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May 3, 2011 / theoldsilly

Professor Old Silly’s Tutorial Tuesday – It Is What It Is, Is It Not?

Welcome back to Bloggyversity, English Comp Class 10001.3b, “Writing With Power in Fiction”. Have a seat, as in right now, please. Turn off your ipods, cell phones, black and/or raspberries, stop with the twittering, get your faces out of Facebook, boot up your monitors, adjust your undies, scoot your bums into your seats, and let’s get started.

That’s better, thank you. Ahem. Today’s class is another important one for making your prose strong and direct. Cutting the frills and fat, and leaving the all important strong nouns and verbs to tell the story.

I want to make a strong point here. It is subtle, yet huge in its impact on your writing. The experienced and crafty writer selects precise nouns and verbs, chosen for their level of strength and accuracy of depiction. The less experienced (also the less confident and/or lazy) writer uses weaker verbs and nouns, ones that are familiar and common to him or her–often reusing the same handful of them over and over–and adds to their impact with the use of lots of qualifying words, adjectives and adverbs.

Here is an example of the latter:

The forest was very large, so large that it seemed to actually extend to the very ends of the world. John was extremely scared. He took Mary’s hand and held onto it tightly.

“We really have to find a way out,” he said to her nervously.

“I know,” she said uneasily, pointing at the sky that was quickly growing rather dark, “or else we’ll be caught out here the rest of the whole night.”

He quickly pulled a compass out of his pocket and held it very steady. “This is actually north,” he said, turning hurriedly about ninety degrees. “That’s just about the only thing we’ve got left to even go on. We’d better hurry up and start getting moving.”

Staying very close together, they quickly ran through the extremely thick undergrowth as best as they possibly could. But it was very difficult to actually make any progress. They were soon so completely exhausted that they fell down to the ground together, clinging tightly to each other and shaking in the extremely cold night air. It was really only their body heat as they clung closely together that kept them at all alive during that awful, frightful night.

Stop laughing, class. I really, actually do get very many manuscripts sent to me with this very muchly overwritten style. Of course none of us would ever, ever stoop to such very overly lazy and seemingly sophomoric writing, hmm? (wink)

Okay, let’s get on with class. Here is the same passage, stripped down to lean, mean, fighting machine verbs and nouns.

The forest was huge, stretching in every direction as far as the eye could see. John was panicked. He took Mary’s hand and clutched it. He had to control his nerves, yet his voice trembled as he said to Mary, “We–we r-really have to find a way out.”

“I know,” she said, wringing her hands. She pointing at the darkening sky.  “Or else we’ll be caught out here all night.”

He snatched a compass out of his pocket and held it steady. “This is north,” he said, spinning ninety degrees. “That’s the only thing we’ve got to go on. We’d better get moving.”

Staying close together, they ran through the thick undergrowth as best they could. But it was difficult to make any progress. They were soon exhausted and fell to the ground, clinging to each other and shaking in the frigid night air. It was only their body heat that kept them alive during that fearsome night.


Much more direct and powerful, yes? Less is more, when the less is chosen with precision. So to close class today I’ll leave you with this summation:

Write with “It is what it is” clarity. Simple, straight-forward prose. Because if it is what it is, then it does not have to be written that “it really seems to actually be very much what it is.”

Chow class, be here next Tuesday, and on time, please. The lovely Ms. Flanders will be back from her vacation and will again have some fresh baked goodies for y’all if you’re good!

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Leave a Comment
  1. Cactus Annie / May 3 2011 8:56 am

    Guilty as charged, lol. Well, maybe not that very muchly seemingly overwritten, tehee …

    Another great class, Prof. The examples really help. Wait – The examples help. Better? 😉

  2. Marcus Franks / May 3 2011 9:00 am

    Great class as usual, but – I’m not a writer, so I come here for the baked goods. Hurry back, Ms. Flanders!

    LOL, seriously, I can see the big difference in style. Less is more, I agree…

    • theoldsilly / May 3 2011 9:03 am

      She and the goodies will be here next week, promise!

  3. Margot Winston / May 3 2011 9:01 am

    I really, very much, actually get it! 😉

    • theoldsilly / May 3 2011 9:04 am

      Margot, let’s not be a smarty pants, now!

  4. Stanley Berber / May 3 2011 9:05 am

    Very muchly well done, Prof. LOL, but yeah – when I read Stephen King, for instance, I notice how he can create so much power and intensity with so few words. Like you say, it’s all in the careful selection of which words,

  5. Alex J. Cavanaugh / May 3 2011 9:27 am

    I get it!

  6. Karen Walker / May 3 2011 9:54 am

    I am so very glad you brought this very important lesson to our very lazy selves.

  7. Ron Berry / May 3 2011 10:01 am

    It was really in the woods actually that I saw the error of my ways and I really did actually try or at least gave an attempt to maybe find some way of, how do you say it? Say what ever little I know about prose in such exacting terms as to not be overly wordy or use too many words to say what it is that I am trying to say. In other words I think I may have gotten the point to your example such that I may be able to someday use less or is it fewer (?) words than what it looks like I may be using now to tell you that it was an awfully nice and fine example that you showed us in this piece of educational material.

    • theoldsilly / May 3 2011 10:05 am

      Not exactly sure what you really meant … could you possibly maybe restate your actual intentions, perhaps?

  8. Mary / May 3 2011 10:56 am

    This review is always handy. Wordiness has a way of sneaking in uninvited.

    • theoldsilly / May 3 2011 11:07 am

      Good point, Mary – the ‘sneaky’ aspect …

  9. Barbra Kelser / May 3 2011 11:06 am

    So you’re saying that adding in very large amounts of needless, extraneous, and very qualifying words is actually not really very good?

    LOL, fun class, loved the examples, Old Silly. 🙂

    • theoldsilly / May 3 2011 11:08 am

      Erm, yes – that’s what I’m really saying. Really. 😉

  10. Helen Ginger / May 3 2011 11:29 am

    Nice tutorial, Marvin. Your students are a bit rowdy, though. Probably the lack of cookies today. Chocolate is soothing, donchaknow.

  11. Arlee Bird / May 3 2011 11:52 am

    Maybe I’m starting to learn something. I could see the weakness of the first example right away. It’s pretty immature sounding–or as you say lazy. And it was rather annoying to read.

    Tossing It Out

    • theoldsilly / May 3 2011 12:23 pm

      It can be actually annoying, hmm? 😉

  12. John Standish / May 3 2011 12:19 pm

    I’m with Arlee – the first one was difficult – even annoying to read. Good example of the ‘less is more’ principle!

  13. Simon Hay / May 3 2011 4:32 pm

    I’m guilty of over writing. I spent a couple of days finding and replacing the weak verbs.I read Strunk and White’s little book and search for everything to avoid. I ordered your book last week. I’m camped at the letter box 🙂

    • theoldsilly / May 3 2011 6:23 pm

      I’ll have to check that Strunk and White book. Hey thanks for the book buy, my friend. Enjoy your HUG!

  14. Enid Wilson / May 4 2011 2:08 am

    I tend to under write. My editor complains sometimes she can’t figure out what I want to say. Good lesson. Thanks.

    Really Angelic

  15. tashabud / May 7 2011 3:22 am

    My, oh, my. I see I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I hate to admit it, but I’m one of those wordy writers.

    Thanks for another excellent tutorial, Prof. Old Silly.

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