Serial Position Curve, Part 1
Psychological research shows that when someone is given a list of words to remember they tend to recall best the words that begin and end the list. This suggests one important way that words of power can be used in writing. If we consider a sentence to be a kind of “list” of words, then the opening and ending positions in the sentence are the places to focus our most powerful images. The opening position creates the “primacy” effect while the end position produces the “recency” effect. Because the “primacy” effect is not quite as simple as it seems where writing is concerned, let’s consider the recency effect in this blog post.
He rode with our enemies on a coal, black horse.
“Horse” is not a bad word for the end, but certainly not the strongest word in the sentence. What about, instead:
He rode with our enemies on a horse as black as coal.
For another example: A blade sheathed in cold copper hung at his belt.
“Belt” is one of the weaker words in this sentence and certainly not a good ender. Instead, how about:
At his belt hung a blade sheathed in cold copper.
This may be something that most everyone here already has a feeling for, but I don't think it hurts to stress it again. It's also pretty much exactly what Candice Proctor was talking about in her “Punch it Up” post, and it’s something we’ve been talking about a lot in our writing group lately. It just took me a while to realize that this is the same basic principle as the “recency” effect in psychology.
Words of power can best work their magic on the minds of your readers when they are in positions of power. One such position is found at the end of a sentence or paragraph.