Bizarre textbook editing problem

Here’s a passage from a textbook I’m supposed to give the once-over to. It’s purpose, apparently, is to teach the use of descriptive language:

So what am I to do with this? I think I should just add a line at the end: “and yet, I already had an erection” or somesuch.

Until I saw it was my mom. I gathered up my own drooping ass in the buckets I carry soley for this purpose, and launched my elephantine presence on a collision course with what only moments before had so repulsed me as to raise stomach gile to my throat. I engulfed mom like a super typhoon …

I should think your main task is to simplify the vocabulary. The structure isn’t particularly complex relative to the vocab. Take 20 words and find words that you think second language learners are more likely to know. No need to consult a specific guide or list. Just use your common sense. You know ‘tooth’ is an infinitely more easy word than ‘incisor’, etc.

As the passage now stands, it is nearly unintelligible to the overwhelming majority of English learners. Because of this comprehension gap, it is simply not possible to use the passage for its primary purpose of serving as a model for descriptive writing.

If I may take it a bit further, I think this is exactly the kind of passage you don’t want to show learners, regardless of their level. It delivers the message that using overblown or obscure descriptive terms is the key to high quality descriptive writing. The consequence of such a model is to lead s’s into thinking that they need to consult an electronic dictionary or thesaurus for each sentence in such a passage. And that leads to s’s using, often incorrectly, terms that they don’t have a deep knowledge of or firm control over, which in turn leads to unintelligible writing. I suppose if you look at it ironically, the unintelligible model before you is likely to produce unintelligible writing amongst students. :wink:

SJ unless you can noticeably improve the writing (which is hard, since there is nothing wrong with it), just leave it as it is, since it is already a good example of descriptive writing; reading it you really get the sense of being there next to the invalid.
As for dumbing-down the vocabulary, as Gubo suggests, I would have to disagree with such a measure. You have to assume that if the students are learning about descriptive writing, then their level of English must be fairly advance and can handle the vocabulary (or at least, you have to give them the benefit of the doubt), therefore to dumb down the vocabulary would be doing them a disservice. The reason I am saying this is because good descriptive writing is hard even for the native speaker; most of us probably have never really needed to use it nor have we learned to write in such a style. Most of the writing we do on a regular basis, either for school or work, such as letters, memos, legal briefs, essays, news articles, term papers, etc., hardly ever require the use of descriptive writing; for the most part the use of descriptive writing still remains the exclusive domain of fiction writers.
The analogy I like to make is that good descriptive writing is akin to good still life paintings (

There is no such thing as “dumbing down” vocab, but at this time I’m rather fed up with discussing things here, so I’ll just refer you to Paul Nation’s work.

Tolkien was never that descriptive. He left a lot to the imagination. Read the first chapter of The Hobbit. Steven King however is way too descriptive and leaves nothing to the imagination.

Good descriptive writing? :loco:

The best thing you could do with this passage, is change the heading from

An example of good descriptive writing


An example of ludicrously overblown, unnecessarily dense writing

Make it cautionary rather than something to be imitated.


You could start by giving her a second nostril. :wink:

Hate to say it, but I agree with Gubo.

The above passage is not good descriptive writing. It has lots of words, but it doesn’t paint a picture. It gives you an overwhelming mess of images to reconcile and make sense of. Good writing is clear, this passage is messy.

If you’re going to go into so much detail about the woman you may as well call in a doctor and a scial worker to compile a report. A skilled artist will use far less language to convey the right image, and the reader’s imagination will fill in the rest.

The original has a bad case of -ingitis, and the repetition of ‘her’ is unneed. I don’t know how something can both droop and be stiff at the same time. Rearange the long adjective noun phrases e.g.

The wheelchair-bound invalid was sitting
The invalid sat bound to the wheel-chair

the words in each sentence are the same, and the meaning is the same, but IMHO the second sounds much more ‘active’.

Make it shorter, the main point the the piece is to get actross the patterns
something somethinged like something else something elses
something looked something
This point is made early, and the rest is just overkill, and monotonous.

Towards the end there is a confusion in tenses .

I agree with Dead Wizard that the vocabulary should not be simplified, but agree with everyone else that this is not an example of good discriptive writing.

Oh, and get rid of “Her ears looked like swinging fans.”! WTF is that about.[/quote]

like a like a like a like a lotta similies yeah? I think SJ was kidding guys.

No, this is real.

It was most likely written by one of the Taiwanese English Professors or something then. If so I suppose you could try to suggest diplomaticaly that better examples might be found elsewhere.

The original has a bad case of -ingitis, and the repetition of ‘her’ is unneed. (eh?)I don’t know how something can both droop and be stiff at the same time. Rearange (sp?)the long adjective noun phrases e.g.

The wheelchair-bound invalid was sitting
The invalid sat bound to the wheel-chair


The first one sounds like the invalid was heading towards the wheelchair. The second is an example of script from a Japanese porno. Different meanings, methinks.


You’d understand if you were as well-hung as I.


Ultimately I corrected a few mistakes (already done in your version), then added a big “For God’s sake, please don’t use this!!!” across the top.

There are different levels of editing. This guy wanted basically a spelling- and grammar-check. A higher-level editing job would have rewritten the book, or conceivably, rejected it for publication altogether.