De-Stem Your Prose: Writing Advice from SIDEWAYS

“They didn’t de-stem, hoping for some semblance of concentration, crushed it up with leaves and mice, and then wound up with this rancid tar and turpentine bullshit.” Miles  (Paul Giamatti) Sideways.

This is my favorite way to describe over-wrought prose.  Back in college, writing “leaves and sticks and mice” in the margins was a shorthand among my friends to cool it on the adverbs and get back to the action.  Too many writers use miles and miles of description to give their story some semblance of depth, when in reality, the character has spent the first three pages getting dressed.   Yes, description is important, but leaves and sticks and mice do not good wine make.

(A variation on this comes via Nick Mamatas, genius; “I’ve seen more first pages ruined by socks and coffee than I care to count.”)

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