From Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams and Joseph Bizup
A catch up post from May
This is the type of grammar book, my lovely readers, that I hated being forced to read in high school and collage. It’s geared toward formal and technical writing, and it is very, very dense. I had to consciously schedule myself to be able to make it through.
That being said, this book is very good for getting at the minutia of what is wrong or unclear about our writing. It may not be gentle. It may not hold our hands the entire way through. But it is worth the read.
This is a grammar book that tells you what rules of grammar we can ignore, and why. I like it for that reason alone. It is also organized very well, ready for readers to pick it up and start at any chapter. If any parts get confusing, the authors tell us exactly where to find the pieces that are missing. (Sometimes they are even later on in the book, so we know to be patient.)
It’s also the only book I am aware of that explains about positions of emphasis. This is a somewhat advanced term in fiction, where the author knows where to put information in sentences and paragraphs so that the reader will retain bits that are needed, and forget the bits that are not as important. (Or are the most important, but the author wants the reader to ignore for now, as in mystery fiction.)
Oh my goodness, gentlebeings, is this a dense book. Not only are the individual bits sometimes difficult to understand, but the chapters as a whole can be a little complicated. Not to worry, though, the book does a good job with picking out the important bits and highlighting the keynotes of the chapters. Plus, the writers include several exercises to practice what you have learned in the chapter, and a summing up in the end. It is, perhaps, a bit my fault that I read through so quickly that I skipped the exercises. I’ll go back over them later, I swear.
On the note of examples, the writers give us examples in every single chapter that first demonstrate the bad, unclear way to write, and then give the correct way. At least, they do that most of the time. The other 25% is the opposite. Which made it a little difficult to read and understand what they wanted me to take from their examples. I was constantly having to go back and identify which sentence they were talking about at any given time, and that’s not even counting the times they identify things within the chapters by italicizing, bolding, or underlining various points that I then had to go back and pick out and assign to their respective meanings.
Careful reading made it clear. But it had to be careful reading.
Take this with a barrel of salt, but as I am a fiction writer, I like my writing books to be about fiction. This book is not about fiction. It is designed for business writers, for science and technical writers, for Ph.D. candidates, and it shows. I can use a lot of the information, especially in the really important parts of my book, but most of part four of this book doesn’t really apply to what I write.
Take that for what it’s worth.
I will be keeping the book, and probably reading several lessons over again when I am not in as much of a time crunch. But I may decide, in the end, to get rid of it.
- Buy the book on Amazon, or Better World Books, the online charity used bookstore (Link to homepage.)
- Or buy an earlier addition, which is much, much cheaper: Better World Books
- Sign up for my class on “What to Leave on the Cutting Room Floor” August 24th, 7 pm CST (link is to a Google Form). It’s free, and the more people who sign up the better the class will be!