Prose Style Chapters 13-16
Chapter 13: Sentence Variety Part A
Prose Style Chapter
Sameness = boredom
n We cursed everything American. We cursed baseball and hot dogs. We had no respect for politicians or preachers.
We had no respect for lawyers. We had no respect for governors or Presidents. We had no respect for senators or congressmen.
We, we, we…all the way home.
Go for Power and Variety
n Use emphatic variations in your sentences
n Invigorate the rhythm of your prose
n Vary in both length and structure
n Vary short and long sentences
n Short sentences are powerful because of simplicity
n Longer sentences may contain parallel structures
n Alternate between short and long to convey intensity.
Short Sentences are
n “We cursed everything American─including baseball and hot dogs…I despised all of them.”
n Express nuances of tone and meaning
n Best practice is imitation
n Frees the writer
n Most commonly we come to books with blurred and divided minds, asking of fiction that it shall be true, of poetry
that it shall be false, of biography that it shall be flattering, of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices.
n Main point is at the end of the sentence
n Just before the shaman goes into his trance, he raises his hands like a man preparing
to dive into deep water.
n In the drive for greater income, the American blue-collar worker has fallen far
behind the executive and the owner.
n Throwing her calculating machine out the window, she vowed never again to look
at a column of figures.
n Participial phrase
n After deciding to educate their child at home, the Blanchards hired a lawyer
to protect them against reprisals from the public school system.
n Gerund phrase
n His confidence broken, he doubted whether he could ever again appear before an
n Absolute phrase
n A caustic and demanding critic, John Simon delights in tearing apart mediocre
n Always resourceful, he rigged up a quadraphonic system with speakers taken from
n Slowly, cautiously, he tiptoed through the tulips.
These are variations
n THE PERIODIC SENTENCE
n Feature subordinate clauses, phrases, or adjective/nouns at the beginning
n Reach the main idea at the very end of the sentence
n Known for their climatic ending
Full power only when
n Introductory elements create suspense
n While the alienated young people in America turned to the East in search of the equanimity of Taoism, the “self”
of Hinduism, and the selflessness of Buddhism, the East turned to America in search of efficient technology and hard cash.
n Overuse means reader finds your writing monotonous
n Wrong kind of material = anticlimax!
n The patient reader feels a terrible letdown.
Big Buildups, Little
n She stood in front of the jury, pale with terror, sweating feverishly, struggling to look innocent, but able
to produce only a whisper.
n Main idea is at the beginning of the sentence
Endings: Loose Sentences
n Ruth Jackson told us about the sordid aspects of the medical profession after we had chosen her to be our family
n Subordinate clause
n We can draw only one conclusion from these laboratory tests: Mr. Bentley’s fondness for homemade wine
has ruined his stomach.
n He learned how to fix cars from Miss Alice McMahon, an elderly spinster.
n The children finally came home, exhausted and hungry.
n The little boy hid way in the back of the closet, trembling at the thought of being detected.
n She slumped over the desk, her thoughts leaping back to those days at the beach.
n Absolute phrase.
n This wildly ridiculous novel, which was intended as a parody of pornographic literature, became a best
seller as soon as pornography addicts spotted the naked woman on the cover.
n Macaulay Jones, a local businessman, was found to be the organizer of a statewide ring of bicycle thieves.
n Appositive Noun
n These children──selfish, deceitful, and sadistic─were evidence of their parents’ muddled sense of values.
n Appositive adjective
n Reverend Cooper, having failed to win the argument by appealing to faith, decided he had better appeal
n The robot, his strength failing, reached for a can of spinach.
n Absolute phrase
n Then Mr. Maxwell, with his customary indifference to popular opinion, asked the board to explain why the
high school needed a football team.
n Prepositional phrase
n Interruptors don’t work if:
n They are too long
n We use too many
n They are repetitive
n They are unclear
n Use all three!
Try to take advantage
of all three positions
n Imitate for sentence dexterity
n Become a “sentence acrobat”
n Shakespeare’s noblest characters express sentiments of patriotic or personal honor which to
young modern ears sound flamboyant or unconvincing.
n Madeleine Doran
n I soon discovered that the Land of the Redwoods could be as racist as the Land of Cotton, and that the
Yankee police could be as bigoted as any good-ol’-boy Southern sheriff.
n Many men have welcomed the women’s liberation movement, with its repudiation
of sexual stereotypes, its demand for equal rights in employment, and its insistence on shared responsibilities in the
home, the community, and the federal government.
n The Puritan is simply one who, because of physical cowardice, lack of imagination, or religious superstition,
is unable to get any joy out of the satisfaction of his natural appetities.
n H. L. Mencken
n At one moment, [the Dreamer] chills by an inhuman cruelty, at another uplifts with a sheer grandeur
of spiritual vision; he irritates us by trivialities, silences us with unreasonable wisdom, charms us
by his subtlety and wit, and often enough disgusts us with his coarse and bestial fantasies.
n Stand up and stretch!
…here, more than anywhere else that I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private
and communal folly—the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages and
throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous
rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries, and extravagances—is so inordinately gross and preposterous, so
perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality,
that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every
morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows.
- H.L. Mencken, “On Being an American,” Prejudices: A Selection
…here on cable networks, more than anywhere
else that I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly—the unending
procession of mind-numbing TV shows, of extortions and chicaneries, of commercials for toilet-bowl cleaners and washing detergent,
of TV game show buffooneries, of endless shows of people lost and surviving villanies, imbecilities, grotesqueries, and extravagances—is
so ridiculously gross and preposterous, the volume so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable volume, so steadily
enriched with no fabulous daring or originality, so that only a man with a petrified diaphragm could conceivably laugh himself
to sleep every night, and to awake afresh every morning to turn on Good Morning America with all the eager, unflagging expectation
of a librarian touring an X-rated bookstore.
Chapter 13B: Sentence Variety Continued
Chapter 14: Figures of Speech
Prose Style 14
Figures of Speech
Figures of Speech
n Don’t just belong in poetry
n Can play a valuable role in your prose
n They add colorful ornamentation
n Comparison using like or as
n “Life is like music; it must be composed by ear, feeling and instinct, not by rule.”
n “I have squandered my life as a schoolboy squanders a tip.”
n No verbal signal
n Sometimes a simple equation
n “When I was a
schoolboy at Shrewsbury, old Mrs. Brown used to keep a tray of spoiled tarts which she sold cheaper. They
most of them looked pretty right till you handled them. We are all spoiled tarts.”
Samuel Butler “Note-Books”
n States only one term of the comparison, leaving the other implicit.
n “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where
they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
n - Henry David Thoreau
Although simile and metaphor are constructed differently…
n We will use the word metaphor to refer to both figures of speech
What are functions of metaphor?
Clarity: when literal language has failed.
This example supplies metaphor, then literal explanation.
Example: “A man may take to drink
because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same
thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the
slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. “
- George Orwell
n Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays
Alan Watts: the Buddhist doctrine of sunyata
Literal explanation first, then metaphor,
then final sentence of explanation:
n The doctrine…asserts only that there are no self-existent forms for the more one
concentrates upon any individual thing, the more it turns out to involve the whole universe. The final Buddhist vision
of the world…is symbolized as a vast network of jewels, like drops of dew upon a multidimensional spider web. Looking
closely at any single jewel, one beholds in it the reflection of all the others…Any one form is inseparable from
all other forms.
n Psychotherapy East and West
Now we’ll look at an extended metaphor – or analogy
Bernard Shaw dramatizes his vision of British
society. (It’s long, so fasten your seat belts…)
Think of the whole country as a big household,
and the whole nation as a big family, which is what they really are. What do we see? Half-fed, badly clothed, abominably housed children all over the place; and the money
that should go to feed and clothe and house them properly being spent in million on bottles of scent, pearl necklaces, pet
dogs, racing motor cars, January strawberries that taste like corks, and all sorts of extravagances.
One sister of the national family has a single pair of leaking boots that keep her sniffing all through
the winter, and no handkerchief to wipe her nose with. Another has forty pairs of high-heeled shoes and dozens of handkerchiefs.
A little brother is trying to grow up on a penn’orth of food a day, and is breaking his mother’s heart
and wearing out her patience by asking continually for more, whilst a big brother, spending five or six pounds on his
dinner at a fashionable hotel, followed by supper at a night club, is in the doctor’s hands because he is eating and
drinking too much.
More Purposes of Metaphor
n To achieve clarity
n To entertain: to give the reader pleasure
n Remember Chapter 4?
n Advantages of imagery:
n Excitement of relating actual sensory experiences
In the hands of the experts
n George Orwell: notions about the intertwined degeneration of thought
and language becomes more impressive when joined with the image of a man who is caught in the loop of excessive drinking.
In the hands of the experts
n Alan Watts: explanation of sunyata becomes charmingly graphic when
linked to the image of a vast net of jewels or a spider web covered with dew drops.
In the hands of the experts
n George Bernard Shaw: view of the British economic structure becomes
highly dramatic when presented as the account of a cruelly unfair division of money within the family of man.
n On American democracy’s choice of Calvin Coolidge for President:
n It is as if a hungry man, set before a banquet prepared by master cooks
and covering a table an acre in area, should turn his back upon the feast and stay his stomach by catching and eating flies.
n Gridley City is a concrete-and-neon atoll in a vast sea of peach trees.
n Professor Meyers somehow managed to combing the roles of solicitous
guru and academic drill sergeant.
n The present style of marriage is a little like Russian roulette; and
most of the time the chamber is loaded.
More student examples
n These psychologists and mythologists tell us that Western civilization
has reached a dead end. Our path has meandered through fields of glory only to terminate at the edge of a cliff. If we wish
to save ourselves, we must retrace our steps.
Metaphor as essay conclusions
n These last two passages served as essay conclusions
n NOTE: The concluding paragraph of an essay gives you an excellent chance
to use metaphor.
n YOU CAN RESTATE YOUR IDEA IN A MEMORABLE FORM!
Avoid overly elaborate metaphors
n Aim for the moderate tone of the judicious thinker
n Consider Orwell’s discretion – he keeps them short to prevent
them from becoming obtrusive.
n Half-sentence, phrase, single word are woven subtly into the fabric
of the argument.
n Clarify ideas, add pleasurable doses of concreteness
n NEVER BECOME OSTENTATIOUS OR SHOWY!!!
Here are some great examples from George Orwell
n …modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out
words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together
long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer
n …the writer
knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink.
n The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words
falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy
of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real an one’s declared aims, one turns as
it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.
n Enliven your prose without being obtrusive
n This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases…can
only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrases anaesthetizes a portion
of one’s brain.
n William Hazlitt “On the Ignorance of the Learned”:
n (The scholar) He stuffs his head with authorities built
on authorities, with quotations quoted from quotations, while he locks up his senses, his understanding, and his heart.
Verbs have rich metaphorical
n Someone “elbows” his way through the crowd
n He “yawns” his way through a book
n He is “hungry” for admiration
n He “orchestrates” a conversation
Metaphorical substitutes for “talk”
n Spouts like running water
n Clucks like a bird
Growls like a dog
Sermonizes like someone talking from a podium
Take advantage of metaphorical verbs!
n They add imagery and activity to your prose
n Easily devised
n Easy to keep unobtrusive
n Too abundant, too distracting, too dazzling
James Nolan: “Jesus Now”
Reverend Blessit of “His Place”
on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles is a particularly flashy example of this Campus Crusade for Christ mentality, boutiqued over
with paste-board psychedelic finish and restocked on the shelves as the Real Thing for the Youth Market, the Uncola of religious
persuasion, bearing about as close a resemblance to anything revolutionary as those cleverly advertised, insipid little cheese-nothings,
Screaming Yellow Zonkers, had to the nutrition revolution.
Why is Nolan’s a problem?
n Tone arouses the reader’s distrust
n Tone does not suggest objectivity
n We suspect the writer is exhibitionistic: “look at me”
Watch out for cliché and hackneyed metaphors
n Busy as a bee
n Sober as a judge
n Packed like sardines
n White as a sheet
n Pale as a ghost
Mark Twain’s invention…
n There warn’t no color in his face, where his face showed; it
was white; not like another man’s white, but a white to make a body sick, a white to make a body’s flesh crawl—a
tree-toad white, a fish-belly white.
n Huck Finn’s description of Pap, his father
Beware of nonsense
n The real Count Dracula was a fifteenth-century Hungarian nobleman notorious
for butchering thousands of peasants. He murdered them on the slightest pretext. Like a boiling lobster, the fertile plain
of the Danube turned from dark green to blood red.
Beware the mixed metaphor
n Mixing of two incongruous comparisons
n Trite sayings
n Notorious example: American radio announcer after WWII declares, “The
Fascist octopus has finally sung his swan song!”
Another funny example
n California state senator charged that intellectuals in our universities
were a “bunch of intellectual termites relentlessly eating away at the bedrock of our civilization.”
n Not even intellectual termites can eat rock!
What if you find a mixed metaphor in your writing?
n Three choices:
n 1. replace one of the conflicting images
n 2. replace one of the conflicting images with a neutral word or phrase
that has no (or very little image value)
n 3. discard the metaphors entirely and cast the sentence in a straightforward
n Personification: compares the nonhuman to the human. It endows nonhuman
entities with human characteristics.
n The fossilized dinosaur egg reminded me that Nature is a gambler, a
reckless improviser, and that most of her schemes have failed.
n The 1940s and 1950s placed romantic love securely on the throne, making
sentimentality an absolute ruler whom our popular novelists and playwrights did not dare to oppose.
n Substitutes a part for the whole
n Example: a farmer says he hired “seven hands” when he means
n Example: a homeless person says he wants “a roof over his head”
Synecdoche is valuable--Converts abstractions and generalities into concrete
She is more likely to devote her law career
to working for large corporations than to working for political or social betterment.
She’s more likely to become an upper-echelon
attorney at General Motors than a Nader’s Raider or a storefront lawyer for people on welfare.
Examples of Conversions to Synecdoche
It was a shoddy motel.
It was one of those motels where your room
smells of mildew and you find two dead mice in the swimming pool.
When he was in high school, he always preferred
intellectual activities to athletic or social ones.
When he was in high school, he always preferred
Shakespeare or Rimbaud to football or dancing.
She has never done any serious reading.
Her reading has never gotten beyond the
daily newspaper and the collected works of Victoria Holt.
n Refers to something other than the primary subject.
In 1972 the Democrats nominated George MacGovern,
the Barry Goldwater of the Left.
In the animal kingdom the meek do
not inherit the earth.
n When I
finally started dieting, I was too impatient in wishing that my “too, too solid flesh would melt.”
The date was 1967. Dionysus had just
Why are allusions useful?
n They can sum up a whole tangle of facts and attitudes.
n They suggest a host of relevant associations and implications and thus
produce an effect of concentrated richness.
Why are allusions rich?
n They can achieve a luxuriant texture, interwoven with strands from
Russian literature, British history, comic books, TV commercials, and so on.
Keep the audience in mind
n Only a highly sophisticated audience can enjoy some allusions
n Avoid trying to puzzle your audience
n Otherwise, you could alienate your readership.
Explain the allusions as you use them
n The inspiration for teaching girls to expect less than boys comes from
a range of cultural sources, religious, literary, psychiatric, and pop. Even
in the Bible, exceptional, independent women like Rebecca, Sarah, Deborah, or Ruth are practically “unknowns”
compared with the infamous Eve or Delilah.
n Yoking incongruous words
n Adds the flavor of irony
n Aggressive passivity
n Painful triumph
n Timid arrogance
n Consistent inconsistency
Use all these figures sparingly
n “Nothing too much.”
n Today’s readers become impatient with an ornately figurative
n E.B. White stated: “Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally
unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating.”
Prose Style 15
What does “slanted” mean?
l A passage loaded with favorable or unfavorable connotations
Material can be slanted
l In a positive or negative way
Slanting may also mean
l Suppressing important evidence
l Omitting facts that might weaken the writer’s argument
Majority of slanting done
l Through connotation
Should you always refrain from slanting?
l Not always – but often
Best to take a neutral position
l You may be enthusiastic
l But do not provide slanted arguments loaded with connotations
That does not mean you can’t be passionate
l Or committed to your cause
You should not suppress evidence.
l Omitting important evidence because it might weaken the argument and
l You’ve lied.
l Careful readers will be skeptical of you.
l You may lose your credibility
How to deal?
l Let your readers know the most damaging evidence against your side
l Then repair the damage by presenting stronger evidence in support of
l You will impress your reader of your credibility.
No suppression…but is it O.K. to use connotation?
l It can charge your prose with excitement.
l Connotation should rest on solid argument.
l Otherwise it is irresponsible and you will lose credibility.
Consider your purpose audience
l When using loaded connotations
l If your audience expects neutrality, you could alienate them
Chapter 16: The Writer's Voice
The Writer’s Voice
Prose Style, Ch.
o The writer’s personal characteristics:
n Emotional makeup
No writer reveals all
o Persona vs. Personality
o Persona = mask
o Reveals only what is appropriate at the time
Variety of personae
o Reflective of variety of subjects
o Different artistic selves
Don’t confine yourself
o Feel free to use whatever new persona is suited to the new occasion
o Consider subject, audience and purpose
o Those features of personality/experience that best fit the circumstances
Deception vs. Flexibility
o Your speaking is flexible
o So should be your writing
o Present the features of your personality
that fit the situation
o The emotion reflected in a passage
o Emotion regarded as sum of two attitudes
Attitude toward the subject
o Emotions you feel toward the topic you’re writing about –
Emotions change through…
o The piece
o a single paragraph
n Ex: describing a favorite aunt –
p Starts out with fear
p Ends with tribute to her life’s work
Attitude toward the audience
o Should not vary as much as attitude toward the subject
n Otherwise, readers get confused
n Avoid being friendly on one page – nasty on the next
o Your degree of friendliness
o Where does your tone fall?
Tone often depends on
n High style – impersonal
p Few I’s or you’s
p Sophisticated wording
p Elaborate sentences
n Professor’s lecture
n Ceremonial speech
o Relaxed and friendly
o Occasional I’s and You’s
o Occasional contraction (can’t)
o Colloquialisms (expressions)
o Never hard to follow
o Neither aloof nor chummy
o Not a visiting professor or your long lost pal
o Full of I’s and You’s
o Easy little sentences
o Colloquial and sometimes sloppy wording
o Sounds like casual chatter
o Fun to write
o Fun to read – if the reader sees the tricks the writer uses
o Writer says something he/she doesn’t really mean
o Often says the exact opposite of the intended meaning
Examples of irony
o “You’re a bright woman” – rolling your eyes
o Turn to your partner and make up an ironic statement
o “The Nixon administration has not been notably successful in
achieving a reputation for candor and clean government.”
o “Our country has always existed in a kind of time-vacuum: we
have no public memory of anything that happened before last Tuesday.”
Irony spiced with cliché
o “I cannot claim to be fully emancipated from the dream that some
enormous man, say six foot six, heavily shouldered and so forth to match, will crush me to his tweeds, look down into my eyes
and leave the taste of heaven or the scorch of his passion on my waiting lips. For three weeks I was married to him.
p - Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch
o Mixture of
n Persona – writer’s personality
p Writer’s attitude toward his/her audience
p Writer’s attitude toward the subject
When analyzing voice
Separate persona from tone.
Know that later the separation is likely to break down.
Thus is the nature of rhetoric!
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