Being taught the strategies of official style, I chose an excerpt of the chapter “It wasn’t like that in the book” from Brian McFarlane’s book Novel to Film to have a clearer understanding of it. I have read and analyzed this article for the Literature and Human Experience class last semester, so I am quite familiar with it. What’s more, the discussion of the relationship between literature and film adaptation is one of my favorite topics and is also a component of my future career.
This article was written by Associate Professor Brian McFarlane at Monash University, and was published by Clarendon Press in Oxford in 1996. Since he is a scholar and authority in the field of literary adaptation to film and is teaching in college, his readers are likely to be college students whose major is English Literature or Film, and other fellow colleagues. I will focus on two sentences from one paragraph of the article. The author uses the official style in this article to maintain respect from his professional colleagues; however, I think that it would have been more effective and more people would benefit if he used more plain language.
In the first sentence, MacFarlane says, “But if merely being bold is no guarantee that the filmmaker will give satisfaction to audiences who may or may not have read the antecedent novel, neither is a slavish devotion to the original text: that is, to details of plot, character, and settings, for example.” The paragraph starts with “but if merely being bold is no guarantee that the filmmaker will give…” which is a slow sentence opening, and “being bold” is a noun substitute which in this sentence is the subject instead of using “it is bold. . .” Also, in this sentence, the usage of nominalization is apparent. The author uses “the filmmaker will give satisfaction to audiences” instead of “the filmmaker will satisfy audiences,” which consciously or unconsciously increases the reading difficulty for the reader. Sentential adverbs are used in the article order to increase its complex style. For instance, “that is” in the clause “that is, to details of plot” is a short phrase placed at the very beginning of a clause or a sentence, serving as a signal that the whole sentence is especially important.
In the following sentence in the same paragraph, MacFarlane also argues, “I place a good deal of BBC classic serial filmmaking in this category: I know enough people loved the serialization of Pride and Prejudice to warrant its being run twice in Australia within a few months (though I suspect the local chapter of the Colin Firth Fan Club of having a hand in that), but it seemed to me the work of an industrious bricklayer rather than an architect, with one event from the novel remorselessly following another, without any sense of shape or structuring, without any apparent point of view on its material.”
In these excerpts, many strategies are used to construct longer sentences and complex patterns. The average word per sentence of the paragraph is 48.6, which sounds like an unimaginable figure. Moreover, its reading ease is 22, and the average grade level is 20.4. But if we dig up these sentences, we will discover it is the use of official style which makes them that way. Let’s take, for instance, the second sentence “I place a good…on its material.” It is a six-line sentence and it takes a long breath to read. One of the reasons is its increased use of punctuation marks. In this sentence, seven punctuation marks are used, including colon, comma, bracket and period. Between each mark, the descriptions are long as well. The strategies of nominalization and the noun substitute, such as “serialization” and “warrant its being run twice” also contribute to this long sentence. Coordination and prepositional phrase extend it as well, like “but, “with” and “without,” each of which begins a long description. “With one event…, without any sense…, without any apparent…”are paralleled prepositional phrases.
Beyond the strategies that are used in the two examples to prove that the writer is using an official style, we can discover a very interesting phenomenon, that the writer uses many “I” words: “I place a good deal…” “I know enough…” “I suspect…” and “it seems to me...” These usages are all very personal and make the writing seem not very official. But can it be counted as plain style? As far as I am concerned, the article is still written in official style. Though the writer is speaking from his perspective, is using “I,” the strategies that I list above all can illustrate its official style. The writer’s intention in doing so is probably because he wants his concepts to be able to be more easily conveyed to the readers; but at the same time, he also wants to keep his authority and professional image. The potential readers are supposed to be advanced college students whose major is English Literature or Film. They have already gained related professional knowledge and can understand the uses of certain strategies. If the associate professor wrote this article with a very simple and understandable way, it indeed would be read and accepted by the more general public. But at the same time, some concepts will be hard to explain in his theory and therefore he could lose his professionalism in his field.
Regardless of his intention, as a college student who is studying English Rhetoric and Writing, I think McFarlane should use a plainer and less official style. As I have analyzed before, the possible and potential readers of his writing are likely to be college students whose major is English Literature or Film, and other professional colleagues in this field. However, looking back to the average grade level, which is 20.4, it surprisingly shocks me, because when I searched the average reading grade level on Google, the most frequent answers pop out are all 7th grade level. It may not be very accurate, but it reveals a fact that even college students, who have already studied their first language for so many years, their reading ability still remains at a relatively low level and they probably have great difficulties in reading an article whose reading grade level is 20.4, let alone for an international student like me whose first language is not English.
I still remember when we were required to read this chapter for ENG 200, I spent so much time on it because of it complex sentences and jargons. I had to read a sentence or a paragraph for a few times to understand what the author wanted to express. Comfortingly, I was not the only one who had problems in reading it. I also heard complaints from my American group members. Though I concede that making it official style can help to keep McFarlane’s authority in the professional field and will make the fellow colleagues respect him, I still maintain the idea that he should write in a plainer style. Writing in official style like this cannot always reach the audience as it is supposed to do. He may lose a large quantity of audiences who may give up reading it just because they meet with challenges. But if he writes in a plainer style, he can reach a broader audience, not only including college students who are studying related courses, but also including the people who are interested in analyzing the relationship between literary works and their film adaptations.
Analyzing the strategies and author’s intention of writing in an official style, I get to more about how official style which is used in our daily life. Using official style indeed will decorate our writing, but we should pay attention to the degree that we use. Only in this way, we can create more effective writings and achieve more audiences.