Sunday, September 4, 2011

Making Your Readers Suffer For Sport

One of the many divine paradoxes in our political formula is the double valence of democracy. This word, its declensions, its synonyms, carry positive associations well up in the sacred range. Deep in your medulla, warmth glows from everything democratic. Yet at the same time, we have a related family of words, such as politics and its declensions, which seem to mean exactly the same thing - yet reek of heinous brimstone.
--From the Unqualified Reservations blog

This is the lead paragraph of a post at a political philosophy blog. Stop laughing for a minute and tell me, in all seriousness, what's wrong with the above text?

I can arrive at at least three things, and if you see more examples, let 'er rip in the comments. Writing like this should not go unpunished.

1) Never use deliberately exclusionary language.
What could possibly be the purpose of using pretentious words like valence and declensions in the above passage other than for the writer to advertise his genius? Thanks Ezra Pound, you've convinced us you're really smart. But what are you saying?

2) Don't be incomprehensible.
Even an extremely intelligent reader, assuming he makes it past double valence, will need to read this passage at least four or five times before it will begin to make sense. If your readers even so much as slightly stumble while trying to understand you, you have failed to convey your ideas. What we've got here is a profound failure to communicate.

3) Don't make your readers suffer.
The first rule of writing is never make your readers suffer. The fact that this writer defies this rule so appallingly suggests that he may be a sadist.

Prose like this simply repels readers. Unless you enjoy being resented and unread, do not write this way.