Sunday, April 08, 2007

Half Read Review 2: The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White

Someday, I'd like to make a couple dollars off of a story or two I've written. To do that I have to work at being a better writer. There's not much good advice out there that can actually make a bad story into a good one, but there is plenty of fodder for sale that will tell you how to make it look like a good story. Books that tell you to add a facial tick to you lead character, or to throw them in unfamiliar places to see how they would react - Hey, how about a scene in a bathhouse? It worked in "Martian Time-Slip" why not your book? Though the title would suggest it might be all about adding nifty stylized (page 50) elements to your story to shine it up real nice, it is not. It's falls somewhere on the other side of the coin and it would appear the goal was the opposite. To help writers write simple sentences that mean what the author intends. William Strunk Jr.'s goal was to eliminate ambiguity in writing and allow a person to get the meaning of a word, sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, and, with any luck the entire story the first time through.

This isn't the typical book that lends itself to a "Half Read Review" but at just about the half way point (on page 47) I found an example that sums up the entire book:

Flamable. An oddity, chiefly useful in saving lives. The common work meaning "combustible" is inflammable. But some people are thrown off by the in- and think inflammable means "not combustible." For this reason, trucks carrying gasoline or explosives are now marked FLAMMABLE. Unless you are operating such a truck and hence are concerned with the safety of children and illiterates, use inflammable.
The rest of the book has the same wit to it but is written in a more conversational tone so it doesn't feel like you're getting a lesson. It's a tiny book and intentionally so, it covers only the meat of the English language and suggests that if you cook it right you won't need the gravy. This is a a good supplement for a struggling student having a hard time grasping the basics. Best way to use it is as a gift for that loved one or friend that just dropped a 1000 page manuscript in your lap and said "Be totally honest - Do you like it?"

The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

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