Seated comfortably before the fireplace in the Dodge Reading Room of the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House, surrounded by students, author Rick Moody focused his talk on an essential part of the writing process -- revising.
"Revision is the soul of the craft," Moody said.
Author of the acclaimed 1994 novel "The Ice Storm," Moody was on Franklin & Marshall College's campus Feb. 4 to share his writing insights during a craft talk. Later in the evening, he honored the winners of the 2014 Jerome Irving Bank Short Story Prize, an award endowed by Lawrence H. Bank, Esq., '65.
Open to any F&M student, the Bank Prize winner is chosen each year by a visiting short story writer. On the eve of an ice storm that froze over Lancaster, Moody read from his 2011 novel, "The Four Fingers of Death," then presented the $1,000 prize to senior Nodar Kipshidze, a creative writing major. Junior Roberta Machin, a creative writing and German studies major, received honorable mention.
During the afternoon craft talk, Moody, who has written novels, short stories, a memoir, and essays, offered a packed reading room his 14-point guide to revising a written work.
"Omit needless words," Moody said, quoting from William Strunk's and E.B. White's "The Elements of Style." Published in 1918, revised in 1959, the book is considered by many writers to be the most valuable instruction manual on good writing. "Still a good read and worth looking at it again," he said.
As Moody went down the list of points, he touched on one -- maintain the same verb tense throughout the work -- that drew a question from senior Jaclyn Lionetti, who pointed out that in "The Ice Storm," Moody changes tenses.
The author told the creative writing major that writers should apply these points to their own habits, and that he uses the guide to remind him of his own bad writing habits.
"For every point I've made I've violated it, to my shame," Moody said.
After the talk concluded, Lionetti reflected on what she felt was one of Moody's best points: to use figurative language -- describing something by comparing it to something else -- sparingly. "I definitely think using figurative language sparingly isn't emphasized enough," she said.
Moody also warned against using adjectives and adverbs, saying they only clot nouns and verbs. "The most important words are going to be the verbs," he said. "A beautiful noun obviates the need for adjectives."
Among other points, Moody said writers should give their stories rhythm by using a variety of sentences: simple, compound, complex, compound complex, and run-on.
"You can't make it all on simple sentences no matter how much you love Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver," he said, citing two acclaimed 20th century fiction writers known for their succinct writing.
Senior Dana Kaufman, an American studies and creative writing major, said she finds craft talks with guest authors enlightening.
"I think it's useful to understand how other writers use their craft," Kaufman said.
In closing his talk, Moody told students they should revise their work 12 to 20 times, and then paraphrased a quote from the Irish poet William Butler Yeats: "Yeats said, 'It is myself who I revise.'"