Fun with Style: More Fictional First Drafts

This post is a follow-up to an earlier one which featured a fictional first draft of the Gettysburg Address.

It is never too soon to begin talking about style to students, but until they know how to  structure a coherent argument,  focusing on style is like putting lipstick on a pig.  However, it is fun to make students aware of what good writing sounds like.  So here are a few more examples of fictional first drafts (ffd) followed by the actual quotes we are all familiar with.  Ask your students to describe the difference. 

  • Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.  When you think about it, it probably makes more sense to say that he as dead as a coffin nail, but the convention is to say doornail. So let’s just say Marley was as dead as a doornail. (ffd)

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.—Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.

  • Not this time.  This time we want to talk about how to get better schools for all children of all races creeds and colors so they can get up to speed.  This time we want to talk about how to get everyone health care for everyone – rich and poor.  This time we want to talk about how to keep Joe six pack working and reminding him that prejudice won’t solve anything.(ffd) 

 “…Not this time” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.  This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together. This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men  and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.  –Barack Obama’s speech on race. 

  • It’s time to let everyone know that our generation is in charge now.  And we’re the generation who fought in a war and we don’t want it all to be for nothing.  So let the world know we will do anything at any price to protect freedom. (ffd)

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.        

 Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.  This much we pledge—and more.  — John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address

The takeaway for your students? Inject a little fun once in a while. Paint with words. Be as specific as you can be.


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