Monday, October 21, 2013

Some words on writing . . .

A friend asked for advice on writing nonfiction prose, so I replied with a few flexible rules of thumb I've picked up or formulated over the years:
- remember your reader

- keep your point in mind

- simplify the point

- be concise

- use active voice if possible

- use "it" sparingly

- use "of" sparingly

- use forms of "be" sparingly

- avoid jargon

- avoid clichés

- choose concrete words over abstract

- put words, phrases, and clauses close to their referents

- restructure sentences to avoid commas

- restructure sentences to avoid esoteric punctuation (i.e., semicolons, colons, dashes, parentheses)
I have other little rules like this, all of them relevant to style and none of them applied rigidly, and I keep them in mind as I write. Perhaps readers could add their own rules?

Labels: ,


At 8:57 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

In "Politics and the English Language" George Orwell offers a few useful suggestions.

Here are a few key points from his conclusion:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

At 8:58 PM, Anonymous libertybelle said...

I'm going to print these pointers and keep it in a plastic sleeve for easy reference. Obviously, my amateurish writing needs a lot of work.

At 9:09 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

But what's up your sleeve will then be visible!

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 11:03 PM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

Stephen King is someone who knows a thing or two about writing as he's made a dollar or two off of his words. His top 20 rules for writers are here, but his memoir of the craft, "On Writing," is a book every writer should own.

I was never a big fan of his work, so I'm grateful the blurb on the back of this paperback masterpiece piqued my curiosity enough to buy it.

"“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told."

What these accolades forgot to say was that his memoir is actually equal parts horror/love story as well.

At 12:21 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Another good book is Death is No Obstacle by Michael Moorcock:


What I find most valuable in this book is Moorcock's descriptions of his use of structure to generate material, to keep him on track, etc. It has confirmed the emphasis I place on structure when I teach writing.

At 1:31 AM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

For a few more hours, "Top 100 Power Verbs" is free on Amazon. I don't know how powerful they actually are yet. It may be of use to you or your children come university entrance test time, and the price is pretty hard to beat.

At 3:33 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, everybody (including any yet to post), for the suggestions!

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home