gunnison’s head snapped up so quickly Gabe almost took a step back. “Oh, I’m well aware of your paper.” The emphasis she put on the word made her displeasure clear. “I also know what kind of reception it got. Dr. Pratt, the conference organizer said it is ‘junk science.’ I can’t say I’m at all surprised.”


A sudden realization of yesterday’s events struck him. Gabe opened his mouth to answer, but he couldn’t think of an appropriate reply, so he closed it again.

Earlier in the story Gabe had met Dr. Pratt and he’d offered some pretty severe criticism of Gabe’s paper. The part that wasn’t clear was any relationship between Dr. Gunnison and Dr. Pratt. As the writer, I knew that Gunnison and Pratt had conspired to sabotage Gabe’s paper. But, I wanted the reader to figure that out without me spelling it out.

“Show, don’t tell” is an instruction all writers should follow.

And then I realized that the solution was a single word. . .the right word.

The word was agreed:

“Dr. Pratt, the conference organizer, agreed it is ‘junk science.'”

And just like that, we have a conspiracy between Dr. Gunnison and Dr. Pratt.

Now that I’ve replaced this one word is the story done? No. It’s never done. But, it’s certainly a lot better.

Sometimes you find the nail before you lose the kingdom.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. Order Miscellany II, an anthology including his latest short story, “The Mercy System” here

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(c) 2022 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

From → writing

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