When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.
Strunk and White’s 105-page how-to-write classic, Elements of Style was first published in 1959 as a guide for writers and secretaries (remember what those are?). Because of its pithiness and focus on critical elements, it is still considered the gold standard in college classes and writing seminars. In 2011, Time Magazine listed what many refer to as the ‘Little Book’ as one of the 100 most influential books written in English since 1923. The most recent edition was published 51 years after Strunk’s death.
Strunk (E.B. White–better known as the author of Charlotte’s Web–was Strunk’s student at Cornell; as such, he didn’t change the elements, merely revised) may be the first–but not the last–to assert that writers must know the rules before they break them. You can purchase it through Amazon, or access it for free through Bartleby.com or Project Gutenberg.
The book includes five categories–topics like composition, usage, and form–each with a narrative to discuss the topic and then a list of reminders. Today, I’ll share 21 of my favorite tips with you.. These are essential to good writing, easy to follow, but sometimes forgotten in the flush of prose:
- Place yourself in the background
- Write in a way that comes naturally
- Work from a suitable design
- Write with nouns and verbs
- Revise and rewrite
- Do not overwrite
- Do not overstate
- Avoid the use of qualifiers
- Do not affect a breezy manner
- Use orthodox spelling
- Do not explain too much
- Do not construct awkward adverbs
- Make sure the reader knows who is speaking
- Avoid fancy words
- Do not use dialect unless your ear is good
- Be clear
- Do not inject opinion
- Use figures of speech sparingly
- Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity
- Avoid foreign languages
- Prefer the standard to the offbeat
I confess, I regularly fail at #11 and #21, and have a large section in my first thriller that tramples all over #20. How about you?
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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.