I have a one-hundred-and-five-page book. It weighs four ounces. The Boston Globe thinks that “No book in shorter space, with fewer words, will help any writer more than this persistent little volume.” The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, a treasure trove of wisdom about writing style, is as elemental to a writer as practicing scales is to a pianist.
10 Essential Principles of Style
Strunk and White gave us several principles of composition and style. These are my top tips, counting down from ten.
10. Use The Active Voice
The active voice is more direct and forceful.
9. Put Statements in Positive Form
Do not write what is not happening. Write definite assertions.
8. Use Definite, Specific Concrete Language
Words that are general, vague or abstract are unlikely to hold the reader’s attention.
7. Write With Nouns and Verbs
6. Avoid The Use of Qualifiers
Rather, very, little, pretty—these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words. —Strunk and White
5. Do Not Explain Too Much
The use of adverbs after he said, or she said, is cluttered and annoying. “He said sadly” or “she said triumphantly” is not advisable.
4. Do Not Construct Awkward Adverbs
3. Be Clear
When you write make sure your intent is clear.
2. Revise and Rewrite
Save the original and what you have rewritten. Write, and revise, and be brave to experiment with what you have written.
1. Omit Needless Words
One Elemental Writing Guide
The Elements of Style, in addition to advising on composition and style, has a section on grammar, “Elementary Rules of Usage,” and a chapter on “Misused Words and Expressions.” The book is an excellent reference for writers who want to understand the basic elements of writing. I keep a copy of the 4 oz book in my bag and read it when I am waiting in line at the doctor’s office, or waiting for my peas to cook.
What is your best advice about writing style? Let us know in the comments.
For today’s practice, you have two choices:
- Take a section from something you have already written and edit it using one or more of the tips above.
- Or, write something new using the suggestions listed above. Perhaps your story will be about someone waiting for their peas to cook.