Cutting Out Lard
In Revising Prose, Richard Lanham lambastes writers for composing sentences fattened with meaningless "lard." Lanham offers his "Paramedic Method" for cutting out a sentence's fat and reducing its "lard factor."
On this page, we'll look at Lanham's method and even try it out. But first we'll look at a couple of other quick ways to reduce excess verbiage and practice our four prose principles: rhythm, balance, simplicity, and humor.
Eliminating Adverbs & Intensifiers
In order to write, you have to hate adverbs
Revising to enliven
Eliminating adverbs and intensifiers
The first step is easy: eliminate all intensifiers.
For example, a monster isn't "very ugly"; it's "hideous," "repugnant" or, well, "monstrous." And a child's cheeks don't need to turn "extremely red" when they can turn "scarlet." Nor does a woman need to walk away "very quickly"; if she just walks away "quickly" or "fast," we get the picture.
The second step follows on the first: eliminate adverbs altogether and let verbs carry full force.
Forgotten what an adverb is?
Other meaningless filler-words are the more benign it and there when they appear in such constructions as "It is my opinion that ..." or "There was a look in her eye that ...."
Though less offensive than obscenities, perhaps, these constructions are just as devoid of meaning and destructive to prose. They put filler in the front of a sentence, move meaning to the back, reduce active verbs to is or are, and consign the sentence's real action to a dependent clause. They are a way of putting of saying what we mean with an overly long wind-up before the pitch.
It is Victor's response that echoes the chilling histories of past leaders, scientists, or lawmakers who had unlimited power in mind.
What makes matters worse is that, unlike Frankenstein's monster, we have language to express those emotions.
It was almost as though such an incredible amount of fear had overcome his spirit that he was unable to regain his wits and save Elizabeth before the monster could kill her in the next room.
If you can, also locate every other be-verb construction in your draft and recast the sentence using an active, transitive verb instead. For instance, "is indicative of" would become "indicates" or "were in possession of" would become simply "possessed."
Lanham's Lard Factor & the Paramedic Method
In Revising Prose, Lanham criticizes writers for composing sentences that "have been assembled from strings of prepositional phrases glued together by that all-purpose epoxy 'is'" (3). He opens his book thus:
As a cure for flabby bureaucratic prose, Lanham offers his "Paramedic Method" for cutting out the sentence's fat and reducing its "lard factor." It goes like this:
· Take a sentence
Applying Lanham's method
In response to the issue of equality for educational and occupational mobility, it is my belief that a system of gender inequality exists in the school system.
After highlighting the prepositions and be-verbs, Lanham suggests, realign the sentence:
We can now locate the sentence's dormant action: "it is my belief."
According to Lanham's analysis, we now have replaced a 26-word sentence with an equally meaningful 9-word sentence. The 17-word reduction yields a "lard factor" of 65%.
Try the Paramedic Method on this sentence