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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Natalie Goldberg’s “Wild Mind”

Natalie Golberg’s Wild Mind is another book I purchased 25-30 years ago and left on my shelf while life happened. I picked it up this month and am grateful I kept it around.

I previously reviewed Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”, gave it high marks, and Wild Mind is another keeper, although a book I’d only recommend to writers already committed to their craft.

Like Writing Down the Bones and Dorothea Brande’s “Becoming a Writer”, Wild Mind is about the experience of writing and how to make that experience more fluid, dynamic, rewarding, and fruitful. There are some craft do’s and don’t’s at the end of the book and you can find similar do’s and don’t’s in most craft and technique books (and also in many of my StoryCrafting posts).

 
The book itself is a cornucopia of writing exercises designed to make you think differently when you write. Note that; not how to write differently but how to think differently when you write. Goldberg is a stickler for “your work, your style, your voice” and doesn’t want to change that.

Instead she offers exercises to free up your crafting to be more unique, more inventive, more exciting, more readable, and ultimately, more you.

Her forte is what I’d call “Ten Minute Drills.” For example, write “I remember” at the top of a page and spend ten minutes writing about what you remember. Easy enough. Now write “I don’t remember” and go for another ten minutes. Now your mind goes wild (and hopefully your writing follows). What don’t you remember? What have you forgotten? When you’re not walking down memory lane you’re traversing the paths of imagination. Find out where they take you.

Other drills teach you how to tame your inner critic (haven’t met an author yet who doesn’t have one) and how to set free your inner cheerleader (haven’t met an author yet who doesn’t need one).

Good stuff and strongly recommended.

Kit Reed’s “Revision”

I first read Kit Reed’s Revision (probably) four years ago. It was one of the first books I read when I decided to spend the rest of my life writing. I dogeared two pages.

I finished my second read about a week ago (as I write this). The book is a mess of dogeared pages.

It’s amazing how much more Kit Reed put into this book in four years, don’t you think?

Extra Effort Closes the Distance between You and Your Audience.

 
The entirety of the book comes down to Reed’s Rule Six: Extra Effort Closes the Distance between You and Your Audience.

Whenever you come to a moment of hesitation, unsurety, confusion, skimming, general off-ness, stop, figure out what’s not working, and fix it.

 
And Reed also provides a caution; Recognize when it’s done and let it go. There’s lots of examples of recognizing when something’s let-goable and when something isn’t. The one that hit me smack between the eyes is “Whenever you come to a moment of hesitation, unsurety, confusion, skimming, general off-ness, stop, figure out what’s not working, and fix it.”

I am training myself to do that. Too many times I’d read something and need to reread it, figure it out on the second take and decide it was okay.

NO, IT WASN’T!

Reed also offers several question lists to help you in your own revising. Early in the book Reed poses twelve questions so you can learn if you’re open to revision. Don’t know about others, I found it revealing (especially when invoking Reed’s suggestion to be strict (unforgiving) with your answers).

Another duh! list early in the book (pg 39) deals with determining if your work (and others, too, if you’re in a critique group) is ready to go out. Reed suggests writers/authors/writer-wannabes read for:

  1. Truth in action
  2. Accessibility
  3. Completeness
  4. Time scheme
  5. Point of view
  6. Length (with an eye to possible cutting)
  7. Organization
  8. And, once again, balance of showing versus telling. (Reed’s words, this, not mine)

Unsure what some of those mean? Read the book.


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