An Exercise in Purging

And they’re never organized but in the most broad of categories, allowing you to treasure hunt to your heart’s content!

Library bag sales are wonderful opportunities to buy things you would, under normal circumstances, never even glance at. This particular offered one paper grocery bag filled with your choice of books for $3. My wife and I walked out with sixty-three books. Some are books that are well worth the entirety of the $6 we paid. For instance, we got a 1929 edition of Bambi — the book the Disney movie is based off of, “recommended for sportsmen.” 

Such a sale lets us pick up known clunkers for the fun of it. My wife grabbed an obviously self-published novel. I’m not releasing the title nor the author, but I’d like to offer the first few sentences. The first three pages are one paragraph (generally a bad sign), so I’m not copying the first paragraph. I offer them here to be taken apart. What would you do different? What rules do you see broken? I’ll answer what I see in the comments after a bit. If you’d like, rewrite what you see!

The night was as close to complete blackness as was possible during the course of a month. It was a new moon so although the moon was present in the sky, it was jet black and attributed no help in illuminating the night sky. Only, the faint twinkle of stars and the steady small dull glow of satellites lit the night sky for a faint trace of light. The wind was completely still like the calm before a storm. Several coyotes can faintly be heard yipping and howling in the distance from a recent kill that appeared to be a team effort. A small slim figure moves ever so slowly in the desert sand but it is barely discernable from the cactus and sparse vegetation which dots the landscape.


18 thoughts on “An Exercise in Purging

  1. Oh. My. Verb tense troubles. Extremely verbose. Ugh.


    A svelte figure skulked along the sand, barely noticeable in the blackness of the desert night. The yipping coyotes and faded stars were its only companion.

    Yes? No?

  2. In the blackness of a new moon night, one can hardly make out a cactus from a rock from a shrub. Or a slim, skulking figure, moving furtively across the desert sands.

  3. The first sentence or two is a complete disaster. Especially for the introduction of a BOOK that you want to be GOOD.

    First paragraph perhaps should read: “The hushed darkness of new moon was disturbed only by eerie yipping of desert coyotes, as a slim figure glides through grit and sand.”

    There. One sentence. One opening paragraph. Same information, same setting, same feel, no fancy verbosity. Start your book. Have fun. And for goodness’ sake, omit needless words!

    In any case, each of our suggestions would be expressing the same thought in less than half the blather.

  4. I just had a thought: could it be that our school system has failed us? (a bold statement, I know!)

    I remember many essays in high school that had to be “200 to 300 words”, or “4-6 pages” or whatever. The requirement wasn’t just content… it was length. In order to get the grade, you occasionally had to AVOID brevity for the sake of volume. Not a good skill to learn, an even worse one to master!

    And that’s another reason why I LOOOOOVE Flash Fridays!

    1. To an extent I definitely agree with you; we teach for length and not necessarily for quality (though the best teachers at least attempt to grade for both, obviously). I do remember some teachers assigning papers “of whatever length it takes to do it,” and so many of my fellow students belly-aching because they had no idea what that meant.

    2. (returning to this thread much later)
      I think the idea of a required length (“4-6 pages” or whatever) is *intended* to encourage sufficient depth of research. A “if you’re done telling us about it in 2 pages, you’re not telling us enough about it. Get back to work” idea.

      Admittedly, there are plenty of times when 2 pages really would suffice. But, considering the variety of topics students could choose for a writing assignment, there may not be a better way to quantify it for a 4th grader. (Unless you want to say “read 100 pages of research material” or “visit 15 websites” or…But really, those methods might not be any better as far as the quality of the students’ writing is concerned.)

      Now if you could give students an outline of points to cover – THAT might help cut out wordiness.

      Sigh – and now I have distractions. I guess I’m done.

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