Define: Unpack

by Sally K. Lehman

So in the writer biz… Okay that sounds hokey, so let’s forget I wrote that[1]. In the writer business[2], we have a vocabulary unlike others, and we at Blue Skirt thought we could share a few of those words with you, our lovely/handsome readers[3].

For instance…..

un·pack [uhn-pak]  

verb (used with object)
1. to undo or remove the contents from (a box, trunk, etc.).
2. to remove (something) from a container, suitcase, etc.
3. to unburden, as the mind; reveal.
4. to decipher or discern (the meaning of symbols, statements, etc.): Each statement could be unpacked in the general theory.
5. to remove a pack or load from (a horse, vehicle, etc.).
(Thanks, Dictionary.com[4])

When a writer says to unpack something, we mean….

un·pack [uhn-pak]  

verb (used with just about anything you can think of)
1. to show additional detail of a person, place, thing, verb, setting, or even weather condition
2. we mean, really really give us details on this thing right here, obvious details, mindbogglingly stupid levels of details
3. not things like “the rain was wet” or “she looked with her eye[5]” because those details are mindbogglingly simple and quite ordinary
4. things like “the rain was warm and misty, the kind that only comes along on hot Alabama Tarmacs when you have to exit a plane outside despite the fact that it’s raining, despite the fact that when you step into the plane doorway the breath inside of you is pulled out by the suffocating heat of the night”[6]
5. something you should do a lot of, then figure out what to cut back on in your critique group.[7]


[1] I could simply backspace over it right now, but I want to make the point that even us professionals make erroneous beginnings. Wow! That sounds pompous. Let’s pretend I wrote bad starts instead, okay?
[2] Better already, right?
[3] Shameless flattery. My apologies if you are, in fact, ugly and proud of it.
[4] I do own a dictionary, but then I’d have to find the word and type in all that stuff about how to say it right.
[5] Yes, I once found this line in my own writing, many years ago and it was a first draft.
[6] I made that one up just for all of you out there reading this online.
[7] Over Unpacking is not a bad thing. It’s better to have too much of something and have to cut back a little than to have too little detail and produce a dull version of what you really want to say.

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