2010-10-31

Verbiage

I just clicked on a link to a New York Times article.  The headline promised the answer to a question.  Of course, the New York Times being what it is the author of the article wasn't going to let the reader off easy.   The piece was lengthly and, after a couple of paragraphs, I realized that it would be a painfully dull read.  There was not a lot of information to convey, so the author was watering down what little there was with dull filler.

I bet most of these hacks dream of writing novels, and I sincerely hope none of them are ever published.  At least not if they are going to bulk up their novels with the same sort of inane drivel that they fill their NYT articles with.  To paraphrase Philippe Starck: these books would not deserve to exist and it would be a crime to inflict them upon humanity.

I have a thing about filler in prose.  The first time I read a book by John le Carré I thought I might have hit a dud.  Surely, if people loved his books, they couldn't all be that bad.  I read a couple more. More of the same.  I was told that this was indeed his style.  Mr le Carré will waste four pages describing a doorknob.

I don't care if people think his books are great:  I think they belong in the back pages of uzbek knitting magazines.

The New York Times contains far too many articles that appear to have been written to weigh in at some pre-defined word count.  This lowers the quality of the writing and makes for tedious reading.  Most of the writers at the Times are not that good.  A select few are, the overwhelming majority are not.  So how about we drop the artificial word counts and start focusing on quality instead, hmm?  The newspaper industry is in enough trouble as it is.  No need to deliberately hasten the long ride down the drains.

Oh, and if you really want to learn how to bulk up a skinny article:  read some of Jeremy Clarkson's articles.  He writes a lot of car reviews and most of the time he has precious little to say about the car in question.  I don't blame him.  Most new cars are like one of Mr le Carré's novels:  supremely tedious affairs.  Yet Clarkson has mastered the art of producing good filler.  He is funny, he is provocative and he can write.

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