Friday, September 01, 2006

Ask Mr. Writing Person: Bombastic Castigation

Welcome back to Mr. Writing Person, the only weekly column on the Internet that's not afraid to spread Preparation H directly on your gray matter. This week we entertain Montezuma Drake, from New London, Connecticut, who has a rather unusual question:

Q. This might be a little off-topic, but I was wondering if you could give me some pointers on writing a letter of complaint.

A. Of course, grasshopper! I'm on top of anything to do with writing. Why, it just so happens that I wrote a letter of complaint to the makers of Preparation H yesterday, so all the principles are fresh in my mind.

Q. Wonderful!

A. I can even use the letter as an example. Now, what you need is bombastic castigation, which is a Latin phrase that roughly means "dropping an explosive device down someone's pants." Now--

Q. I'm sure glad you know Latin, because I never--

A. You're welcome, Monty, and please don't interrupted me unless I specifically ask you to. Interrupt me.

Q. What?

A. Good. The general flow of a letter of complaint follows the "PITS" model. "PITS" stands for:
Problem

Insist

Threaten

Stand out

Fortunately, I've already addressed how to make a letter stand out in a previous installment, so we won't have to go over that again.

Q. You mean, like, deliver it in person dressed as a Libertarian or something scary like that?

A. That would work. First, though, even before we address the problem, we need to address the letter. It's very important that you send it to the correct people. Here's my opening, for example:
Mr. Writing Person
xxxx xxxx xxxx
Provo, UT 84604
August 10, 2006



Clandestine Zionist Conspiracy
5 Giralda Farms
Madison, NJ 07940

To the Inimitable Mr. Rove:

Q. I thought Wyeth made Preparation H.

A. Most people do. I've done some digging, however, and discovered that Wyeth is merely a front to the greatest threat to our liberty ever conceived, and that the ultimate puppet master is none other than Karl Rove!

Q. President Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff?

A. Yes! Him! He spells his name with a "K" for heaven's sake!

Q. Sure.

A. Next, we start on the PITS model with "problem." Begin your bombastic castigation with a single statement of complaint. Then use the next paragraph to embellish it beyond all rational belief:

I'm writing to let you know that Preparation H tastes terrible. It tastes worse than Witch Hazel, and that's saying something.

I tried taking it straight, but it nearly made me vomit, so I got creative. I discovered that it's a monstrously repellent spread, whether on toast or a ham sandwich. It's a nauseating coffee creamer, even in decaf. Not only that, but it doesn't work! I got so desperate that I diluted it a little and injected it--but as you might have already guessed, that didn't work either. In a last-ditch effort, I tried applying it directly, but my hippocampus is still swollen beyond all rational belief.

Q. That's quite embellished.

A. Actually, all of that really happened, except for the part where I applied it directly to my hippocampus.

Q. Is your hippocampus really swollen?

A. Beyond all rational belief. I used to be able to hear the chatter of little termite minds in the walls of my apartment, but now there's nary a whisper. [Ed: I haven't told him yet about the exterminators.]

Q. Fascinating.

A. It's been quite a trial for me, being brain-deaf and--

Q. So you can read minds with your hippocampus?

A. It looks like you need some practice interrupting me only when I ask you to. Interrupt me.

Q. Practice what?

A. Good. Let's get on to "insist." This is where you lay out your demands. Make sure you are very specific. You should also embellish this part beyond all rational belief so that when you scale back your demands, they'll be glad to fulfill them. Here's what I sent:
I don't demand just my money back, I demand the expected settlement in the class-action lawsuit that would take place if I were to leak this to the press. Rest assured that hundreds of thousands of people with swollen hippocampi would join the lawsuit, and some filthy lawyer would make a killing. I demand that money be given to me instead.

I demand that you buy me a pony. I also demand that I am an uncommonly canny negotiator.

Q. I'm not sure that last sentence is correct.

A. It's called "parallelism." It would sound wrong if I had used, say, "perfidious" instead of "canny."

Q. Okay.

A. The last thing we'll talk about--since we've already decided that you'll deliver the letter in person dressed as a Librarian--

Q. I shudder in fright.

A. Interrupt me.

Q. What?

A. Good. Let's get on to "threaten." This is the one place you shouldn't embellish beyond all rational belief, because your threats have to be credible. Embellish, certainly, but do it credibly.

Q. Have you ever noticed that the word "embellish" starts to sound funny when you say it over and--

A. No. Now, our objective is to put the fear of--

Q. Fear of God?

A. No! We want to put the fear of psychic phenomena, animals, and the United States Supreme Court into them so they'll give in to our demands. Here's how I wrapped up my letter:
I'm sure you've heard how dangerous those with augmented hippocampi can be. When we recover--and rest assured, we will--we'll come after you in your sleep and rip your fragile psyche to shreds. Then those of us with animal affinities will make sure you're hounded beyond all rational belief by normally monogamous beasts which have been twisted to desire Deputy Chiefs of Staff. After that, we'll move into your town, take over the local government, and claim your house by eminent domain to make space for a new chapter of the ACLU. Litigation over this would last decades. You'd be the next Kelo.

These consequences can all be yours provided you ignore my demands.

Cordially,
Mr. Writing Person

Q. Scary.

A. Quite.

Q. Can you really do all that?

A. Do you have any specific reason to doubt that I can?

Q. Are you sure Karl Rove is behind the Zionist conspiracy?

A. He spells his name with a "K"!

Q. Gotcha.

1 Comments:

At 4:35 PM, Anonymous pabo said...

Hi Mr. Writing Person,I'm a long time reader, first time commenter. I really like most of your suggestions and have tried to apply everything you've taught me into my writing. I've been disappointed because I'm writing a thesis which takes up way too much of my time to be able to write anything else and the last couple of weeks did not apply at all in this process. However when I saw that this week was about Bombastic Castigation I knew that this could help me graduate sooner. Unfortunatly my advisor took his Castigation as extremely threatening and threatened me in return with kicking me out of school if I didn't shape up soon. I'm beginning to feel that your advice is not as sound as I first thought when I started reading your blog and have since found many of your critics (the main one seems to call himself anonymous) may have some good points. How do you respond to those (my advisor is among them) that may say that your advice is less than worthy?

 

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