Pity the Readers

The internet is full of endless information on any subject, including how to improve your writing style. I think many of us took the opportunity to read through some, realizing many of the suggestions are similar if not identical to each other. We can get bogged down with the vast amount of overloaded information we are searching for and consequently all writing about on this blog, The Publishing Culture. Though the chances are both with and against us that we did not happen upon the same articles, I think I found an article you might not have read. I only say might as it was on the second page of my search(normally I just look at the first page).

8 Excellent Rules to Improve Your Writing Style.

I am quite positive that many of the “rule” are the same as some of the previous post on the blog. Keep it simple, write about something you are passionate about, edit wisely. But, in this article a more sage piece of advice is given, albeit in a moderately humorous way, pity the reader. Yes, that is verbatim. We often think that our writing is exceptional and people would love to read it, even now I presume as much, but we need to think more realistically and realize not everyone like to read. Although this is where the advice comes in handy, just because not everyone enjoys reading doesn’t mean whatever you’ve written shouldn’t be for them.

Readers have to identify thousands of little marks on paper, and make sense of them immediately. They have to read, an art so difficult that most people don’t really master it even after having studied it all through grade school and high school — twelve long years. So this discussion must finally acknowledge that our stylistic options as writers are neither numerous nor glamorous, since our readers are bound to be such imperfect artists. Our audience requires us to be sympathetic and patient teachers, ever willing to simplify and clarify, whereas we would rather soar high above the crowd, sining like nightingales.

This does go back to know your audience, however, when we write we want to be able to pull in more than just our intended audience and by making sure we follow the rule of pitying the reader, it can help us improve upon the simplicity and the subject without driving potential readers away with a desire to use infinite verbose literary jargon.



Constantly Evolving: Style

There are plenty of definitions of what style is, the many dictionaries around do great job of that. However, I think it is incredibly hard to define what style is as there are so many different types. As students we are taught elements that make up style but our understanding takes time and our definition becomes slightly more obscure. According to Steven Pinker, a psychologist who studies language believes style changes and the 21st century is no exception.

In Steven Pinker’s article, he suggest that we are currently outgrowing the once popularly used and taught style of Strunk and White’s The Element of Style. We have been taught the proper way to use langue, both speaking and writing based off this book written in 1918. However, Pinker believes that following these rules does not define style, in fact, he thinks it can inhibit the writer.

We know that language changes. You and I don’t speak the way people did in Shakespeare’s era, or in Chaucer’s. As valuable as The Elements of Style is (and it’s tremendously valuable), it’s got a lot of cockamamie advice, dated by the fact that its authors were born more than a hundred years ago. For example, they sternly warn, “Never use ‘contact’ as a verb. Don’t say ‘I’m going to contact him.’ It’s pretentious jargon, pompous and self-important. Indicate that you intend to ‘telephone’ someone or ‘write them’ or ‘knock on their door.'” To a writer in the 21st century, this advice is bizarre. Not only is “to contact” thoroughly entrenched and unpretentious, but it’s indispensable. Often it’s extremely useful to be able to talk about getting in touch with someone when you don’t care by what medium you’re going to do it, and in those cases, “to contact” is the perfect verb. It may have been a neologism in Strunk and White’s day, but all words start out as neologisms in their day. If you read The Elements of Style today, you have no way of appreciating that what grated on the ears of someone born in 1869 might be completely unexceptionable today.

By acknowledging that style will continue to change, writers can become more free from the idea of following grammatical “laws”. Many writers have broken free from the standard and taken the use of writing unconventionally. For instance; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle(mixes passive voice), Shakespeare(ending sentences with prepositions), E.E. Cummings(capitalization), Charles Dickens(run-on sentences) and Jane Austen(double negatives). While these examples are on a smaller scale, there are others that have reached extreme levels of rule breaking. Most notable for me is Savages by Don Winslow. Winslow used short and often incomplete sentences, slang, screenplay interjected style chapters, improper spelling, as well as spacing.

The rest of the article by Pinker continues to explore where style is going and how writers should learn from the evolution of the change. While I don’t think we should completely neglect the basis of what we’ve learned, I think there is room for some new changes to the fundamentals of style.




Experimenting: Not Just for Science

A few semesters ago I was taking a TV Script/Screenwriting course at UCF. While the format for script and screen writing is completely different than the writing I have been focusing on in the Writing for Publication course, we constantly experimented with different writing exercised to help establish what works best for us as writers.

Many of the students in my script/screenwriting course realized how imagery and details were there strong points, whereas I learned dialogue is something I write well. We would take class time to write in non-script form and find out strengths. It was afterwards that we would learn how to change it to what format we needed.

I think this type of experimenting with exercises that move one out of the comfort zone and even the type of writing that is not designed for what you are trying to write for can help writers explore the strengths and weaknesses. By moving out of our medium as a writer we can clearly identify what our style really is.

Some of my favorite exercises that might help define you as a writer include:

Write a short story using the first sentence from a newspaper or article.

Write a story with two or more characters and no dialogue.

Rewrite a previous work without any adverbs.

I think many of us still in writing courses tend to primarily write for school versus ourselves. If we want to improve and become more distinct, we need to challenge ourselves, even when we write for our own enjoyment. If we take the time to perform these types of individual exercises we can feel more confident in our work and our style.

Terrible works have value too

In a blog post, writer William Cane gives the best advice, in my opinion, on style. He says that you should read everything. Whether it is an incredible piece, or an absolutely terrible one, read it. By reading the best, the worst, and everything in between, you not only learn what you want to do, but also what you don’t want to do. A lot of writers can say they don’t want to write terrible work, but if we don’t see what terrible work is, how will we know what to avoid. Not only will we figure out what we want and don’t want in our writing, we will also figure out what kind of writer we are. By reading many different styles, we can slowly work to figure out what we are most comfortable writing.


A Dash of Style

A few years ago I was perusing a second-hand book store and came across a most interesting book, A Dash of Style by Noah Lukeman. While my book store companion was unimpressed and informed me that the book would be a boring purchase, the $1.50 price did not dissuade me. The book has been a huge help as I have been referencing it on a more regular basis.

The book is slightly deceiving as it deals exclusively with punctation. I am very aware of how important it is to use proper punctuation, however, I never realized how much of a difference it can make to our writing by playing around with the various, and correct, uses it can make to what might be a simple paragraph. Noah Lukeman takes this book one step further by suggesting exercises of writing.

Noah Lukeman breaks the book down into three major parts: The Triumvirate, Into the Limelight, and Proceed with Caution. Each section is a further breakdown of specific punctuation such as, the period aka the stop sign, the comma aka the speed bump, and the semicolon, the bridge.

I think many of us assume that the subject of our work is going to get us noticed. But I think if we take the time to renew our stance on punctuation, we might be able to make our style more distinct and readable.

If you want to learn more about the book, check out Lukeman’s website:


Improving your style

As we start to establish our styles as writers, we are heavily influenced. From our favorite authors to the newspapers we may read. Our writing is constantly changing and evolving. However, are there things that we can do in order to better our style without looking up to our idols? In the article “How to Improve Your Writing Style in 10 Minutes or Fewer,” I found out that it is completely possible.

The first tip, to use straightforward language, is one that has a very big impact. Many students try to use eloquent language that let ideas flow. Often times, the flow can last for paragraphs worth. This tip is important because it helps us get to the point. In the business world, when briefing your boss, they often times don’t care about word fluff. They want someone who can convey all of the information in as few words as possible.

The one I believe I need to work on most is to avoid needless self-reference. The article refers to this by saying we don’t need to remind the audience that we are the writer. I know that I have a problem with this, and just by taking a few seconds to before I write a sentence I can help eliminate its use.

For the full article: http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/improve-my-writing/brush-up-on-your-style-in-10-minutes-or-less

Hanging with the best

Before establishing an identity for yourself, while emulating your favorite artists, it is often times that writers block comes very easily. Either in the way of inspiration as to what can come next that will help the flow of the piece, or how to phrase your next idea. Personally, when writing music, I like to watch live concerts of my favorite artists. I most enjoy watching Pat Metheny play. He is a jazz guitarist. I already know what is going to happen next in the song while listening, but what provides me inspiration and sparks ideas is watching his playing style. How he carries himself, what techniques he uses over others, and how he communicates with the other members of the band to signal unique live changes to the songs.

As for writing, I know that writers often times do a lot of their writing and get a lot of their motivation outside of their homes and in various places – whether outside at a favorite view, a favorite social place, etc. What inspired this post was an article I read on some of the most famous places that writers would drink and socialize at. I believe that if anyone had the chance to visit one of these places, it would provide a lot of inspiration and open their eyes to better understand the writer they are emulating. For example, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese in London is a bar that has been around since 1666. Here, Charles Dickens even went so far as to allude to this bar in his piece A Tale of Two Cities. I believe this kind of experience can be invaluable to a writer and provide a tremendous push in their works.


Style and Simplicity

The unique element of style makes it subjective from author to author.  Every author creates their own sense of style through years of practice and honing their craft. In a handout about style from the University of North Carolina, the writer identifies common issues seen in a writer’s style. These issues usually refer to improper word choices, “wordy” and often “awkward” sentence structures. What most authors don’t realize is that simplicity can often be the most important attribute of style when presenting their work to their audience.

Keep it simple:

“First, remember that your goal in academic writing is not to sound intelligent, but to get your intelligent point across” (UNC). This is true of all writing styles and genre. Whether the audience is geared toward academic readers, or those simply interested in a good story, keeping the wording and style simple allows the writer to connect with a broader range of readers. Using language that is too complex for the average reader risks alienating the audience, or losing them altogether. If they have to stop every five minutes to look up a word referenced in the story, the enjoyment will wear off, and the reader will eventually lose interest.

Avoid wordiness:

Every writer has encountered, or will encounter, this note on their critiques at least once in their lives. Even while speaking, we tend to use more words than are necessary to get our point across (UNC). These “filler” words detract from the message of the story and often leave readers skimming through pages in search of the real meaning. “In writing, these filler words and phrases become more obvious and act as delays in getting the reader to your point. If you have enough delays in your sentence, your readers might get frustrated” (UNC). The goal is to make sharper and cleaner sentences. This does not mean that the sentences have to be devoid of the occasional embellishment. Or that they should be as simplistic as: War is bad. Just get to the point, and keep it simple.

Your Word thesaurus is not your friend:

At a young age, writers learn that repetition can kill a story as quickly as bad writing. In our efforts to circumvent this issue, we tend to refer to our thesaurus to use alternate synonyms for the same word. According to the UNC handout about style, “Don’t ever do so without looking up those words to make sure you know exactly what they mean. And don’t blindly accept the recommendations of your word processing program’s thesaurus.” Though the words may be similar in meaning, the tone they set may vary entirely. One example of this is in the sentence: “He could fathom no alternative.” In this sentence the word “fathom” is synonymous with comprehend. However, the word thesaurus also provides alternatives of “sound,” “measure,” and “probe.” Neither option would be appropriate for the sentence since they would detract from its meaning. Though using synonyms for words can take away from the repetition in the story, it can also take away from its overall presentation. Again, if the story loses its clarity to “fancy” wording, the main point also suffers.

Dude thinks like a lady

When writing any story, it is important to not only be conscious of the audience, but of our characters. The variations between men and women can have a major impact on a writer’s style. Men and women view the world around them differently, they react to situations differently and use language that is generally language specific. As Leigh Anne Jasheway puts it in her article, “How to Write Intriguing Male and Female Characters”: “Chances are, if you’re female, you write like a girl, and if you’re male, you write like a guy.” With audiences beginning to push for the dual perspective in books, wanting to be more rounded in the story than to be restricted to one point of view, it is becoming imperative to know how to write in both styles. Here are some tips from other writers on how to write the perspective of the opposite sex.

Be conscious of descriptions:

When illustrating a scene, it is important to remember how the opposite sex will describe their surroundings. A woman might look at a dress and think, “She had on a pearl white Vera Wang dress that accentuated the curve of her waist perfectly.” A man, however, would pay less attention to the name brand of the dress and its exact color. Writer Gail Mayer Martin says: “Men usually don’t know cotton from rayon and have no knowledge of colors other than the primary shades. To a man, red is red, while a woman calls it crimson or magenta or strawberry.”

Be conscious of emotional reactions:

When writing from the perspective of the opposite sex, it is important to pay attention to the emotional image of each gender. Typically women tend to include lengthier, emotional descriptions. They prefer to talk it out, rather than keep the emotions bottled up inside. With men, they are much more direct and to the point. Author Mary Connealy writes: “I often cut the guys’ dialogue several times to make it terse. Have them grunt on occasion. Have them think a whole bunch of stuff and then just say, ‘No.’”

Go to the source:

When in doubt, observation and research are key. Author Irene Hannon suggests reading books written for and by the opposite sex. If you’re wanting a male perspective, read a highly charged thriller written by John Grisham. If you’re wanting a woman’s perspective, read a romance novel. Books where the audience is primarily geared toward, and written for the opposite sex can offer insight into their thought processes and ideals. Lacy Williams, as well as several other authors, recommends listening to the way family members talk, how they handle different situations and what they say. Many wives writing from the male perspective will ask their husband for advice on a specific scene. This is a helpful tip for both men and women, which can be presented to members of their families and friends.

Style and the Historical Genre

Though style is ultimately the conception of the author, the genre one is writing in can also have an effect on the presentation of sentences and structure. When writing historical fiction, style can be affected by numerous elements, such as tone, historical accuracy, and when to utilize proper jargon. Time and place dictates the writer’s society, and therefore their reactions to different situations. Being conscious of these word choices can help generate a writing style structured for the time and place of the novel.

Have a specific time and place in mind:

When writing any piece of historical fiction, it is important to keep in mind the context of the era. Europe in 1937 was very different from Europe in 1942. Though only a difference of five years, the context of the era and the events in history had a great impact on the society of the time. By narrowing down the exact time and place, the author is able to project the emotions of the era through their tone and word choices. Is this a Europe still fighting the effects of the Great Depression, or the invasion of enemy forces?

Know the society:

After deciding the exact time and place, the author also determines the expectations and reality of their character’s society. This has an effect on the writer’s style, since it dictates the roles of the characters. Women in 19th century England had expectations of marriage and finding a husband. However, being seen with a man in public, unchaperoned, was grounds for ruination. This would in turn effect the writer’s ability to convey specific situations. They would need to retain a more proper tone and use of language when a couple addresses one another, rather than the casual tone of the modern era. When writing in 19th century England, one must also be aware of titular distinctions, such as how to address and present the nobility.

Use of appropriate language and phrases:

When writing historical fiction, the writer must have a firm grasp on the language of the time, as well as which language is considered inappropriate. Avoiding modern slang keeps the audience grounded in their sense of time and place. Jargon and phrases from the time era are equally important in order to embed the audience in the time frame. Using phrases like “the ton”, which refers to London’s elite society, are generally well-known and accepted terms for people who frequently read Regency era novels. It is expected as a way to alert the reader of their time and place. However, using too much jargon can alienate the reader. In his article, “How to Write Historical Fiction,” Chuck Sambuchino writes: “Certainly I could say ‘The footpad bit the Roger, tipped the cole to Adam Tyler, and then took it to a stauling ken.’ But I have a feeling modern readers might now understand that I was saying that a thief has stolen a bag, passed it to a fence, who in turn sold it to a house that receives stolen goods.” Finding a balance between past and present word choices becomes key.