Tuesday, October 20, 2009

That Vital Style

Style. For soirees, for art, for people, for living - for writing.

Oscar Wilde wrote that "in matters of great importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing." Coco Chanel said that "fashion fades, only style remains."

Style requires effort.Writing with style is no exception. The occassional genius may achieve it easily, but the rest of us can always use some help.

For fifty years, the best selling help for writers has been Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. Elements has helped millions improve their writing - 10 million to be exact.

There are dozens of books on writing style, but none seems to generate so much praise, blame, or sheer number of words as does Strunk and White's "little book," as Strunk called it.

Jennifer Balderama reviews a book about Elements in the New York Times, Sunday Book Review. In her article "Style and Alchemy,"she reviews (mostly favourably) Mark Garvey's book Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style."

In her review, Balderama captures E.B. White's basic premise about writing with style and correctness: "He simply believed that one must know, or at least intuit, the principles of lucid writing before one can flout them artfully."

The problem with so many writers today is not that they fail to flout artfully; the problem is that they don't know the principles at all.


Ciss B said...

Good article. Writers are everyone everywhere online - only that isn't true because so many do not take the time to think and remember what they (supposedly) learned in school.

With schools focusing more and more on the test scores of kids (MEAP, ACT, SAT etc.), there is little focus on what good writing is - and how to teach it so we can capture the minds of young writers today.

We have to get the students excited about writing because if they're not interested they are not listening and simply copying and going through the motions.

ChrisJ said...

Too true. One blog about writing well (and with much passion about it)had three errors in the first sentence of the post I read.

Ralph Ivy said...

"The Elements of Style" is probably the only book on writing I actually read. I thumbed through others but never got into them.

I never had writing in school. (Except for the basic writing assignments in English classes, or writing an essay for history or such. Through my college years my focus was on the visual arts. I read constantly. I wrote a lot. But no formal training.

At age 32, out of schools (my GI Bill had ran out), I returned to my small Ozarks county town. To live with my parents until I could figure what to do next. A job opening appeared for a reporter at the local county weekly newspaper. I was hired.

I quickly learned the basic "who, what, when, - and hopefully "why" of writing. I wound up in journalism for the next 16 years, becoming a feature writer, illustrator, column writer, feature editor, photographer for the daily newspaper here in Fayetteville, a university town where I live today.

I still write. Draw. Play with words and images. Tell stories.
"The Elements of Style" helped. I should probably read it again.

ChrisJ said...

I teach with it almost every semester - so re-reading goes with the territory!

Ralph, you've had a very interesting and varied life.