Jay Parini's Good Advice on Writing!
In my blog entry yesterday, I cited a professorial authority on Robert Frost named Jay Parini, whose name I borrowed from the article that I was responding to, but I hadn't a clue who he was, so I looked into him by way of his website and discovered that I did know of him, for he wrote the book The Last Station, a novel about the last days of Tolstoy that became a major film starring Christopher Plummer as Leo Tolstoy and Helen Mirren as Sofya Tolstoy!
Knowing this, I figured he must be a well-known, popular writer, so I clicked around on his site and found a blog entry against software designed for grading essays, one of his points being that only a real writer can teach another person how to write better, and he gave an example from his student days:
The truth is, students rarely come to college -- any college -- knowing how to write well. This takes a lot of what one of my old profs used to call "correction." I remember sitting beside him in his office as he went over my papers. He would draw a red pencil through adjectives, suggesting that I find stronger nouns, not more bolstering words. Don't say it was a "long narrow street." Kill the adjectives. Call it an alley if it's an alley.Excellent advice on adverbs and adjectives! Such advice is far more rare than the also good advice on using active rather than passive voice. I've been trying to do this in my own writing, but an astutely expressed reminder is always worth the time given to listening.
He also told me to get rid of those adverbs. Get a stronger verb and you won't need an adverb, he would tell me. So don't say: "He ran swiftly down the narrow street." Instead, try something like this: "He sped down the alley." I learned from this guy how to put my sentences into a more active voice, how to subordinate clauses, to embed them in a rolling syntax, making thoughts more subtle, arguments more persuasive.
If you've read this far, I reckon you're listening, too.
Labels: Literary Criticism