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So style. Many logic. Much structure. Wow. ETS 153 Interpretation of Fiction Spring 2014. Elements of Style. Inert Verbs: “To be,” or not “to be”. Vague, simplistic, or overused verbs neutralize the vitality of sentences.

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so style many logic much structure wow

So style. Many logic. Much structure. Wow.

ETS 153

Interpretation of Fiction

Spring 2014

inert verbs to be or not to be

Inert Verbs: “To be,” or not “to be”

Vague, simplistic, or overused verbs neutralize the vitality of sentences.

“To be” not only fails to describe the subject’s action, it also almost always requires another verb somewhere in the sentence. At the very least, it twists syntax and causes unnecessary sprawl or passive phrasing.

Gerunds (“ing” verbs) require a “to be” verb; one should avoid them as well.

[The character] is running away from what it is that he fears, which is his own sexuality. We see this in [situation x]


Fear of his own sexuality compels [the character] to flee [situation x].

inert verbs to be or not to be1

Inert Verbs: “To be,” or not “to be”

Though she can be saved, Anna’s memory of Elsa’s magical powers are erased, and the girls’ parents deem it necessary to keep Elsa quarantined so she can contain her powers

more inert verbs there is no to try nor is there to do

More Inert Verbs: There is no “to try”; nor is there “to do”

Vague, simplistic, or overused verbs neutralize the vitality of sentences.

Consider eliminating verbs such as “to do,” “to have,” “to get,” “to try,” “ to make,” etc.

Don’t immediately turn to the thesaurus to fill the void. Think about the best way to describe the action of the subject, and then use that verb. You don’t need to sound “academic,” just specific and clear.

the evils of the synonym option

The evils of the “synonym” option

Clarity matters. Obscure words obscure meaning.

Chances are, if you don’t use a word in your common speech, you may not know how best to use it in writing. The best way to say what you mean is to say what you mean.

Often, the synonym option covers moments when we feel insecure about our arguments. Earnest Hemmingway says, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

why does it matter

Why does it matter?

For any quotation or interpretation you provide, ask yourself: Why does it matter? What about this quotation is most important?

Then, put the answer to that question in your essay. This makes explicit your implicit logic.

why does it matter1

Why does it matter?

Another example during which time is indicated is in Chapter IV (pp 232) when Mrs. Dean begins her narration. The first sentence of the chapter begins with time. “The twelve years, continued Mrs. Dean, following that dismal period, were the happiest of my life: my greatest troubles………For the rest after the first six months, she grew like a larch…” This indicates that much time has passed from the initial beginnings of the story and that it is nearing the end of the series of events that have been taking place and are about to take place.

what s the hurry

What’s the hurry?

Slow down and take the time to provide direct quotations.

Close reading specifically means investigating the language of a text. You can’t do that if you don’t provide quotations.

what s the hurry1

What’s the hurry?

The story starts off in 1973, when Susie was murdered, to 1983, when she finally leaves the “in-between” ten years later . However, the bulk of the story is centered on the first few months after she was murdered. This could be because those first months were when she was most connected to Earth and wanted to know what was going on down below. She follows different characters throughout the story and seems to be present everywhere, reading their thoughts and feelings. However, as the story progresses into the sixth year, the eighth year, and finally the tenth year, her paragraphs get shorter and less descriptive. The readers being to realize that the years are moving faster and there is not much going on in the story anymore with everyone just slowly moving on.

sneaky words

Sneaky words

Some rhetoric covers up the logical exploration needed to prove a point.

Generally, when we use, “specific,” “particular,” “knowledge,” “interesting,” “various,” “different,” “important,” etc., we’re not actually describing the specific, interesting, or different element. Delete those words and show the difference or importance; don’t just tell that it’s important.

sneaky words1

Sneaky words

I intend to examine the structure of the chapter—a form which I believe the majority of textual scholars take for granted, if in fact, they take it at all—and its development with a specific bent toward temporality.

Commonality between these exchanges suggests that when theorizing second-hand economies, particularly sartorial economies, we must understand them not as markets in a vacuum, but as the interactions of bodies formulated by specific discourses generated by—and in opposition to—industrialization.

topic and concluding sentences

Topic and Concluding Sentences

The front catches your attention and defines what you're looking at.

… and your reader will attribute the most (argumentative) weight to the end.

Paragraphs are like tapirs.

topic and concluding sentences1

Topic and Concluding Sentences

Topic sentences taper (focus, hone, sharpen) the content of your paragraphs. You have an implicit logic behind the evidence you’ve selected. Topic sentences will explicitly reveal that logic, and control how the reader views your evidence.

Moreover, they will help you decide which sentences contribute to your argument, and which sentences are tangential. If evidence or an argument supports your topic sentence, keep it. If it brings up a different topic, maybe you should relocate it to a new paragraph (or delete it altogether).

Paragraphs are like tapirs.

concluding sentences

Concluding Sentences

Concluding sentences serve three purposes to keep your reader (and you) on-track.

They summarize the point of your paragraph

They tie the point of the paragraph back to your thesis.

They set up the transition to the next paragraph.

Moreover, they will help you keep track of the overall logic of your paper. Ideally, a reader could read just your topic and concluding sentences, and extrapolate your entire paper from there.

Paragraphs are like tapirs.

topic and concluding sentences2

Topic and Concluding Sentences

Clementine being the leader shows that there is more to people and their relationships then merely a compilation of their past experiences. Evidently just because a moment in time is erased does not mean the emotions, instincts and feelings associated with those moments will dissipate. Clementine still finds herself in love with Joel even though she had him erased. Conversely, Joel cannot bear to let Clementine go during the procedure. Past experiences do matter but even without them Clementine and Joel are able to begin another flourishing relationship. They would have not had the opportunity to explore and re exam their impulses and emotions if it was not for the repeat in time. So, while time is vital aspect to Joel and Clementine’s lives and relationship, it is not the only defining characteristic of who they are in the present. Years, months, hours, minutes, seconds are all man made concepts as proven by Joel and Clementine’s final time together before Joel’s procedure is finished. It is unclear how long they spend in Joel’s head because in the outside world, it is just an evening but in Joel’s memories they are living moments that span over years and years of time.

paragraph transitions

Paragraph transitions

Because topic sentences define the logic of your paragraph, the way they transition will shape the rest of the paragraph’s trajectory.

If you transition through plot, you will probably write a plot summary.

If you transition through logic, you will write a paragraph supporting that logic.

paragraph transitions1

Paragraph transitions

Evoking science validates Bartitsu as a martial form comparable to more commonly known and accepted European arts, but even here, the scientific impulse enacts the same ordering of potential chaos. “The system,” Barton-Wright continues in his introduction, “has been carefully and scientifically planned” (402). Nearly every word in this declaration moves toward regulation: Bartitsu is a “system,” a logical structure of parts which demonstrate intentional or “planned” design and draw on “scientific” structure to generate the capacity to order. Even the past perfect “has been” suggests a completed process, a solidified and deliberate formation impervious to future disorder. Barton-Wright’s elaboration on the scientific plan invokes more of a suggestion rather than an explanation: “its principle may be summed up in a sound knowledge of balance and leverage as applied to human anatomy” (402). Rarely in the article following his introduction does he further explain “balance,” “leverage,” or “human anatomy’ short of a reference to “the nerve of the funny bone which is situated just behind the elbow” (409), and a few casual references to leverage without describing the means by which one establishes such leverage. The invocation of science does not need to extend into his practice; rather, the idea of science in itself rhetorically validates his system.

Employing the term “science” takes on a more potent rhetorical valence when applied to validating tests of Barton-Wright himself.

arguments you cannot make on their own

Arguments you cannot make on their own

These arguments are not exactly wrong; they simply tend to diminish critical thinking.

They often form the stepping-stones toward a critical argument. Because of this, they can create the illusion of a completed argument.

arguments you cannot make on their own1

Arguments you cannot make on their own

This text is realistic.

Realism is an effect. It can work toward a goal (convincing you that xyz is a viable situation, or challenging the parameters of what makes something “real”).

If a text feels realistic, there may be a reason – and that reason forms your critical argument.

It may simply be that the text (like many texts post-1830) fall into the bracket of “Realism.”

arguments you cannot make on their own2

Arguments you cannot make on their own

This text makes readers sympathize with x character.

The word “sympathy” often covers up the nuance of our relationships with characters. Do we actually feel for this character? Or do we just align with them (see through their eyes)? Is that a choice? How does the text coerce us through narrative into what we see as “sympathy”?

There are certainly times where this argument bears more weight. Sympathizing with a marginalized (monstrous, minority, obscured) character matters much more than sympathizing with, say, Katniss.

arguments you cannot make on their own3

Arguments you cannot make on their own

This text does xyz to keep readers reading.

Suspense causes all kinds of effects on stories. It redefines knowledge, time, trust, relationships. Relegating it to a mere device to keep people reading smothers all those other potentials.

If a textual element pulls you along through a text, there must be something about that element which compels you. Rather than simply observing that you are compelled, dig into what causes it – and what it changes about the narrative world.

arguments you cannot make ever

Arguments you cannot make, ever

These arguments are essentially unprovable opinions.

They often simply make an evaluation, rather than a critical argument. Again, they may be the seeds of an argument, but they should remain only seeds, outside your essay.

Frequently, they appear as concluding gestures. You don’t need to move this direction; stay within the text.

arguments you cannot make ever1

Arguments you cannot make, ever

I would recommend this text.

This one often appears at the end of essays. It suggests that something about the text is compelling. Analyze that element, rather than just evaluating it.

Critical essays investigate the way the text works. They are not advertisements.

arguments you cannot make ever2

Arguments you cannot make, ever

This text is well-written.

This argument likes to disguise itself behind words like “effective.” If, essentially, you appreciate how the text does what it does, analyze that element.

More often than not, though, this argument is just filler. It feels like a thing something should say about texts one reads in literature classes. Unless you have something specific to analyze about style and its relationship to a critical idea (like Joyce’s Ulysses), avoid observations about style.