Tuesday, 26 January 2010

How important is writing style?

What is style? For us writers, it's language and for many of us, the English language. We can not tolerate writers who don't know how to use language.

A professor of language, who knew many foreign languages, was once asked, 'How many languages do you know?'
His answer: 'Half of English.'
The English language has over 500,000 words and the average person will know...maybe, 10,000. What is that? 2%? That's not much and those words have to be put together properly with something known as 'grammar'.

Grammar-shamammar! What difference does it make as long as I can get my ideas across? Okay... but how can you get your ideas across if you can't express them clearly.

In the Elements of Style, White writes: "Every writer, by the way he uses the language, reveals something of his spirit, his habits, his capacities, his bias. This is inevitable as well as enjoyable..."

So then, what should style be? Style is a function of plot, characters and theme. Style should be a balance.

Writers should:
1) know grammar rules
2) break grammar rules (you can't break rules if you don't know them...)
3) know words...I mean, really KNOW words
4) and then, love words... really LOVE words

Every writer should be a student of words. Keep adding words to your vocabulary. But above all, really know the words already in your vocabulary. Don't use DESENSITIZED words such as love or moon or rose. Words we hear over and over until they don't bring emotions to mind anymore.

1) The boy carefully squeezed himself through the fence. (He's a sausage)
2) The boy wriggled through the fence. (He's a worm)
3) The boy carefully pushed himself through the fence. (Boring!)
4) The boy insinuated himself between the bars of the fence. (Interesting, a different take on a word...which means gently, slowly or imperceptibly, to creep.)

So love words, live words, use words to their fullest meaning!

Source: Theme and Strategy 
Photo: here


Unknown said...

Love this! Excellent tips & advice! Thanks!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

English is a difficult, complex language. But I love it! Great post.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Kimberly Franklin said...

I love this! I love words! I especially love to rearrange words in a sentence, play with them if you will. It's what makes me happy. And that's why it takes me forever to write anything. : )

Cat said...

Great post, Ann! Love words! And re grammar one of my favorite quotes from Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale - "...flesh of prose gets its strength from the bones of grammar .. ". Words are the sensuous fleshy part!

Ann Elle Altman said...

Jen, Yeah, over the last few months I have really tried to find lovely words.

Elizabeth, thanks for the comment. I think that's why I love writing. I'm very ADD and writing is one of the most complex skill to master. Haven't got bored yet.

Kimberley, and that's why we love writing! The art of creating.

Cat, I agree. Thanks for the comment and the quote.


オテモヤン said...
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Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I really enjoyed reading this and couldn't agree more. Your example at the end also heartened me! Strange though it may be I've been dealt some criticism because of my use of "unusual words" and constantly eschewing cliches.

Thank you so very much!

Ann Elle Altman said...

Kimberley, there is nothing wrong with breaking the rules once and a while. You don't want to use cliches and unusual words in every sentence or else your reader will not be able to get through your book but there's nothing wrong with a cliche or two.


TirzahLaughs said...

I'm insinuating myself into this conversation...hah.

Interesting conversation.

Anonymous said...

You know, I keep a dictionary next to me whenever I read these days. I love a new word and try to stock up whenever I can.

You're absolutely right - your vocabulary speaks volumes.


from the desk of a writer

Ann Elle Altman said...

A writer should not be without a dictionary or thesaurus. I use the online but I love my paper copy too.