My class with Ms. Stout was nearly 30 years ago, so my memory of her fades with time. I do remember her brown hair cropped neatly in a bowl cut, her large brown eyes slightly sunk into her olive face, and her brash, New Jersey directness. Did I mention I went to high school in New Jersey?
Her harsh rules were nearly legendary. Anyone who had her in class would tell about how hard she graded. Based on a list of some twenty-odd rules, her grading was simple: you break one rule, and your grade drops to a C. Two infractions brought your grade to a D, and three infractions were an automatic failure.
The biggest infraction was passive voice. Then, in tenth grade English, I began to learn the nuances of verbs and the roots of how to make writing more effective and powerful.
Certainly, other rules in the LAW book applied, like avoiding "there" and "it" as meaningless subjects, and omitting adverbs completely (ha).
The rules came from our "Bible," our L.A.W. book. The Lively Art of Writing. I often planned to order a copy and looked it up this week.
I believe the newer editions have a less tattered look. They have a yellow cover and look newer, maybe even a little less like something you might have found in my backpack in the early 1990s but should have been in the 1960s.
The Lively Art of Writing
Ms. Stout enforced the rules like a tyrant. Some students hated her, but I grew to love the discipline and loved looking for passive verbs as if every paper were a treasure hunt.
Last time I wrote about "guidelines" for writing, and this topic sparked my memories of more meaningful rules that built a foundation for my love of writing and the craft of language. I have learned and forgotten so much since then....
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