You want vivid writing. How do we get vivid writing? Verbs, first. Precise verbs. All of the action on the page, everything that happens, happens in the verbs. The passive voice needs gerunds to make anything happen. But too many gerunds together on the page makes for tinnitus: Running, sitting, speaking, laughing, inginginginging. No. Don’t do it. The verbs tell a reader whether something happened once or continually, what is in motion, what is at rest. Gerunds are lazy, you don’t have to make a decision and soon, everything is happening at the same time, pell-mell, chaos. Don’t do that. Also, bad verb choices mean adverbs. More often than not, you don’t need them. Did he run quickly or did he sprint? Did he walk slowly or did he stroll or saunter?” —Alexander Chee, on Annie Dillard’s writing class (more at The Morning News)
English is a language suited to poetry like no other. The crunch and snap of Anglo-Saxon, the lyric romanticism of Latin and Greek, the comic, ironic fusion yielded when both are yoked together, the swing and jazz of slang … the choice of words and verbal styles available to the English poet is dazzling.
Think of cityscapes. In London, thanks to a mixture of fires, blitzes, ludicrous mismanagement and muddled planning, the medieval, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian and modern jostle together in higgledy-piggledy confusion. The corporate, the ecclesiastical, the imperial and the domestic coexist in blissful chaos. Paris, to take the nearest capital to London, was planned. For reasons we won’t go into, it managed to escape the attentions of the Luftwaffe. It remains a city of grand, tasteful boulevards laid out in a consistent style where, with the exception of a few self-consciously designed contemporary projects, the modern, commercial, vulgar and vernacular are held at bay beyond the outer ring of the city, like barbarians at the gates.
The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane: each sentence we produce, whether we know it or not, is a mongrel mouthful of Chaucerian, Shakespearean, Miltonic, Johnsonian, Dickensian and American. Military, naval, legal, corporate, criminal, jazz, rap and ghetto discourses are mingled at every turn. The French language, like Paris, has attempted, through its Academy, to retain its purity, to fight the advancing tides of franglais and international prefabrication. English, by comparison, is a shameless whore.” —Stephen Fry on the English language in The Ode Less Traveled, as quoted by Elizabeth Minkel in The New Yorker. (via tragos)