Wednesday, August 29, 2007


1. Log in to PCDS webmail:

2. Type in username (lastnamefirstinitial) and current password

3. On blue menu on the left side click OPTIONS

4. Scroll down to PASSWORD and click CHANGE PASSWORD

5. Type in your current login (lastnamefirstinitial) and current password

6. Fill out the Internet Service Manager with:

a. Domain-PCDS
b. Account-lastnamefirstinitial
c. Old Password
d. New Password
e. Confirm
f. Okay

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Assignments: Weeks 1-4--Eng IV

Note: Assignments are DUE on the day indicated.

Week 1: August 27—31
T. First day—welcome, syllabus, style intro 1.0, blog intro, assignments
W. Set up account with Google Reader (see “how to start a blog,” July 25, 2007); write the letter indicated in the instructions after you establish your blog; Style 1.1; vocabulary intro (bring books)
Th. Discussion of reading and writing; style 1.2
F. Blog entry on selected summer novels

Week 2: September 4—7—No classes Monday (Labor Day)
W. Discussion of selected blog entries on summer novels; Style 1.3
Th. Read introduction to tragedy; style 1.4
F. Essays due in class and to turnitin; Vocab quiz 1 (Lessons 1-3)

Week 3: September 10—14
T. Read Three Theban Plays, pp. 159-187— style 1.5
W. Theban Plays, pp. 188-210; Style 1.6
Th. Theban Plays, pp.211-251; Style 1.7
F. Discussion of Oedipus the King; style 1.8

Week 4: September 17—21
T. Theban Plays 59-90; Style 1.9
W. Theban Plays 91-128; Style 2.0
Th. Further discussion of Antigone; Style 2.1
F. The Death of Ivan Ilyich, read chapters 1-3; Vocab quiz 2 (lessons 4-6)

Writing assignments for summer novels (IV & AP)

English IV & AP
Mr. Coon
August, 2007
Summer writing assignments

Write your responses as entries in your blog or as hard copies, as indicated

For English IV students:

1. Write a personal response piece for the novel you have read (your choice of novel if you read more than one title from my list). Reader response involves more than simply saying whether you enjoyed the novel or not. Ideally you are able to identify specific scenes or factors that shaped your overall response and then discuss briefly why the novel affected you as it did. In other words, what is it about this novel that made you react to it as you did? Due Friday, August 31 as blog entry. Length 400-600 words. No turnitin.
2. Instead of #1 above, select a passage you think is important in some way to the novel as a whole. Type the passage, then in approximately 400-600 words of your own explain your choice. Due Friday, August 31. No turnitin
3. Finally, give some thought to the issue of how writers make their characters seem like recognizable human beings. In your opinion, how do the characters in the novel embody traits that you see as fundamentally human? Focus on one or two of the characters in your novel and discuss what you see as their essential humanity. Include specific examples and brief but relevant quotations from the novel. Due Friday, September 7 as hard copy. 500-700 words. Include receipt number

For AP students:

1. #3 above is due Friday, August 31 as blog entry; length 500-600 words. No turnitin.
2. For Friday, September 7, in 600-800 words, hard copy, discuss one specific literary aspect of Pride and Prejudice. Select a character, a theme, or a key scene and discuss Austen's handling and presentation of that element of the novel. See syllabus, section 4 for further ideas. Or show how the writers of Becoming Jane created a version of Jane Austen’s life that would allow her to write Pride and Prejudice.

Assignments: Weeks 1 & 2--AP

Week 1: August 27—31
Day 1: First day—welcome, syllabus, style intro 1.0, blog intro, assignments
Day 2: Set up account with Google Reader (see “how to start a blog,” July 25, 2007); write the letter indicated in the instructions after you establish your blog; Style 1.1; vocabulary intro (bring books)
Day 3: Discussion of reading and writing; Style 1.2
Day 4: Quiz 1—Multiple choice (15 minutes); blog entry on selected summer reading novels

Week 2: September 4—7—No classes Monday (Labor Day)
Day 1: Discussion of recommended summer novels; Style 1.3
Day 2: Discussion of Pride and Prejudice; Style 1.4
Day 3: Short paper due on Pride and Prejudice; vocab quiz 1 (lessons 1-3)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Welcome to Room 311

Dear Seniors,

Welcome to my room and to that part of your senior year you will spend here. Although I know the room belongs to the school, its d├ęcor reflects my personality and since I set most of the agenda for what goes on here, the room feels like mine and I treat it as such. I hope you will too.

I’m looking forward to sharing my room with you this year. I hope we’ll learn a great deal from each other in the time we spend together here. We’ll talk about books, about writing, about ideas, about life, and about each other. I hope you will find yourselves stimulated, challenged, and most of all, given plenty of food for thought. I know from many years' experience that we can both enjoy ourselves and learn a great deal from one another if we all approach what we do here in a spirit of cooperation and curiosity.

This is my thirty-sixth year as a teacher. I’ve been teaching so long it’s not only what I do, it’s who I am. For me, “I am a teacher” is a statement of identity as much as profession. What I do here is a big part of my life, and I hope you will be able to treat both the work and me with respect.

As an English teacher, my goals for the year are several: I want to expose you to some challenging and important writers, I want to challenge you to think carefully about what things mean, about what it is to be a human being. I want to help you write with greater clarity and precision, and I want us to talk together, in ways that count for us all, about some of the biggest, most important questions—Who are we? Why are we here? What really matters?
In order to work on these goals together, we all need to make this room a place where people can say what they think and ask each other honest questions. We must listen courteously and respectfully to each other, keep an open mind, be willing to reconsider our first impressions, and accept the responsibility of contributing to the conversation.

I believe in the importance of rituals to mark the passages in our lives. Therefore, as you enter this room for your senior year, I shake each of your hands, welcome you by name, and read you this letter. I have a similar ceremony for the last day we spend together in May. I hope the days in between will be filled with learning and growth for us all. (434)

2.0 Writing Stronger Sentences

A. Here’s the problem:
The sentence is the basic unit of expression in English. Nothing is more important to the success of your writing than your ability to create accurate, clear, meaningful sentences. Unfortunately, to adapt a phrase from Jimmy Buffett, while the sentence should be treated like a temple, some of you treat it like a tent, not giving it the respect and consideration it deserves. You write bloated, vague, garbled, or even incoherent sentences, often without realizing that you have done so.

B. What to do:
Ken Macrorie says good writing is “clear, vigorous, honest, alive, sensuous, appropriate, unsentimental, rhythmic, without pretension, fresh, metaphorical, evocative in sound, economical, authoritative, surprising, memorable, and light.” While that’s a daunting list of virtues, I hope to show you specific ways to make your sentences stronger, cleaner, and less cluttered. The following series of exercises is designed to highlight the differences between strong and weak sentences by raising your awareness of a few of the bad habits writers fall into.
C. Chapter Outline:

2.1 Weak repetition
2.2 Parallel structure
2.3 Awkward phrasing
2.4 Abstract and concrete diction
2.5 Clarity
2.6 Simplicity
2.7 Clutter I: Unnecessary words
2.8 Clutter II: More practice
2.9 Clutter III: A demonstration
2.10 Clutter IV: Pruning my own prose
2.11 Subordination

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Motorcycle Macbeth

Those of us here in Scotland for Ms Keller's drama trip saw the most amazing play last night. It's official title was Macbeth: Who was that bloodied man? but I'm calling it the motorcycle Macbeth. It was performed by a Polish company who stripped the play almost completely of dialogue, condensed it to 60 minutes, and added some remarkably dramatic visual effects to bring out the central themes of the play.

For one thing, the soldiers at the beginning of the play all rode real motorcycles and fired machine guns and pistols as they simulated the opening battle scene. For another, some of the soldiers, and often the witches, were ten to twelve feet tall and walked on stilts around the stage. Not only were these stilt creatures dramatic in their movements, they also added to the eerie, supernatural aura which is so much a part of the play. Third, the play was done outdoors in the central quad of the Old College, with the audience standing. Finally there was fire and loud music used frequently for dramatic effect throughout the performance.

To condense the script, everything but the main plot was sacrificed. No Macduff, no Malcolm or Donalbain, very little dialogue (and what there was was spoken in a clear but definitely Polish-accented English). Just the battle scene, the murder of Duncan, the coronation, the murder of Banquo, the tormented consciences of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and their deaths. For the final battle scene, six soldiers on stilts came on stage carrying torches and twelve-foot-tall wooden posts. They moved steadily toward the castle--a metal construction in the back of the staging area--carrying these posts, giving the visual effect of Birnam Wood advancing on High Dunsinane. When the reached the castle, they set it afire--that's why it had to be made of metal, so that only the parts they wanted to burn would do so--and looking through a metal screen into the castle, the audience could see "Macbeth" catch fire and burn to death as the play ended.

What the stilts and fire and lack of dialogue and stripping of all the subplot elements did, more than anything, I thought, was to create mood. The entire performance, especially the use of the three witches, whose faces were covered with white veils throughout, gave off a sinister aura of evil walking the face of the earth.

It was one of the most unusual and imaginative and effective stagings of Shakespeare I have ever seen. We all decided that you'd pretty much have to know the original play in order for some parts of it to make sense, but if you did, it was certainly a gripping theatrical experience.

Three cheers for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!! (459)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Summer Reading--The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Since yesterday I've been trying to figure out why Cormac McCarthy's The Road was such a remarkable reading experience. The setting of the novel—a post-apocalyptic world in which the few remaining survivors either live in terror of each other or treat others with unspeakable brutality—is one of the darkest, most terrifying premises I've ever encountered. The plot is almost nonexistent. A man and his son travel the road on foot, trying to go south to reach warmer weather and, for reasons never fully explained, to reach the sea. Along the way they search for enough food, clothing, and blankets to keep themselves alive as they continue their journey. These two are the only significant characters in the novel, and the few minor characters—a killer, a dying old man, and one or two others—appear only for a few paragraphs or brief scene. And the sadness and misery of an annihilated, ash-covered world, where all the trees and animals and most of the people are dead and where every human encounter is likely to lead to violence, makes the reading emotionally difficult. On the surface, it seems a totally depressing story.

Why, then, did the experience of reading this novel so completely captivate me? Why did I find myself re-reading some pages, slowing down to read others aloud to hear the characters voices more clearly? Why, on the third and last day of my reading, did I find myself deliberately taking reading breaks to let the feeling of the story envelop me a little longer before I finished it?

I think my answer lies in the relationship between the father and son in the story. Because McCarthy does a wonderful thing in this novel. He takes a harrowing story of physical survival and wraps it in another, even more powerful story, a story about perseverance, about hope in a hopeless world, and about a father and son's love for one another. While reading, I found myself asking why they go on, why they continue to search for a better place which they both know doesn't exist. And McCarthy's answer, implied repeatedly both in the dialogue between the two and in the father's private thoughts, is that each of them is the other's means of survival, both physically and emotionally. Without his father to feed and clothe him and keep him away from danger, the boy would be physically unable to go on. And without the boy to take care of, to give meaning and purpose to his otherwise futile, empty existence, the father would have no reason to continue. And so they go on together, constantly stopping to ask each other "how are you", to question their reasons for doing what they do, to reassure one another that everything is "okay," although, of course, it rarely is.

They succeed, I think. They maintain their belief that they are the "good guys," even when the father has to make painful decisions which upset the boy, they maintain their hope that some possible good can come out of their terrible predicament, and most of all, they continue to treat each other with remarkable tenderness and love and concern no matter the hardships they face. In a world which clearly can never come back to life, where everyone in it is doomed, it's that tenderness and love which give their existence the only meaning it can possibly have and which account for my feeling as a reader that I was under the spell of a remarkable book written by a gifted writer (591).

2.1--Weak repetition

A. Here’s the problem:
When you’re drafting a paper, you’re simultaneously trying to decide what to say and find the right words. As a result, you are often unconscious of the fact that you’ve relied far too often on a single word, often one that’s rather too general to convey much specific meaning. Alas, when I read a passage that overuses a single word, the act of reading numbs my mind and certainly makes a less favorable impression on my grading lobe.

B. What to do:
Rethink the meaning of the passage in question. The simplest way is to replace the excessive uses of one word by substituting others. The danger is that the passage winds up sounding like a thesaurus exercise. A better method is to rewrite the sentences in question using more specific words, perhaps making the passage more economical as well as less repetitive.

C. Example: Lady Catherine enforces the rules of society when she is worried about her own social safety. Austen, by showing all of these, is saying that powerful people use society to their own benefit, and that individual people force others into complying with society more than society itself. Thus society proves to be all-powerful.
Improved Version: Lady Catherine snobbishly abuses social customs and rules of etiquette to maintain her own sense of superiority. Austen’s point is that some prominent people misuse their power selfishly, using their position to intimidate others and force them to comply to socially-prescribed behaviors for the wrong reasons.

D. Now you try—write an improved version of the following passage.
1. In comparison with the other female characters in the novel, Elizabeth’s character has a more independent personality and demonstrates a more modern outlook on life. Elizabeth is like no other woman in the book because she demonstrates a great strength of independence and individualism.
One of Elizabeth’s most noticeable features is her need for independence. Elizabeth’s independence is what some characters find to be most disgraceful and what others find to be very attractive. A perfect scene that shows the difference of opinion about her independence is the scene where Elizabeth goes to visit her ill sister.

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following source:
Ken Macrorie, Writing to be Read (3rd ed.) pp. 75-79 is my favorite on this topic.

2.2--Parallel Structure

A. Here’s the problem:
Sometimes you don’t apply what you’ve been taught about parallel structure in your sentences. You’re trying to explain a complex idea and occasionally get tangled up in your own words, forgetting to make the parts of your sentence connect to each other smoothly. As a result, your writing is harder to read, your ideas harder to follow, and your sentences lose their rhythm and their clear, natural voice.

B. What to do:
Read your sentences aloud during revision. Your ear is one of your best revision tools, but not enough of you think about how your sentences sound as well as what they say. Proper parallel structure is one way to make your sentences sound better. Since I read every essay trying to hear the sentences in my head as I read, good-sounding sentences make a stronger impression. Example: “Archer recognizes both the validity and the vacuity of the doomed elite to which he belongs, and can neither fully reconcile himself to the old values nor act decisively according to alternative ones.”

C. Example: This confusion of the heart started back when Lizzy first saw Darcy at a ball to the moment they agreed to be wed in Longbourne gardens.
Corrected Version: This confusion of the heart began when Lizzy first saw Darcy at a ball and ended the moment they agreed to be wed in Longbourne gardens.

D. Now you try—write corrected versions of the following sentences.
1. Mr. Darcy was told what most other people thought of him, completely destroying everything that he considered to be proper and a compliment.
2. Not only does Mr. Darcy show his pride to Elizabeth, but also Lady Catherine, Darcy’s aunt, by bragging and threatening Elizabeth.

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following sources:
Strunk & White, pp. 26-28; also

2.3--Awkward phrasing

A. Here’s the problem:
Readers don’t like to be confused. Some of you think the authors we study try to confuse you, but I’m not talking about the literary uses of ambiguity. I’m referring to expository prose; when you explain and support ideas, any awkwardly phrased sentence that prevents you from communicating those ideas clearly and accurately makes your writing less effective.

B. What to do:
Be more honest with your editing partners. Instead of saying only “it’s good” or nit-picking for the sake of criticizing, tell each other which sentences are worded in such a way that their meaning isn’t coming through. Also, as with other topics in this chapter, read each other’s sentences aloud to pick up awkward-sounding phrases and sentences.

C. Example: Elizabeth’s father is the strongest, quietest, and wisest in the book, of whom, Eliza takes after the most.
Corrected Version: Elizabeth’s father is the strongest, quietest, and wisest character in the book, the parent Eliza takes after the most.

D. Now you try—write corrected versions of the following sentences.
1. Austen illustrates her attitude of the ability to free onself from the chains of conformity and custom.
2. This scene is ironic because seeing as how Lady Catherine is supposed to be a figure of high regard, she is acting far worse than someone of a lower status.

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following source: (a good discussion of many sources of confusion and their remedies)

2.4--Abstract and Concrete Diction

A. Here’s the problem:
The words you choose have enormous impact on the quality of your writing. Relying on general, vague, or abstract words—especially nouns—makes your writing less specific and therefore less convincing. In more extreme cases, abstract words make your writing seem dishonest, as though you’re pretending to grand ideas and important statements when in fact you don’t quite know what you mean to say.

B. What to do:
Look at the section on vagueness and ambiguity in the link below. Make yourself aware of the difference between abstract (general) nouns and concrete (specific) nouns. In your writing, whenever you use an abstract noun, ask yourself if a more specific concrete noun could be substituted. The results are worth the effort.

C. Example: The dynamic nature of Darcy is interesting—his negative qualities are equaled only by his positive qualities.
Corrected Version: Darcy’s personality is complex, his pride and aloofness balanced by his intelligence and loyalty.

D. Now you try—write corrected versions of the following sentences.
1. The novel emphasizes the demanding expectations of society and how those expectations influence the characters’ personalities. The reader gains an understanding of the social world these characters live in and how it has impacted who they have become.
2. Lady Catherine’s antics express such an intellectual abstraction that they destroy the tenability of the superficial values altogether, thereby causing a reevaluation of the situation. (I defy you to decipher this writer’s meaning.)
3. This relationship furthers Citibank's efforts towards catalyzing the electronic bill payment space (this gem sent to me by a friend in the banking industry who’s also trying to figure out what it means).

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following sources:
Strunk & White, pp. 21-23


A. Here’s the problem:
If there is one temple of writing at which I worship above all others, it is at the altar of clarity. My head hurts when I read sentences whose meanings aren’t clear, while my blood races just a little faster when I read sentences which ring in my mind as clear as bells. Think of it this way. The goal of good writing isn’t to write clearly enough to make your meaning understood; it’s to write so clearly that your meaning can’t be misunderstood. Strunk and White put the matter succinctly: “When you say something, make sure you have said it” (80).

B. What to do:
You must become the sworn enemy of confusion, ambiguity, and murk in your writing. You must root them out relentlessly and destroy them ruthlessly. Murk is an infectious disease; don’t let yourself catch it. Break longer sentences in two; replace gibberish with meaning; use more precise words; drag yourself out of the quicksand of unrestrained subordinate clauses.

C. Example: Mr. Bennet greatly respects Elizabeth’s views on love and marriage, rather than his wife, who is disappointed in her daughter’s lack of the traditional role of women and marriage.
Corrected Version: Mr. Bennet greatly respects Elizabeth’s views on love and marriage; Mrs. Bennet, on the other hand, is disappointed in her daughter’s disregard of the traditional role of women and marriage.

D. Now you try—write corrected versions of the following sentences.
1. She realized she was wrong about him and the irony of how she had treted him.
2. I do not know why Darcy would still be in love with Elizabeth after the rejection, because he loved her so much I hoped that Darcy would change his upper class ways.

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following source:
Strunk & White, pp. 79-80

2.5.1--George Orwell's principles

It is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures or sensations. Afterwards one can choose—not simply accept—the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impression one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

2.6--Simplify, simplify, simplify

A. Here’s the problem:
Thoreau’s maxim, “simplify, simplify, simplify” referred to how he thought humans could live more meaningful lives. But the same philosophy applies to writing, where simpler is generally better, at least in terms of style. Unfortunately, we sometimes get the notion that fancy words and unnecessarily complicated sentences are more impressive, more intellectual-sounding, than simple, straightforward assertions of ideas. They’re not.

B. What to do:
Strunk and White: “Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating” (72). Try to eliminate not only the pretentious and vague language we’ve looked at earlier but also the elaborate, convoluted sentences that obscure your meaning and make the reader’s job more difficult.

C. Example: Austen seems to feel her society may be foolish but it is generally harmless except for in this one instance it could have destroyed the Bennet family except for the fact that Darcy luckily saved them by convincing the two to get married and anything else people might have heard could be denied.
Corrected Version: Austen’s society may be foolish, but it is generally harmless. In one case, however, scandal could have destroyed the Bennet family; luckily, Darcy saved them by convincing Lydia and Wickham to marry. After that, anything people might have heard could be denied.

D. Now you try—write corrected versions of the following sentences.
1. Newland’s wife, May Welland, is the perfect woman of the time as she may know Newland is in love with Ellen, but refuses to act on the content of her beliefs and instead steadily acts as an ignorant wife.
2. The third volume of the novel reconciles the antithesis of pride and prejudice through symbolic scenes that force a psychological change in the minds of the two protagonists—a change that overcomes conventional wisdom and affirms true human values that make Elizabeth and Darcy Platonic [sic] peers.
E. For more information or additional practice, check the following sources:
Strunk & White, pp. 72, 76-8
Zinsser, pp. 7-12

2.7--Clutter I: Verbiage gone wild

A. Here’s the problem:
This is one of my top three lessons for you to practice. Writers learning their craft waste words. It’s as simple as that. You fill sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, with unnecessary verbiage. Sometimes you’re trying to camouflage the fact that you haven’t quite decided what you want to say. Sometimes you can’t quite find the best way to say what you mean. You’re surrounded by a culture that wastes words and obscures meanings. You’ve fallen into some bad habits that need to be rooted out like weeds in the garden.

B. What to do:
William Zinsser says, “the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.” This piece of advice means as much to me as anything I’ve ever learned about writing. Go through your sentences bracketing words that add no meaning. Remove who, which, that, and thing whenever possible. Turn verb phrases into simple, present tense verbs. Cut down on adjectives and adverbs. Once you cultivate the habit of pruning your prose, you’ll find many ways to improve your writing.

C. Example: [In] Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, [Jane Austen creates somewhat of a mockery] of 19th century customs,[ manners, and general lifestyle].
Corrected Version: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice satirizes many nineteenth-century customs.

D. Now you try—write corrected versions of the following sentences.
1. Jane Austen specifically focuses the majority of her novel on the issue of the consent of marriage.
2. Austen’s realism creates England to be portrayed as a place concerned with stature and wealth.

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following sources:
Zinsser, pp. 13-19
Strunk & White, pp. 23-25

2.8--Clutter II: More practice

A. Here’s the problem:
Once just isn’t enough. Clutter is such an insidious disease nearly everyone catches it. It’s a creeping blight that destroys whatever is true, original, thoughtful, or beautiful in our writing. So we have to follow the advice of the New York cabdriver, who, when asked by another driver stopped at a light, “how do I get to Carnegie Hall,” replied, “practice, practice, practice.”

B. What to do:
According to Strunk, “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.” Keep looking for ways to eliminate the clutter in your sentences. You can’t do yourself any higher favors as a writer-in-training.

C. Example: At the top of the pyramid of social acceptability is one elite family, which in The Age of Innocence is the Van der Luydens.
Corrected Version: In The Age of Innocence, the Van der Luydens stand at the top of the social pyramid.

D. Now you try—write corrected versions of the following sentences.
1. The letter was the turning point in the novel, it was the point that would lead to all other emotions, it was pivotal.
2. Because Elizabeth was such a liberal-minded thinker, she was able to formulate her own personal belief system relating to what a marriage should be.
3. The novel, in essence, is able to accurately explore the nature of British society in the early nineteenth century by portraying a comedy in which the characters must overcome pre-judgment and discover the truth about one another while still remaining within their social and societal bounds.

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following sources:
Macrorie, pp. 34-40 (excellent lists)

2.9--Clutter III: A demonstration

A. Here’s the problem:
The following passage, describing a family of deer taking water, contains some good images but is cluttered with unnecessary words.

B. What to do:
Use the technique of bracketing surplus verbiage to help create more concise writing.

Original Version:
The male is standing slightly behind the other two as if he were protecting them. His head held high in the air with his antlers looking like a giant maze on top of his head. He is amazing with his giant chest covered in snow-white fur adding a perfect contrast to his light brown body. In front of him is the female. Her head is held down as she gently sips the water from the crystal clear stream. She has a much smaller body, but her delicate look makes her beautiful in her own way. Next to her is another deer. Smaller in size appearing to be their young. It is a male deer because he has just started to grow some antlers himself. I see a smooth rock just to my left and take a seat as quietly as possible making sure not to disturb this serene moment in time. I look down to make sure that I do not step on a twig that has hidden itself in the tall, green grass.

Clutter bracketed:
The male [is standing] slightly behind the other two, [as if he were] protecting them, [H]is head held high [in the air] with [his] antlers [looking] like a giant maze on [top of his head]. He is amazing, [with] his giant chest covered in snow-white fur [adding] a perfect [contrast] to his light brown body. In front of him is the female[.] [H]er head [is held] down as she [gently] sips [the water] from the crystal clear stream. She has a much smaller body, [but] her delicate look [makes her] beautiful in [her] own way. Next to her is another deer[.] [S]maller in size [appearing to be] their young. [It is a] male, [deer because] he has just started to grow [some] antlers himself. I see a smooth rock [just] to my left and take a seat [as] quietly, [as possible] making sure not to disturb this serene moment [in time]. I look down to make sure [that] I do not step on a twig [that has] hidden [itself] in the tall, green grass.

Corrected Version:

The male stands slightly behind the other two, protecting them, his head held high with antlers like a giant maze. He is amazing, his giant chest covered in snow-white fur contrasting perfectly with his light brown body. In front of him is the female, her head down as she sips from the crystal clear stream. She has a much smaller body, her delicate look beautiful in its own way. Next to her is another deer, even smaller in size, apparently their young. A male, he has just started to grow antlers himself. I see a smooth rock to my left and take a seat quietly, making sure not to disturb this serene moment. I look down to make sure I do not step on a twig hidden in the tall, green grass.

2.10--Clutter IV: I Edit Myself

A. Here’s the problem:
Before I leave the topic of clutter, I want to make clear that writing cluttered prose isn’t a phase like bad skin or braces, something you’ll grow out of as you leave adolescence behind. It’s a problem you should deal with constantly, an awareness I hope you will carry with you the rest of your lives. Pruning my prose, weeding the surplus verbiage that can choke otherwise healthy sentences, is something I do to every sentence I write. And I always will.

B. What to do:
Here are some samples from this text, sentences I wrote then attempted to improve by trimming unnecessary words. My goal is always the same—to help the reader follow the path of my thoughts more easily by cutting back the jungle of unwanted growth. For each pair below, the first—O—is my original sentence, the second—R—the revised version as it appears in this text.

O. I want to provide both print and internet resources for all topics, so you can get further instruction in individual areas where you need additional work.
R. I will provide additional print and internet resources so you receive further instruction in individual areas.

O. . . .tell each other which sentences are worded in such a way that their meaning isn’t coming through.
R. . . .tell each other which sentences are poorly worded.

O. All these strategies take time, so they all require you to begin early and break your essay writing down into a process:
R. These strategies take time, so you must begin early and divide your work into stages:

O. . . . culled examples of these errors from papers I’ve collected over the years, and written a series of exercises designed to accomplish several goals.
R. . . . culled examples of these errors from papers I’ve collected, and designed a series of exercises to accomplish several goals.

O. No real emotion is ever openly expressed, merely hinted at indirectly so that it be understood and responded to without ever being acknowledged for what it is. As a result, this socially prescribed, highly symbolic behavior stifles the characters’ emotional lives, gradually turns them into dishonest people, and even strips them of their essential humanity.
R. No direct emotion is ever expressed, merely hinted at so it can be responded to without being acknowledged. As a result, this socially prescribed code stifles characters’ emotional lives, gradually makes them dishonest, and eventually strips them of their humanity.

2.11--The beauty, perfection, and symmetry of the subordinating conjunction!

A. Here’s the problem:
Beware—this is an advanced lesson and contains some technical grammar terms. But don’t be intimidated, since the basic idea isn’t that difficult. Not all the information or ideas in a sentence are of equal importance. But if the only conjunctions you use are and, but, and or, you fail to suggest the relative emphasis of the ideas you’re stating. Compound sentences are useful, just as simple sentences are, but at times you need to place emphasis where it belongs by subordinating one part of a sentence to another.

B. What to do:
Many of you overuse relative clauses—those beginning with who, which, and especially that—but don’t use enough subordinate adverbial clauses. The best way to solve the problem is to use an appropriate subordinating conjunction, either at the beginning of the sentence, at the end of the main clause, or between two sentences to combine them. You probably memorized these conjunctions once—although, since, because, if, unless, while, as, and others—but you need to train yourself to use the right one for the situation at hand.

C. Example: Austen is not as critical as Wharton. Austen shows that social conventions can interfere and get in the way of relationships.
Corrected Version: While Austen is not as critical as Wharton, she shows that social conventions can interfere with relationships.

D. Now you try—write corrected versions of the following sentences.
1. Elizabeth reads Darcy’s letter of explanation, she retains a “strong prejudice against every thing he might say.”
2. She realizes that she may have been in the wrong and her sense of pride is replaced by “astonishment, apprehension, and even horror.”

E. For more information or additional practice, check the following sources: