Monday, April 19, 2010


Style is what distinguishes one piece of writing from another, but more especially one writer from another. Henry David Thoreau's style is different from Henry James' which is yet again different from G.K. Chesterton's. Jane Austen's style is a rippling stream or bubbling pool and Charlotte Brontë's is an erupting volcano. Style must occur naturally. If it is put on, the reader will notice, and be put off. As Zinsser writes, "Sell yourself, and your subject will exert its own appeal. Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Proceed with confidence, generating it by put will-power. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going" (26).


1. Whose work is this? "We became--at least I became--dressy. It was the age of the "knut": of "spread" ties with pins in them, of very low cut coats and trousers worn very high to show startling socks, and brogue shoes with immensely wide laces. Something of all this had already trickled to me from the College through my brother, who was now becoming sufficiently senior to aspire to knuttery. Pogo completed the process. A more pitiful ambition for a lout of an overgrown fourteen-year-old with a shilling a week pocket money could hardly be imagined; the more so since I am one of those on whom Nature has laid the doom that whatever they buy and whatever they wear they will always look as if they had come out of an old clothes shop. I cannot even now remember without embarrassment the concern that I then felt about pressing my trousers and (filthy habit) plastering my hair with oil. A new element had entered my life: Vulgarity. Up till now I had committed every other sin and folly within my power, but I had not yet been flashy."

2. In what novel do the following characters appear? Clara Middleton, Vernon Whitford, Sir Willoughby Patterne

Answers to the previous quiz
1. A more concise version of this sentence would be Many people attended the subscription series' third concert.
2. The characters Sir Harry Otway, Mrs. Butterworth, and Mr. Floyd appear in E.M. Forster's A Room With A View.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Clutter and Conciseness

Clutter is simply too many words for the meaning. Sometimes it comes in the form of too many overused expressions, or passive verbs, or too many prepositional phrases, or garbled sentence structure. However it appears, it clogs up things and makes it difficult for the reader, and, ultimately, the writer, because what's the good of writing when your writing doesn't communicate properly?


1. Make this sentence from an Elements of Style example more concise: "The third concert of the subscription series was given last evening, and a large audience was in attendance" (25).

2. In which novel do the following minor characters appear? Sir Harry Otway, Mrs. Butterworth, Mr. Floyd

Answers to the previous post's quiz:

1. I will always remember my first visit to Boston.
2. The characters Mr. Skimpole, Mr. Krook, Miss Flite, Mr. Carstone, and Mr. Bucket appear in Charles Dickens' Bleak House.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Back To Blogging

For a variety of reasons (including more work duties, among them project management and more web content writing), I haven't blogged in a while. But I need to start blogging again.

To help me get started and provide a framework for my blog, I'm going to study again and take my framework from William Zinsser's On Writing Well and Strunk and White's Elements of Style. And I'd like to bring the quiz back, tho' perhaps with one or two questions at the end of each blog.

William Zinsser discusses simplicity in chapter two of On Writing Well. Why clog up the piece with too many words that obscures the meaning and makes the reader impatient? The reader
is more likely to finish a clearly written piece than a difficult one. Strunk and White point out that the passive voice, negative or noncommittal statements, too many loose sentences, and simply too many words for the meaning makes writing too complicated (18-25).


1. Make this sentence more concise: "My first visit to Boston will always be remembered by me" (Strunk and White 18).

2. What novel includes the characters Mr. Skimpole, Mr. Krook, Miss Flite, Mr. Carstone,
and Mr. Bucket?