Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Grammar & Creative Writing? Use the Elements of Style

I own this book myself, and highly recommend it. Since Bob Lory went to the trouble to write this article, though, I'll let him tell you about it.

The "Elements" Of Good Writing 
by: Bob Lory

If you want to write "good," you're supposed to know certain rules of grammar-where to place commas, the agreement of nouns and verbs, the proper cases of pronouns. This is the "gut" stuff of English Composition 101 that, if you do enough of it wrong, labels you as illiterate.

Check out the writing section of any good new or used book store, and you'll see guides ranging from 300 pages upward that promise to make you a master technician of everything from the parenthesis to the gerund. All you have to do is memorize these 300-plus pages.

Which of course you won't. You won't even read most of them. Fortunately, if you've made it this far in life without having someone drag you to such a tome, you most likely don't need it. But there is one guide I strongly suggest you read, and the edition I'm looking at right now is only 85 pages.

That's The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. If you don't own a copy, get your hands on one within the next seven days and focus your mind for your first reading.

Whoa...did I just say "first?"

Digression time:

Strunk was White's English professor at Cornell University. The year was 1919 and part of the material Strunk's students had to master was the contents of what was known as his "little book," as he called it. White, who more than forty years later, was asked to update the original (he also added a chapter), recalls that in his classroom Strunk--

omitted so many needless words...that he often seemed in the position of having shortchanged himself--a man left with nothing more to say yet with time to fill, a radio prophet who had outdistanced the clock. Will Strunk got out of this predicament by a simple trick: he uttered every sentence three times. When he delivered his oration on brevity to the class, he leaned forward over his desk, grasped his coat lapels in his hand and, in a husky, conspiratorial voice, said, "Rule Seventeen: Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!"

If three times was good enough for Professor Strunk, it's good enough for us. My recommendation: Read the entire book as soon as you can (that's this week, remember?). Do your second read after three or four weeks elapse. Save the third for a year from now. You'll probably never have to consult it again.

The best edition is the third, first published in 1979 but still widely available.

About The Author
Copyright 2006 by Bob Lory. Bob Lory has more than 30 years of global PR, employee communication and ad writing experience and training professionals in these fields. His blog-- the stuff that works.

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