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Condensed: 'Care, constraint, concise, cut, character, clarity, and charity.'
July 13, 2008 6:35 PM   Subscribe


 
Nice article. Who is this Vonnegut guy?
posted by number9dream at 6:47 PM on July 13, 2008


I am tired.
posted by swift at 6:54 PM on July 13, 2008


He was tired.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:58 PM on July 13, 2008


So why didn't he do it?
posted by LarryC at 7:53 PM on July 13, 2008


Third base.
posted by clockworkjoe at 8:02 PM on July 13, 2008


So it goes.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:11 PM on July 13, 2008


RAMJAC.
posted by Dizzy at 8:12 PM on July 13, 2008


MetaFilter: We are tired.
posted by Hollow at 8:17 PM on July 13, 2008 [1 favorite]




I suppose I only notice it because it's one of my own writing tics, but really, Vonnegut's overuse of em-dashes is stylistically rather clunky.
posted by decoherence at 8:30 PM on July 13, 2008


Poo-te-weet.
posted by nudar at 8:38 PM on July 13, 2008


We need a rapper who's entire act is about proper punctuation whose handle is M Dash. Or did The Electric Company do that 20 years ago?
posted by wendell at 8:39 PM on July 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks for that link, homunculus. God-hell.
posted by Kinbote at 8:44 PM on July 13, 2008


I really like em-dashes.
posted by oddman at 9:06 PM on July 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


Conjunction Junction, what's your function?
posted by bwg at 9:16 PM on July 13, 2008


The real tragedy is the sad neglect of the en-dash. Everyone always just uses a hyphen.

Doesn't 103–152 look better than 103-152?
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:17 PM on July 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


A good article, all in all, but I am not sure I entirely agree with him on a couple points. He says that people care about what is being said, not how it is said, that a reader doesn't fall in love with the language of a writer. Yet the way things are said is exactly what I like about Shakespeare. When I first read Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet as I recall), I thought to myself "What melodramatic tripe. This is a fucking soap opera." And so it is. But then I learned to love it for the way in which is was written. The music in the prose, coming to understand that it is meant to be spoken, not read. I love Shakespeare for the beauty of the language, the way in which it is written. The content? Meh, not so much.

I also am not entirely in agreement with the point he makes about readers needing to understand what they are reading. The notion that you must try and write in a way that will be understandable to your audience in order to communicate what you are trying to say is very important and laudable. The exceptions to that rule, however, are transcendent. Curiously enough he mentions Joyce in that article as well, which is a fine example of a writer that emphatically did not write in a way which was meant to be easily understood by his audience. He challenged them to come to his work on his terms, not on the readers terms. My favorite example of that is Sometimes A Great Notion by Ken Kesey. I read that and I hated the way in which it was written because it was a struggle to read. It ignored most conventions on style and structure. But it did it for a good reason and the work was of a high enough quality to make it worth the struggle. In essence, he brought me into his world and presented a story on his terms and made me happy to have made the effort. That is a rare thing indeed.

Still, a fine article and Vonnegut is a hell of a writer. Far better than I shall ever be. So I'll keep his points in mind as I write. Except, of course, about economy of words. This comment makes it obvious that I have no facility for that one.
posted by afflatus at 9:28 PM on July 13, 2008


Listen.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:31 PM on July 13, 2008


*
posted by wobh at 9:33 PM on July 13, 2008


*

Fuckin' robots
posted by Artw at 9:52 PM on July 13, 2008


This article gives a great outline for writing. Having left school some years ago, this refresher was refreshing.
posted by myweightinfo at 10:16 PM on July 13, 2008


Misplaced modifier, myweightinfo. Unless this refresher left school some years ago.
posted by vitia at 10:52 PM on July 13, 2008


I love how his elaboration on point two
posted by MrMerlot at 2:21 AM on July 14, 2008


I'm pretty sure I've read this before and if memory serves it was one of a series of short "How to Write" articles -- part of an ad campaign for something like whiskey (I'm fuzzy on the exact details). I recall that Micky Spillane did one too. Maybe Saul Bellow.
posted by RavinDave at 3:13 AM on July 14, 2008


My favorite example of that is Sometimes A Great Notion by Ken Kesey. I read that and I hated the way in which it was written because it was a struggle to read. It ignored most conventions on style and structure. But it did it for a good reason and the work was of a high enough quality to make it worth the struggle.

Not to be snarky, but from genuine interest, could you elaborate on that? What good reason did he have in not making it less strugglesome to read?
posted by IndigoJones at 5:38 AM on July 14, 2008


Vonnegut's overuse of em-dashes is stylistically rather clunky.

That's the editor's fault, not Vonnegut's. Unless you mean you don't like—and I really can't understand why—the stylistic use of said em-dashes—at least in small doses.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:12 AM on July 14, 2008


Funny how "em-dashes" actually utilizes an en-dash. But anyway, I'm not so sure that it was just the editor's doing. Vonnegut did not like semicolons:

"If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. But do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."

(quoted in a Guardian article about the possible demise of the semicolon)
posted by Kabanos at 7:28 AM on July 14, 2008


"em-dash" and "en-dash" are hyphenated. A nice example construction from A List Apart:
Hyphens are Not Dashes
Stop! Go back and re-read the subhead above—at least 2–3 times—then let it sink in before continuing.
Also, onomatopoeia and palindromes aren't; semicolons, like transvestites, are not without their uses.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:14 AM on July 14, 2008


God DAMN it's nice to bump into a few minutes of good sense on a Monday morning..
posted by dirtdirt at 9:30 AM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Geez, I miss KV. At least James Brown is still alive....

...wait, what?
posted by humannaire at 10:08 AM on July 14, 2008


I personally dislike em-dashes because I think they give the thought that follows a sort of inelegant, "bolted-on" quality. And too many of them can make your prose sound choppy. I think it's usually best to weave those thoughts seamlessly into the rest of your prose, using complete sentences when you can, rather than shoehorning them in with em-dashes and parentheses. I'm sure others will disagree, but the prose I find the most pleasing to read typically has a minimum of the more "exotic" punctuation devices.
posted by decoherence at 10:35 AM on July 14, 2008


Funny how "em-dashes" actually utilizes an en-dash.

No it doesn't. That's a hyphen.

"em-dash" and "en-dash" are hyphenated.

No they're not. Chicago 6.80: "The hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash are the most commonly used..."
posted by languagehat at 11:41 AM on July 14, 2008


Haven't you lot got a misplaced apostrophe to complain about or something?
posted by Artw at 11:45 AM on July 14, 2008


So, deco, you don't actually dislike em-dashes, rather you dislike in-line digressions?


I don't see how em-dashes have any effect on the sound of a sentence. You wouldn't read them any differently than you would commas denoting an unnecessary phrase.
posted by oddman at 11:46 AM on July 14, 2008


languagehat, thanks' for the pointer's.

Careful, constrained, concise: that's us!
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 12:12 PM on July 14, 2008


Oddman, it's the em-dash clause that comes at the end of a sentence that I find particularly clunky. Often it’s just authorial commentary on what was previously said, or a rephrasing of it--the author taking a "second stab" at expressing a thought. It indicates that the sentence it's appended to probably could've been written better in the first place, as in my last sentence of mine. Ideally I could’ve thought of a single precise way to say exactly what I wanted to say, rather than adumbrating it with three different descriptions. It just smacks of laziness..
posted by decoherence at 12:16 PM on July 14, 2008


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