Thursday, January 21, 2010

How to improve writing (no. 26)

I always enjoy reading Nancy Franklin’s New Yorker pieces about television. But this sentence, from a smart and funny review of Jersey Shore, needs work:

Promos showing a group of young men and women of Italian heritage making entertainingly ridiculous statements about themselves and whooping it up on the boardwalk at night — dancing, throwing punches, that kind of thing — advertised “Jersey Shore” as set in a “house like you’ve never seen, full of the hottest, tannest, craziest Guidos,” and Italian-American groups, and eventually New Jersey tourism officials, protested and some of them called for MTV to cancel the series.
One problem: the number of participles separating subject and verb: Promos [showing, making, whooping, dancing, throwing] advertised. A second problem: the number of ands as the sentence ends: “and Italian-American groups,” “and eventually New Jersey tourism officials,” “and some of them.” A third problem: the missing comma before the and that begins the sentence’s final clause. One more: “some of them” seems ambigious: some of the officials who eventually protested? Or some of the groups and officials?

Things look much better when the matter of this sentence is divided among several sentences:
MTV advertised “Jersey Shore” as set in a “house like you’ve never seen, full of the hottest, tannest, craziest Guidos.” Promos showed a group of young men and women of Italian heritage making entertainingly ridiculous statements about themselves and whooping it up on the boardwalk at night — dancing, throwing punches, that kind of thing. Italian-American groups and New Jersey tourism officials protested, some of them calling for MTV to cancel the series.
The ambiguity of some remains. I’ve let the word apply to both the groups and the officials. And if you’re wondering: I’ve seen enough of Jersey Shore to have seen enough of Jersey Shore.

[This post is no. 26 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Related reading
All How to improve writing posts (via Delicious)

comments: 4

Peter Lavelle said...

I might have included a colon after 'as' in the second version. The phrase 'MTV advertised "Jersey Shore" as' collides into another phrase after 'as' because of the verb 'set' - when I expect the first phrase to be completed first. A colon after 'as' would make this transition smoother for the reader.

Daughter Number Three said...

It's hard to believe that ran in the New Yorker.

Elaine said...

The bad part is: even cleaned up, it's not very good writing; the use of "some" means sloppy reporting-- (probably an unwillingness to run down the precise details...but on the other hand, who cares?) Should a review really go into the ads, trailers, and prematurely-swirling controversy?...or just, you know...(two beats)... review the movie?!

Peter Lavelle said...

I'm not sure a good movie review has anything to do with the movie. It's a piece of content that has to stand in its own right; obviously you expect some peripheral relation to a film but unless it's well-written that's irrelevant. Given that, I'd say trailers and controversy were fair game.