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