Teaching students to write essays is all about fighting zombie prose.
Zombie prose is prose that walks around like it’s alive; it isn’t. It can be grammatically correct, impeccably organized and transparently clear, so it has legs, but it has no heart, nothing pumping in the chest.
Zombie prose doesn’t move us because the writer himself is not moved. He fails to muster the force needed to project himself into the words, so they die on the vine. Zombie prose is written by zombies.
Zombies are “in” right now because they speak to a common condition, an alienation from experience, from the ground of Being itself. Likewise, students write zombie prose because they’re not fully invested either in what they’re writing about or in the process of writing itself.
When I draw a zombie on a student’s paper, the student knows that he has written zombie prose and that the antidote can’t be found in a writing handbook. The student knows he has to find the heartbeat, the living flesh, the pulse of experience itself if he wants his paper to live.