A Craft Book Review

Cover of "The Elements of Style, Fourth E...
Cover of The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

Craft Book Review: The Elements of Style

Traci Kenworth

 

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White is one book I think every writer has not only heard of but has on their bookshelf somewhere. If you don’t, and you’re serious about your writing, download a copy or pick one up asap. I can’t stress enough how helpful this book is, it’s like a writer’s best friend.

It is broken down into five sections: Elementary Rules of Usage. Question about whether to use the ’s on a possessive singular noun? It’ll make things clear. Do not join independent clauses by a comma. Use the proper case of the pronoun. On and on this section goes for those days when you’re sitting stumped about using a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption.

Section Two is Elementary Principles of Composition such as choose a design and stick to it. Using the active versus the passive voice. How to place the emphatic words of a sentence, so that it has the most impact. Here, I found the meat of a writer’s trade. We’re always looking for advice for how to begin, what rules to follow, and how to bring things alive for our reader. It’s in here. And more.

While section Three gives of A Few Matters of Form, section Four hits on Words and Expressions Commonly Used. It is Section Five that I loved the most however. It’s about an Approach to Style. Those of you starting out might want to peruse this to learn about your Voice and how to find it, practice it, and refine it. It shows you how to place yourself in your writing. And that is a value to learn to make you more attractive to an agent and editor. The book says an aging practitioner once remarked, “Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.” I think we need to know all the bases before we can truly explore and break the rules.

For instance, I don’t like to end a sentence with a preposition. I’ve been taught that was wrong, but this book explains that not only is it acceptable but sometimes it is in a more effective spot than anywhere else in the sentence. I. E. “A claw hammer, not an axe, was the tool he murdered her with.”

This is one little book that’s going on my desk for quick reference. I’ve had it here before, of course, but it’s been many years since I’ve cracked its page. I will now, when the moment strikes for clarity. I hope you open it to find your own nuggets, it’s truly a treasure to behold, and deserves a high place on any writer’s list.

17 thoughts on “A Craft Book Review

  1. I actually had not heard of this book before this. (See, I hate to end in a preposition, too!) The info on commas might be helpful. I’ve been told I am far too liberal with them and might need to brush up on their usage. Thanks for the recommendation! 🙂

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  2. I should pick up this book more often. Thanks for reminding me! And I’m *so* excited to hear that it’s acceptable to end sentences with a preposition! That was always one of those rules I thought it would be better to break. (Sort of the way I feel about using “they” as a singular pronoun–though I’ve heard that’s approaching official acceptability as well. Yay.)

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  3. I own this book, but I have such a hard time with grammar, its not an easy reference for me to use. Still, I agree no writer should be without it!

    I’m a grammar moron and I’m actually looking for used textbooks that teach students rudimentary grammar. 😉

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  4. You know, it’s funny, I don’t think of this book for current reference, but it’s sitting on the shelf! I should go back and take another look.

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  5. I will certainly add this to my Amazon shopping cart. Traci, as I follow your blog, literary agent blogs, and other “writing” blogs I consistently see one message. Get your grammar right and develop your writer’s craft. I’m not short on plot ideas, character sketches, or story outlines. But really getting down to writing is tied up in the need to read more trade books. Thanks for the suggestion.

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  6. Craft book can absolutely help us to polish our craft and give us a boost when it comes to our writing. I think when we stop learning, we stop growing. Every step we take, should be to better our writing. Glad to have helped, Life With Hiccups!!

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  7. I have this book. Honestly, it hasn’t helped me much, because I learn by doing. The book explains why things are what they are and has some examples, but nothing seems to stick (for me). I’ve looked around for a site that could help me improve my grammar–you know, something interactive, but haven’t found anything yet. I’ve also thought about taking a grammar refresher course, but alas, no money. Right now, I just write and figure, “Well, my grammar isn’t terrible. I guess this is what I’ll pay my editor for.”

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    1. I was telling someone else, Dan, just simply picking up an English textbook from a library sale (mine cost me 25 cents) can help. Practicing what it says will help improve your writing. Beyond that, cps and betas, can be excellent help with catches, but to make things easier on them and your revisions, try and find an English text book. Good luck with your writing and thanks for stopping by!!

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