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.




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.


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

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.

Definition of Style

According to literarydevices.net, style is the way a writer writes and it is the technique which an individual author uses in his writing.  The type of style an author uses varies from person to person because each writer develops their own style over time.  There a many base styles that writers often use to create a foundation to build off of.  We often learn them in elementary school.  There are four basic literary styles: Expository, Descriptive, Persuasive, and Narrative.  The website on literary devices I found has many different examples to reference as well as well written definitions on the basics of style.

Cite: http://literarydevices.net/style/

Elements of Style

Style is something that is developed over time.  As writers, we all have our own styles and ways we like to write and express our creativity.  There are many elements of writing that contribute a writers style, but of the most important are word choice, sentence fluency, and voice.

Word Choice is incredibly important when developing clarity and detail in any type of writing.  A good writer will choose words that contribute to the flow of the work.  The use of sentence fluency is important because it helps the writer develop sentences that vary in length and rhythm.  Voice lets the writer put their own spin or personality into the work.

Style is in every piece of writing we read.  The elements that go into it are important because they make the work unique.

Cite: http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/few/684

Heart and Style

It is difficult for me to say definitively what my favorite book of all time is, but I know that the book that had a truly unforgettable impace on my life and my way of thinking is John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. It was interesting, of course, in terms of plot (but then again, if the plot isn’t interesting, we have a serious problem), but the reason I think it resonated so strongly within me is because Steinbeck’s style is incredibly unique. He masters a pattern of speech that seems so real, and almost creates the feeling of being a bona-fide member of the Joad family.

Like any good writer, Steinbeck definitely had a process. He shared that process in an interview in the Paris Review. In this interview, he shares six simple pieces of advice:

1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish.
2. Write freely.
3. Forget your generalized audience.
4. Don’t be afraid to go back to something that’s giving you trouble.
5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you.
6. Say dialogue aloud.

There is nothing complex about any of this. And most of them seem fairly easy, even oversimplified. But the one that gets me is #5.

This is where the style comes in. This is how we find it. We will inevitably focus all of our attention on a scene that means the world to us. Therefore, it will likely be one of the best. Steinbeck provides for us this word of caution because any scene that is that important to us will obviously stand out from the rest. But for the sole purpose of finding our style, it might behoove us to save that scene in our files for the rest of eternity.

Where there is heart and soul, there is style.

Analysis of J.K. Rowling’s Style

There is no question as to whether or not J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was and still is a mega-hit. With 7 books, 8 movies, 2 theme parks, likely hundreds of thousands of different forms of memorabilia, and hundred of millions of fans the Harry Potter series is one that will line the bookshelves of children and adults alike for years to come.

As writers, some of us may wonder what makes Rowling tick? What went through her mind while she was writing these stories? How did she form these sentences that would eventually come together to be what it is? While the first two questions can only be answered by Rowling herself, Rene Marquez Bonifacio attempted to answer the last question through analysis of the first few sentences of the first two chapters of each of Rowling’s 7 books, making note of sentence structure, tense and voice. She then goes back to those same chapters and analyzes the number of kernal sentences, connectives and reductions.

The results are fairly interesting and can be found here:


Tut tut, it looks like style.

I read a lot. I know, as a writer, it is a good practice to read, but incidentally, I also enjoy it. And so, I read a lot. As a result, one of my favorite things to do is analyze a writer’s style. It’s fascinating that everybody can be so different. It makes you wonder where it comes from, what part of a writer’s brain permits them to process the words in such a unique way.

I can think of no better example of this phenomenon that Alan Alexander Milne’s 1926 masterpiece, Winnie the Pooh. He does something that many readers find irritating in adult fiction: what can be said in five words often turns into a whole paragraph. In children’s literature, however, this practice is integral. It paints a glorious picture, and as we know, children have the most incredible imaginations. It’s easy to conjure up an image when the writing looks like this:

“‘That buzzing noise means something. You don’t get a buzzing noise like that, just buzzing and buzzing, without its meaning something. If there’s a buzzing noise, somebody’s making a buzzing noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing noise that I know of is because you’re a bee.”

The repetition of buzzing noise emphasizes what it is Milne wants his young readers to pay attention to. This is one of his hallmarks, something that makes his writing unique, and very clearly defines his style.

But, of course, style is more than just repetition of a phrase. Style is the way we string words together and how that particular series of words profoundly affects the reader. This is why it is so difficult to teach style. As Milne shows us, style is something deeply personal, something that you practice from the time you begin writing until your final piece leaves your fingertips. Although I do love Milne’s style, I also know that it isn’t for everybody, and that’s okay too. That’s why there are so many writers. If everybody wrote exactly the same way, some people wouldn’t even enjoy reading, and that would truly be a shame.