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80 Years Ago

Archives 05-02-2001

North County Lines by Bob

An Award Winning Column

For comments or questions contact Bob at bobncl@hotmail.com



When I taught creative writing, I was considered difficult. Guilty as charged. But only because I cared about my students. Praising something that wasn't praiseworthy wouldn't have benefited them.

Getting a rejection slip is painful enough without having it attributed to silly mistakes that would keep the article from being accepted for publication by any editor anywhere.

I tried to stop my students from making those kind of errors by using methods that went straight to the point.

Every time I saw I personally in a story, I stopped reading and marked the paper with a large red F. I personally is a sure sign of an amateur at work.

Writing well requires the ability to think clearly. No one who thinks clearly uses personally after a personal pronoun. Using personally after I or any other personal pronoun is redundant and subtracts force from the verb that follows.

I personally beat the snot out of Joe. I beat the snot out of Joe.

The second sentence has power because it's direct. The subject and the verb are side by side, not separated by a useless adverb. The first sentence is wishy washy.

Show me anything written by Faulkner or Steinbeck or Twain or Poe with personally after a personal pronoun and I'll stand on my head naked at noon in the middle of town.

If I could, I'd rip personally out of every dictionary and flush it down the toilet where it belongs.

Actually belongs in the same place. When I taught creative writing, every time I saw actually, a big red F followed.

He actually punched Joe in the nose. He either punched Joe in the nose or he didn't. Actually doesn't enter into it.

He punched Joe in the nose. Subject and verb side by side, providing action in the most direct manner. Get to the action as quickly as possible.

Get to the verb as quickly as possible. Verbs propel a story. Use adverbs sparingly or not at all or the story will sputter and conk out.

Very best is another atrocity to be avoided. Anyone who uses it needs to go back to elementary school and start learning English correctly.

There's good, better, and best. Nothing is better than the best. Saying something is the very best is the same as calling it the bestest.

Putting very in front of best is the same as calling something the very prettiest or the very heaviest or the very fastest.

I received a phone call recently from a yuppie type who said, "I'm personally calling to offer you the very lowest price of the very best home protection system made."

When I stopped laughing, I said, "I have the best home protection system made. It's called a 12 gauge shotgun, with high express loads I packed myself.

"You have a what packed with what?" the voice at the other end said.

"Never mind," I said. "Don't call here again or you'll wish you didn't."

"Are you threatening me?" the voice at the other end said.

"No," I said. "I'm telling you what will happen if you call here again."

Enhance is another word to be avoided by those who don't know what they're doing.

Contrary to what many scribblers believe, enhance doesn't mean improve. The closest meaning of enhance other than the word itself is intensify or increase.

The prior criminal record of a defendant convicted of a new crime is used to enhance the defendant's prison sentence. The defendant wouldn't view the extra years in prison as improving the sentence.

Like enhance, unique shouldn't be used by amateurs. Unique means one of a kind. Nothing else like it exists or has existed before.

If you go to a restaurant and a Watusi warrior runs out of the kitchen and chases you around the table with a spear while you're waiting for dessert, that's a unique dining experience.

If you return to the restaurant and the same thing happens again, it's no longer unique.

I avoid restaurants that offer a unique dining experience. I figure they're trying to get people to come in by promising something that's not there. That's fraud. Writing well requires knowing what words to use where and what words not to use where.

Writing well requires hard work and dedication. Writing well isn't something whiners and complainers can learn unless they grow up and get over it.

Of all those who taught me how to write, Mr. Leslie, my high school journalism teacher, was the best writing instructor I ever had.

For four years I was a member of a staff that published a weekly high school newspaper. Mr. Leslie edited the newspaper. He'd send me to get a story. I'd write 1,200 words.

He'd cut it to 300. I'd write a 1,000 words. He'd cut it to 200. I'd fuss and fume. He'd cut and cut.

When I matured a little and got over being angry, I noticed his editing improved my writing. He was helping me and I had been too puffed up with self-importance to recognize what was happening. I'd been a jerk. Guilty as charged.

I've dealt with many editors since Mr. Leslie. Some good. Some not so good.

But like Mr. Leslie, the editor of the Overton County News is appreciated by one writer who values his help, even though we disagree on words like re-enter occasionally.




Overton County News
415 West Main Street
P.O. Box 479
Livingston, Tennessee 38570
tel 931.823.6485
fax 931.823.6486

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