Margaret Shertzer’s “The Elements of Grammar”

I previously reviewed Arthur Plotnik’s “The Elements of Editing” and Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style”, both of which are worthy reads. Shertzer’s The Elements of Grammar was the third of the three volume set I purchased years ago and finally sat down to read.

First, it’s a quick read. At least I found it so, and perhaps because I still remember Mrs. Woodbury’s 4th grade class in which grammar played a major role.

My volume is from 1986 (I mentioned years ago, right?) and is based on a 1950s text. I was fascinated by how much grammar rules have changed, and anthrolinguists should give this a good read as it shows language shifts recognizable in retrospect. Case in point, “like,” as in “So he said, like…”

It did clear up several confusions I had in my own work (mostly because I remember what I was taught – good job, Mrs. Woodbury! – and some editors are more current in their grammar than I). It still serves as a good general reference. Examples:
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Arthur Plotnik’s “The Elements of Editing”

Serious writers and all the authors I know know Strunk&White’s “The Elements of Style,” aka The Little Book. I mention in Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” I have several copies and all are near my workstations so I’ll be no further than a click or arm’s reach should I need, and I need often enough they are a click or arm’s reach away and no further.

Few authors and no writers I know know Arthur Plotnik’s The Elements of Editing and, while not what I’d call required reading, it is definitely useful reading.

 
Plotnik’s The Elements of Editing is about the jobs of editors on the publishing end. This book will not help you edit your own work (at least not much. I did find some useful information in it, but I’m just that way. I’ll find useful things everywhere. It’s a developed trait and strongly recommended).

It will help writers and authors better understand what editors do and why some editors reject your work with a form letter and others write a glowing acceptance and ask for more (this has happened to me many times. Example: I wrote Morningsong in 1987 and nobody wanted it for over thirty years. I submitted it to Harvey Duckman and they asked me to become a regular contributor). It will help writers and authors get a feel for an editor’s day and what’s required to put out a regular magazine, journal, anthology, newspaper, book, and basically any form of regular media.

Most importantly, it’ll help authors and writers recognize a good editor from a bad editor (not to mention recognizing the unhandiwork of a machine editor. Avoid them in publishing).

Here’s some of the gems I found in an afternoon’s read:


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Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style”

I’ve been using the so-called Little Book for years but only as a reference, not a resource. That changed recently when I’d finished editing a work-in-progress, The Inheritors, and had some spare cycles.

 
Definitely keep The Elements of Style handy as a resource. Keep it right next to your keyboard. I have physical copies near all my workplaces and electronic copies on all my devices. Because my memory could drain wet freshly cooked pasta, I pick it up several times a day and often for the same things.

Hopefully things will stick now that I’ve read it. (adding this note two days after writing this post. happy to report yes, things stuck. yeeha!)

The Elements of Style is rich in examples. My ninety-two page edition (complete with index) is now half dog-eared with notes waiting to be transcribed.

Yes, most people I know are familiar with Section I: Elementary Rules of Usage; when to use a comma, when to use a semicolon, how to form possessives, participle phrases, and all that grammar stuff.

Good! That’s what I used it for. Until this reading.

Please give yourself the opportunity to read the Introduction (it’s short and rich). Take a tour through Section II: Elementary Principles of Composition. Meander through Sections III and V: A Few Matters or Form and An Approach to Style respectively. Stroll through Section IV: Words and Expressions Commonly Misused (made myself an autocorrect list out of these).

Go slow, look around, and enjoy. The Little Book is a book mechanic’s toolchest. Get your hands dirty. It’s worth it.

Mystery Writers of America “Mystery Writer’s Handbook”

Another book purchased years ago and finally read because a work-in-progress, Search, had mystery elements and I wanted to know ahead of time what I should be doing and what to look out for.

 
Mystery Writer’s Handbook, like most of the writing books I’ve reviewed on my website, is a worthy read for all authors, writers, and writer-wannabes. It’s focus is mystery and its view is broad. Romantic suspense novels fall into the mystery fold. I didn’t know there was such a genre, but I do now and surprise! my work-in-progress with mystery elements is more a romantic suspense novel than not.

Like all writing books, it discusses character, scene, POV, dialogue, description, and the like. Its real power is in both plot – because good plot tends to drive most mystery and the plot techniques are gems – and editing – the chapter on revising and editing is truly a standout. An extra bonus is a short section on contracts. Many of the books I’ve read mention contracts, Mystery Writer’s Handbook provides a roadmap of potholes and things to avoid.

Strongly recommended.

J.N. Williamson’s “How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction

First, a different kind of how-to-write book; each chapter is written by a different notable in the field – Williamson, Bradbury, Tem, Grant, Bradley, …

The variety of perspectives is interesting. I wonder if each author chose their chapter subject or were assigned it by Williamson, who served as editor.

Bradbury’s chapter, for example, is about where ideas come from and nurturing them, not specific techniques. Tem and Castle each take a turn at character but each from their own perspective.

Bradley’s “World Building in Horror, Occult, and Fantasy Writing” marks the first time I’ve seen the “world building” term outside of writers’ cons (I’m hosting a World Building panel at LitCon 2021).

Beyond chapters on technique – Plot, Character, Setting, World Building, Revision, Submission, … – How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction‘s contributors explain the whys of their suggestions. Example: William F. Nolan’s “Involving Your Reader from the Start” chapter contains several examples of opening paragraphs (I don’t agree that all of them are good). Near the end of his chapter he writes “In the no-TV, no-video, no-comics world of Charles Dickens, readers were conditioned to deal with complex, dense, often-wordy opening pages in books and stories. It was an era of leisurely reading when the pace could be slow and unhurried. Not so today. …”

In other words, writing evolves with a purpose. Yes, there are fads and they pass quickly. What survives is what out-competes others in the environment.

Amazing how evolutionary science affects everything, isn’t it?


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