The debut of Steven Spielberg’s recent movie, Lincoln, has spurred interest in everything Abe. One of the more interesting articles to a writer like me was “The Power of the Negative,” in the January 17 issue of The Wall Street Journal.
The author, Douglas L. Wilson, analyzed some of Lincoln’s speeches and found that he was fond of using a lot of negatives to convey a positive, powerful message.
One example he cited was a rather famous one from The Gettysburg Address: “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

In reading the piece, I couldn’t help but be reminded of another very famous quote that uses negatives—this one from former President John F. Kennedy in his 1961 inaugural address: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

Techniques like these can help build drama in our writing, turn negatives into positives and maybe even be memorable in the process.




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