A few things struck me as I read what has already been posted. 1) Most passages had a lot of salsa words compared to your two examples. Sometimes less is more. 2) The same salsa word principle should work for non-fiction. 3) Sometimes what we really have is a salsa phrase, made up of words that are individually rice cakes. 4) Sometimes, the Salsa words appear in clusters to break up the rice cakes. For example, if you are able to look at the surrounding context of the Francine Rivers excerpt that Joolz posted, you will see that this salsa-heavy, adjective-heavy passage works well because it is surrounded by much more rice cakey paragraphs. 5) Some words pack as much or more punch as salsa words even though you don’t choose them over rice cake words—it’s just that they are the only words available.
Then I realized I knew of a passage that to some extent demonstrates all of this. Furthermore, it is a timely piece for this week. I’m sure not everyone who reads this thread will agree with the advocacy position taken by the author and I don’t want the thread to get high jacked, but I don’t hesitate to use it either. My comments below will be directed only at writing techniques.
Because there is a fair amount of rice cake, I’ve included two paragraphs. I’ve marked what I think are the salsa words and salsa phrases, but not the category 5 words (which should be pretty obvious in paragraph 2).
In 1969 three complete strangers were on a <b>collision course</b> with history—and <b>infamy</b>. One was a twenty-one-year-old <b>unwed, unemployed pregnant carnival worker</b> who wanted an abortion. In December she met with two <b>activist feminist</b> lawyers who wanted to fight the Texas law that made abortion illegal. When the lawyers asked her if she was willing to be a plaintiff in such a case, she told them she didn’t know what a plaintiff was. Yet in time she would be the plaintiff in the <b>bloodiest</b> United States Supreme Court decision of all time. Her name was Norma McCorvey, but America would come to know her as Jane Roe in the case of <i>Roe v. Wade</i>.
This young woman <b>claimed</b> she had been raped one night on a country road in Georgia. The two lawyers were always <b>skeptical</b> of this claim. Her story changed too often. At first she said she had been raped by one man. Then she said she had been gang raped by several men and her own female companions. Later she <b>claimed</b> she was gang raped by a white man, a black man, and a Hispanic man. As Marian Faux, in her book, <i>Roe v. Wade</i>, points out, this was “a highly unlikely combination to have been walking together down a Georgia country road late at night in 1969.” Finally, in 1987, nearly fifteen years after <i>Roe v. Wade</i> was decided by the Supreme Court and after more than <b>twenty million babies</b> had been <b>murdered</b>, McCorvey <b>admitted</b> she had never been raped.
OK, the author is . . . . me. This is from a book, <i>God Save this Honorable Court</i>, (at only 100 pages, my wife always says I should only call it a booklet!) I wrote for Coral Ridge Ministries that they used both as a fund raising premium and offered as a regular for-sale item. There are actually a few things that could be fixed here—some because I wrote it 16 years ago and was a 16-year-worse writer and some because I had to live with changes forced by the editor. But I will leave those unmentioned. (Except for one: “complete strangers.” As opposed to what? Partial strangers? That’s a freebie for you, Jan, for when you talk about the dangers of over use of adjectives.)
I’ll just deal with the salsa words/phrases. The salsa in the first few sentences (combined with the rest of theparagraph) was my compromise between trying to bring a “telling, not showing” type of feel to a non-fiction piece and hitting the tight chapter length parameters I had on this contracted book. It resulted in a higher than usual percentage of the salsa being adjectives (even without counting “complete”). The rice cake version could have been:
“In 1969 three strangers were about to make history—in a bad way. One was a twenty-one-year-old woman who wanted an abortion. In December she met with two lawyers who wanted to fight the Texas law that made abortion illegal.”
By the way, “activist” and “feminist” are words that tend to produce emotional reactions in people, but which are terms of art as well. These are terms the two lawyers proudly claim and thus there is no name calling here.
“Skeptical,” “claimed,” and “admitted” all point to the fraud that was perpetrated. The sentence with “skeptical” could have been left out all together or I could have said they “wondered” or “had doubts about.” But I was setting the tone (these two paragraphs open the chapter) for the factual picture I would paint throughout the chapter of 1) all the dishonest things the plaintiffs AND lawyers did in the case, and 2) the way the lawyers used the plaintiffs. “Claimed” and “admitted” could have been “said” (which I did use a few times to prevent over seasoning).
To avoid starting a debate over abortion here, I will simply say that from a WRITING standpoint, “bloodiest,” and “twenty million babies . . . murdered” were chosen to represent my advocacy point of view. Instead of bloodiest, I could have chosen “one of the most famous.” Instead of “after more than twenty million babies had been murdered,” I could have chosen “after abortion had been legal all those years.” Both choices would have been neutral, but advocacy by definition should not be neutral.
"When the Round Table is broken every man must follow Galahad or Mordred; middle
things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien