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Keep your claptrap shut

Over Christmas I had the pleasure, or should I say horror, of looking through some of my old academic papers from my middle school years.

Noticeable right off the bat was the inherent lack of quality in pretty much everything I wrote.

Something that really struck my eye, though, was the high fat content in my writing. By that I'm referring to my inclination to write really wordy, needlessly excessive drivel. Maybe I was trying to sound smarter than I was. Actually, there's a pretty good chance that that may have been the year I discovered a thesaurus. There's no joy, er, merriment in Mudville when you need to consult a thesaurus on synonyms for words like "was" or "her."

However, since then I've learned that in writing, less is always more.

In fact, to demonstrate how a piece of writing can quickly derail because of too much fat, I'll tell the same story but in two different ways.

One will be unnecessarily wordy, while the other will be shorter, but it'll hopefully contain just as much detail.

First, here's the fatty version of little six-year-old Nathan Jones picking out a puppy dog:

Nathan Jones and his mother jubilantly strolled into the neighborhood pet store. This was certainly a special day for little Nathan! He firmly grasped his mother's hand as they advanced past each window that housed the canines, as the translucence of the glass made Nathan feel like he could reach out and touch each little puppy. Nathan had wanted a puppy of his own for months and months, but his mother, a martinet, spitefully wouldn't allow one inside their home. Week after week, Nathan implored his parents to get him one. Exasperated after months of asking, his parents gave in finally and awarded him with the gift of a lifetime! But as Nathan looked at each panting pup in the pet store, he realized that making a decision would be a far more arduous task than he had expected...

Whew. That was painful to write. I can only imagine how difficult it was to actually read. As you can probably tell, the thesaurus was used heavily. Translucence? Arduous? Exasperated? Who talks like this? You'll also probably notice that this paragraph says very little. Here's a way to say the same thing but in a far less painful manner:

After weeks of begging his parents, Nathan Jones went to the pet store with his mom to pick out a puppy. While looking at the different dogs got him excited, he realized he had a tough choice to make.

There. That's it. No fat. See how a few unnecessary adjectives and adverbs can kill a story? Do I need to even ask which one reads better?

Here's a message for those who enjoyed the first entry better: Do everyone a favor and the next time you feel that urge to pick up the thesaurus when writing that note to your mailman or dropping that e-mail to your friend in Oklahoma, ignore it.

One can only read so much claptrap.

Web posted on Wednesday, February 4, 2004

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