Writing about writing about writing review 1

As I explained in this blog post on Wednesday my writing books have outgrown the shelf above my desk (and my fiction and non-fiction shelves are already groaning) so I need to do a cull. I’m reviewing/re-reading them (which will take some time) and the first three (yes I read 3 books yesterday, but they’re all very short) are Elements of Style by Strunk & White, The Transitive Vampire and The Well-Tempered Sentence I’ve added links to the versions I have, I note that there are other (and sometimes newer) versions available.

The first version of Elements of Style I bought didn’t have E B White’s essay (An Approach to Style) in and I’d recommend that you purchase a copy with that in (which I replaced my original with.) I have the fourth edition on my shelf.

“The beginner should approach style warily, realizing it is an expression of self…”

There are five parts to “the little book” (as White reports it was called on campus) which include rules of usage (my version has 10, other versions may have less), principles of composition, matters of form, commonly misused words and phrases and an addition added by White, some 30 years after being taught by Strunk, in the above mentioned essay.

The advice is presented as proscription but White softens it in the introduction to make it clear that he considers it to be suggestion. And in most cases the suggestions are sound – implementing them leads to good writing.

It’s a quick read (an hour or so) although quite dry.

Karen Gordon’s two little books are an introduction to punctuation and an introduction to grammar. I see that both have newer, expanded, versions. Of course they don’t cover all uses and abuses of the two topics and I have reference works like Fowler’s and New Hart’s Rules for exhaustive reference (I have ebooks of both. For US markets you’d buy Chicago Manual of Style) I don’t aim on reading those because they’re purely reference and although there are people who read such things for pleasure, I’m not one of them!

Anyway back to the Gordon books. I can’t remember who recommended them to me but I’m glad they did (thanks long ago book recommender!) Gordon has a much more engaging style than fusty old Strunk and I feel she’d be an interesting person to know. A few examples will show you why:

From the introduction to The Well-Tempered Sentence: “Oh I am so eager to entrap you within these pages.” An example of the exclamation mark in use: “Ouch! That feels good.” or from the Transitive Vampire: “If you nuzzle these pages with abandon, writing will lose its terror and your sentences their disarray.” They’re a pleasure and easy to read and cover all the basics. As a primer I can’t fault them.

These 3 retain their place on the shelf.

I have several other, longer, books on style I’ll now move onto and I’ll stick with the How to English class of books for now. Always useful to have a refresher.

Drop a comment with your favourite writing book or tip here or email me via the Contact page. If you’re a publisher or Indie Author and would like me to review your writing book drop me a line!

Published by suttope

Pete W Sutton is a writer and editor. His two short story collections – A Tiding of Magpies and The Museum for Forgetting – were shortlisted for Best Collection in the British Fantasy Awards in 2017 & 2022 respectively. His novel – Seven Deadly Swords – was published by Grimbold Books. He has edited several short story anthologies and is the editor for the British Fantasy Society Horizons fiction magazine.

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