County Lines by Bob
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
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
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
Very best is another atrocity to be avoided. Anyone who uses it
needs to go back to elementary school and start learning English
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
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
"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
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