I went to the cinema earlier this week. While I was queuing up to buy a drink, I looked at the snacks they had on sale.
Inevitably, they had popcorn. But as well as the traditional sweet and salty popcorn in those giant glass tanks, ready to be scooped into enormous cardboard tubs, they also sold pre-bagged popcorn. This was available in a selection of different flavours including one which caught my eye – “white cheese”. I’m not sure what “white cheese” is. Lots of types of cheese are white – it could be feta, or halloumi, or mozzarella, or ricotta, or mascarpone. They’re all very different cheeses, but they’re all white. The phrase “white cheese” was off-putting to me. It seemed too vague. Ironically though, I think I would have been happier if it had just said “cheese”, even though this is even more vague than “white cheese”. “White cheese” seems simultaneously too vague and too specific at the same time.
It reminded me of this news story on the BBC website recently, specifically, this sentence:
He ruled himself out of becoming the party’s next leader, although that would not be possible anyway as he is not an MP.
The second part of the sentence immediately undermines the first part, but in a way which isn’t really acknowledged. If it is the case that he couldn’t run as leader anyway, then why would he need to rule himself out? The inclusion of that additional piece of information makes the sentence as a whole more confusing.
By adding unnecessary detail, a story can become too vague. This is an important thing to remember as story-tellers: don’t worry about being cheesy, just make sure you’re not being white-cheesy.