Monday, May 30, 2016

On Writing Better, Based on ELEMENTS OF STYLE, II

      Bold-faced material is from Strunk and White's classic text, The Elements of Style. I've added some comments of my own [from my Write Your Book with Me.]. 


1. Place yourself in the background.
Unless, of course, you are writing a memoir or autobiography. Even then, try not to brag nor whine.
2. Write in a way that comes naturally.
Write pretty much as you talk.
3. Work from a suitable design.
An outline will help greatly. In a formal piece, your first paragraph should outline the presentation such that each sentence could be a suitable topic sentence for a paragraph in the body of the work that follows.
4. Write with nouns and verbs.
Use specific nouns and descriptive verbs.
5. Revise and rewrite.
You will always find something worth improving; however, don’t let perfectionism cripple you.
6. Do not overwrite.
Avoid grandiosity, flowery words, highly complicated and “literary” sentences.
7. Do not overstate.
Understate, rather than overstate. Suggest, unless you can justly claim. Occasionally, be subtle. Shakespeare wrote, “by indirections find directions out.” Don’t sacrifice clarity, however.
8. Avoid the use of qualifiers.
Specific nouns rarely need adjectives. Apt verbs don’t need adverbs.
9. Do not affect a breezy manner.
10. Use orthodox spelling.
11. Do not explain too much.
While good advice for fiction, much nonfiction does need careful elucidation. Others have advised writers to “show not tell.” My writing partner, Kathleen Blake Shields, does not write that her aunt Lila is a prickly curmudgeon; rather, Kathy gives two anecdotes about Aunt Lila:
Aunt Lila was taken out to a fancy restaurant in our neighborhood. She was served the usual courses: salad, entrée, soup, dessert. She was not wholly pleased, however. She called the waiter over and said to him, "Tell the chef that I make my soup at home just like he made this, but I add only one can of water."
Not-so-lovable Aunt Lila watched the firemen attack with hoses and axes a fire that had started in her house. She was unhappy with their methods. She told the Chief, "You can stop what you're doing now, and I'll save the foundation."
12. Do not construct awkward adverbs.
Don’t be adverbially challenged.
13. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking.
In fiction, the dialogue and attribution (“Jill said“) should make this clear. In nonfiction, your facts and opinions need to be distinguished from those of others.
14. Avoid fancy words.
Eschew sesquipedalianism. Keep your words simple, usually.
15. Do not use dialect unless your ear is good.
16. Be clear.
If “brevity is the soul of wit,” clarity should be the goal of wit.
17. Do not inject opinion.
Editorials and persuasive pieces of various types are allowed to violate this recommendation.
18. Use figures of speech sparingly.
Occasional similes and metaphors spice your prose, but they should not comprise the main course.
19. Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity.
U no wat ths means, prbbly.
20. Avoid foreign languages.
Having to look up a foreign term is my bete noire.
21. Prefer the standard to the offbeat.
This is the same advice I’d give my nieces about dating!

To repeat, get The Elements of Style.

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