Cat and lizard

One of the first things I do, teaching English composition, is to give my students Whimbey and Jenkins’ “Cat and Lizard” to chew over:

A cat chased a lizard. The cat was big. The cat was fat. His fur was thick. The lizard was tiny. The lizard was a chameleon. A chameleon can change color. The color will be whatever the lizard touches. The lizard ran. It ran from place to place. It ran so fast. The colors even became confused. It was green. It should have been brown. It was red. It should have been grey. It was polka-dotted. It should have been striped. The lizard ran under the steps. It was safe. It would rest in the shade. The cat was frustrated. He yawned. He stretched. He curled up. He would sleep in the sun. This game would continue. It would continue the next time the cat saw the lizard.

Whimbey, Arthur and Jenkins, Elizabeth. Analyze, Organize, Write. Revised ed., Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 1987.

Students always know something is horribly wrong with this piece of writing, and they can tell me what’s wrong, too, whether they’ve ever heard the word “choppy” applied to writing or not. (Usually they haven’t.) That’s what makes “Cat and Lizard” so useful as a starter assignment: they get it. And, of course, since the solution to Cat-and-Lizard’s horrible writing is sentence combining, and I teach sentence combining, all the better.

So I always look forward to Cat-and-Lizard day, and I am never disappointed.

This year, though, one of my students offered up the single best off-the-cuff analysis I’ve ever heard and ever hope to hear.

What’s wrong with “Cat and Lizard”?

“Too many periods.” 

Brilliant!

Sentence combining & Marilyn Monroe

I was talking to Katharine about flow and sentence combining today.

Her take on the writing process:

  1. First combine as many sentences as you can.
  2. Then go back and un-combine the ones that need uncombining.

This reminds me of Marilyn Monroe’s principle for getting ready to go out.

Here’s how I remember it.

  1. Get ready.
  2. Stand backwards in front of a full-length mirror.
  3. Turn around fast and take off the first piece of jewelry that catches your eye, because that’s the piece that’s too much.