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Performing Prose

The Study and Practice of Style in Composition

Chris Holcomb and M. Jimmie Killingsworth

Publication Year: 2010

Performing Prose equips readers with the tools to analyze style in relation to subject and rhetorical situation. The authors draw from a range of writers and genres to illustrate concepts and strategies. Topics include grammar, convention and deviation, voice, tropes, schemes, images, and rituals of language.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Book Title

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pp. v

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pp. vii-xi

Our oldest and most durable vocabulary for talking about style emerged in the context of performance: the oratory of ancient Greece and Rome. Rhetoricians of the time invested considerable energy in cataloguing verbal devices they heard from both bema and rostrum, as well as from poet and rhapsode. Their primary aim was not to generate a vocabulary for...

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pp. xiii

The collaboration that made this book possible goes well beyond the interchange of the two old friends who are the coauthors. In addition to students at the University of South Carolina and Texas A&M University who read through and responded to various drafts in our advanced writing and rhetoric classes, we would like to thank several colleagues who used...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-16

Most books on style concentrate on either how to analyze prose or how to improve your own writing style. Performing Prose blends the two concentrations. It equips you with a vocabulary for analyzing prose style while making you more aware of the choices available as you plan and write sentences, paragraphs, and papers. We contend that analysis...

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2. Motives of Style

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pp. 17-37

The previous chapter took Heimel’s “fantasy” passage through the textual, social, and cultural arenas, detailing various verbal features and interpreting their effects. The goal of that exercise was threefold: • To present a framework for examining writing as performance: writing is a dynamic process, a series of interactions among textual...

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3. Convention and Deviation

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pp. 38-55

Conventions are patterns mutually recognizable to performer and audience, crystallizations of audience expectations in certain rhetorical situations: beginning a musical production with an overture, ending a Catholic mass with a benediction, structuring a pop song by alternating between verse and chorus...

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4. Distinction: From Voice to Footing

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pp. 56-70

How to make your style more readable, how to meet your reader’s expectations, how to create a clear and lucid style . . . all such how-to approaches to style fail to account for a certain something that the word style usually communicates to those in the know—the sense of distinction that style conveys...

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5. The Rhetorical Tradition

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pp. 71-83

In western learning, style has been included in the study of rhetoric for nearly three millennia. In classical rhetoric, it was one of the five canons, or divisions, of rhetoric: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Each of these canons names a different step in the composing process and offers strategies and instructions for completing it....

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6. Tropes

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pp. 84-105

A figure of speech is a variation of the conventional meaning of a word or the conventional shape of a sentence. Over the next two chapters, we will deal with two kinds, tropes and schemes. “Trope” derives from the Greek word that means “turn,” a definition picked up in our common expression “turn of phrase” and “turn of thought,” not to mention “twist of plot.” In discussions of style...

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7. Schemes

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pp. 106-128

Like the tropes, the schemes are moves within a writer’s repertoire of performance. They are units of verbal behavior that we can point to, analyze, evaluate, and (ultimately) incorporate into our own writing. How-ever, unlike the tropes, which involve “turning” a word from its conventional meaning to an unusual one...

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8. Images

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pp. 129-144

The late E. B. White, undoubtedly one of the great stylists in modern American literature, wrote successfully for the toughest audiences. He caught the notoriously wandersome attention of children and held it for generations in such classics as Charlotte’s Web. He not only met but set the standards by which the personal essay is judged...

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9. Rituals of Language

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pp. 145-162

Rituals are patterns of behavior that recur either at fixed intervals (weekly forms of worship, birthday parties, presidential inaugurations) or under certain circumstances (weddings, funerals, ship christenings). Some rituals are highly formal (a royal coronation, for instance); others are so ordinary, so woven into the fabric of our daily lives...

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10. Style and Culture

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pp. 163-170

The previous chapter showed how one cultural category—ritual—can enhance our understanding of prose style. By way of conclusion, this chapter moves in the opposite direction, exploring how our vocabulary for prose analysis can reach beyond language and illuminate cultural forms other than speech and writing. Accordingly, it will revisit key concepts...

Appendix on Grammar

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pp. 173-185


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pp. 187

Works Cited

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pp. 189-195


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pp. 197-203

Author Bios

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pp. 205

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809385768
E-ISBN-10: 0809385767
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809329533
Print-ISBN-10: 0809329530

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 2 line drawings
Publication Year: 2010

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Subject Headings

  • English language -- Style.
  • English language -- Composition and exercises.
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