Looney Lunes #133

A Thousand Word Picture (Really)

In Revising Prose rhetorician Richard Lanham called for “translating the Official Style into plain English.” Simplified it comes down to finding the epidemic of “catalog like monotony” of multiple prepositional phrases strung together without a direct verb. Glued together with the weakest verb we have, “is.” He asserts that it has become criminal to state a situation for what it is without a lot of flowery gobbledygook that goes nowhere. He repeatedly, from students to published peers, finds ways to insert an active verb into a string of “of” and turn 35 words into 11. “Noun centeredness…generates most of our present day prose sludge.” He wrote this in the 70s.

Why do I post this? I have been bombarded of late with mystics and gnomes and fairies and wise travelers from the stars and desert islands who all speak like a combination of the Old Testament and any B grade 1940’s pirate flick. Attacked by dialogue stiffer than an Oxford cloth shirt fresh from the cleaners. By stories full of travelogue scene setting while a character takes a walk and internalizes the last scene just to be sure we, as readers, got it. Tell and ‘splain with the rusty light pole at the corner of 47th and Crishaven and Tony’s deli where they don’t know my name. Full of “is” and “of” and a prayer stringing it all together like a redneck’s Christmas lights.

Rant over. The book, should any of you who write care, is Revising Prose by Richard Lanham. The man can “Break it dowwwwwn.” Word by useless word. Thus it’s essentially like just an awesomeness casserole of basically cool word whatevers for ye.

Published by

Phil Huston


18 thoughts on “Looney Lunes #133”

    1. It’s worth it to see how to pull passive voice out of narrative, there’s nothing about dialogue, which is what you make it, but he de-conversationalizes narrative of all kinds. He says once the crap is gone you can go back in and massage the staccato, but until the crap is out of the way the story can’t be exposed. Like all that marble around a Michelangelo statue waiting for him to get rid of it. The exercises and pattern recognition are worth the price of admission.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. You had to go and spoil it, didn’t you. Now I have to go back over the novel, re-edit and probably delete half of it. If it was paper, that would be an ecological saving, but it’s digital!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Always tell your story your way. Dialogue gets a pass because it’s what you want to convey about a character. In narration it needs to come down to “Bob watched football.”


      1. I kept trying to reply to this in the app. It kept deleting it. Good start. Now that that all the crap is out of the way you can add in what they did or talked about without all the prepositional junk in the way.Here’s the easiest two minute version you’ll find. Cut the crap, add back what matters. You’ll have room for it after all the author in the way is gone.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Any number of writers, from Pulitzer Prize winners to million sellers have probably said the same things. Elmore Leonard, paraphrased, said that the the one thing that really blew it when he read a book was having to put it down and go find a dictionary because someone used a word when the regular word for whatever was plenty good enough. Everybody went to school. Save the colorful stuff for the story where it belongs, not in an advanced vocab lesson.

      Liked by 1 person

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