Descriptive writing is a trap and can drive the reader mad

By Bikram Vohra

Many of us want to be writers (poor and oppressed) and share our words with the world. Except that words are like insidious little landmines liable to blow up in your face. Most people write badly and that even includes some teachers of the English language. This is largely because they were taught bad habits by amateur teachers and parents and relatives when they were young, and the pastiche of tongues they created at home led to the wreckage.

If you wish to inflict your stuff on others, at least get a decent act together. The one way to cut the clutter is to eliminate repetitious expressions. Because we so often see and hear redundancies (such as “free gifts” and “foreign imports”), they can be easy to overlook. Therefore, when editing, we should be on the lookout for the echo effect.

The irony lies in the fact that we do just that. Being concise goes against the grain, and less is not more for most of us. Let’s take this paragraph below. Read it and you will discover that if you had not been warned, you would have read through it without flinching. After all, there is nothing really wrong with it except what is wrong with it. Lots.

My good friend bought me a bouquet of flowers and that completely filled me with joy. I emptied out a vase to put the flowers in it. Each and every time my friend does this I do the exact same thing and also give a free gift back. In my personal opinion I have often seen with my very own eyes how friends break up over silly things. And that is such sad misfortune. If you have the occasion to find a friend then keep that friendship and do not let it go. Keep it in close proximity.

Now, you and I should analyse it. You cannot have a bad friend, so at the risk of nitpicking, ‘good’ should be replaced by ‘close’ or ‘old’ but good does not fly although 99.9 per cent of the world would disagree.

A bouquet is usually flowers so stop flogging the horse… it is dead.

If it is ‘filled’ and not qualified by the amount of content then it is complete because that is what ‘filled’ means.

You cannot ‘empty in’ unless you are adding the bin or basket or rubbish heap. Ergo, ‘emptied’ suffices. No call for the ‘out.’

‘Each and every’ has the same “please stop” reaction as chalk on a blackboard. Everyone knows it is horribly wrong but that does not stop us being emphatic.

Gifts that are not free are not gifts. Amazing how even ads forward this message of generosity.

‘Exact same thing’ … aaahh! (sound of anguish).

If you can have an impersonal opinion, you are truly unique and if you are seeing it with someone else’s eyes, well, step into their shoes, genius. 

Sad. As opposed to what… a happy misfortune. Keep that at a distant proximity.

These are everyday errors and yet no one stops to say, whoa, this is frightful stuff.

Here are some aspects which are second nature to many of us and need to be eliminated.

Over the top emphasis: ‘Let me be frank, candid and honest about this subject…’ One of the three is adequate.

Repetition:  ‘Have just bought myself a 4G mobile phone which is a new innovation….’ Thrown the old innovation away?

Wrong meaning: ‘But then he said I have good news for you. He had made a very wise decision but it meant he would be passing out from school and returning back to India…’ Passing out means to faint not graduate. You cannot return forward. As for sprinkling articles like ‘a’ ‘the’ ‘an’ and ‘for’ and ‘to’ as one would salt and pepper, that’s another story.

Here are a few phrases and pre-fixes to sentences that should be banished forever.

“In your own words…” really, you have your own words, I don’t. Yet, all over the world, teachers are exhorting their class to use their own words. How many marks would I get if I wrote; “I trode the glockter to the slumper where I mockled for the noonier then woodled back at drooman”. All my words.

Folks who are chief guests and give flowery speeches are criminal in the murder of the language. When they go all gung ho on students and say things like ‘this education is providing you with a golden opportunity to achieve your goals’ or go all redfaced with emotion and announce that ‘it is now and here that you have to build a durable foundation for the future so that the edifice you construct on it lasts a long time’ if you are not gagging, you are a lucky person.

Descriptive writing is a trap and can drive the reader mad. Her eyes like liquid pools, peaches and cream complexion setting off raven black tresses her aquiline nose and her slender swanlike neck with lips like cupid’s bow…please stop right here.

Heavy words. Why would you say elucidate for explain, ratiocinate for reason, indefatigable for untiring? Even as we cut the redundancies in our writing and tighten it up there is a large number of aspiring writers who believe in verbosity.

Think of a few of your own.

And then you come across a good piece of writing: and that is an ‘unexpected surprise’.

Bikram is former editor of KT.  Everyday humour is his forte

letters@khaleejtimes.com

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