A Scene From the Upcoming Film The Elements of Style.
[Originally published June 1, 2010.]
INT. A MUSEUM — NIGHT
STRUNK and WHITE, dressed in black burglar outfits, carefully consider a box on a pedestal, under glass.
William… Will… I don’t know if we should be doing this.
Doing what, E.B.? Being here? Breaking the rules?
Yes, exactly that, Will. I mean… what are rules for if you’re simply going to break them?
They say, E.B., that sometimes the best writers disregard the rules of rhetoric, as long as the sentence has some compensating merit for the violation.
With great caution, STRUNK lifts the glass display case covering the box and sets it down. He then very slowly takes the box from the pedestal. He holds his breath for a moment. Silence. Just as he begins to breathe out, an alarm goes off. STRUNK and WHITE begin running down the hallway. Two GUARDS give chase.
Yes, I have heard that old observation, Will! But I don’t know if that applies to breaking into the Smithsonian Institution!
You men! Stop right there!
Would you at least mind telling me what we’ve gone to all this trouble, and possibly risked our own freedom, to steal?
Oh, my dear White, you would like to know that, wouldn’t you?
STRUNK and WHITE find themselves perched atop a staircase, with two GUARDS at the bottom. Meanwhile, the other GUARDS continue to pursue them.
Hold onto this and, whatever you do, don’t drop it.
STRUNK hands WHITE the box he took from the pedestal. WHITE clumsily bobbles the box, but manages to keep his grip on it.
STRUNK slides down the staircase banister and flies into the air, delivering two swift kicks to the GUARDS’ heads, knocking them out. He lands on his feet and turns toward WHITE.
Wha… how did you? I had no idea, Will!
WHITE runs down the stairs, flabbergasted. Once he reaches the bottom, he and STRUNK turn down a corridor.
Do you know how many commas get abused each year, E.B.? How many expressions misused? Tenses not kept consistent? Have you seen how many voices have been made passive?
You know I have, Will. I was there with you, at Cornell. I heard the screams. I try to forget it every day, but… it keeps replaying in my head.
Then… then when you see what’s in this box, you’ll know why. Why we had to do this.
STRUNK takes the box back from WHITE. The two men come to a set of large windows, where STRUNK stops and holds up his hand to stop WHITE.
Will… what are we doing?
STRUNK hands the box back to WHITE and glides over to the windows. STRUNK opens one of the windows to reveal a zip-line cable he shot up from the National Mall prior to the break-in. STRUNK reaches into his backpack to take out two wire loops.
Come on, E.B. It’ll be fun.
WHITE hesitates, but places his loop on the line with both hands. STRUNK takes the box back from WHITE and places his loop on with his free hand. The two GUARDS reach the doorway to the room and hold up their guns.
Stop right there!
STRUNK and WHITE leap out the window and slide down the zip line.
STRUNK and WHITE land on the grass of the National Mall, safe from their pursuers. WHITE wipes his brow and lets out a sigh of relief. STRUNK takes a crowbar out of his backpack and opens the box. A rainbow of colored light splashes onto his face as he looks into the box.
Will. What in the world is in there? What have we taken?
This, my friend, is our compensating merit.
I… I’m afraid I don’t follow, Will.
STRUNK, grinning, holds up four glowing, multicolored stones to show WHITE.
These, my dear Mr. White, are the Elements of Style. And they’re never going to sit moldering in some museum ever again.
CUT TO: A ROOFTOP ACROSS THE MALL
A MASKED MAN watches STRUNK and WHITE through a pair of binoculars. He sees them pull the elements out of the box. The MASKED MAN sets his binoculars on the ground and pulls a radio receiver out of his pocket, which he brings to his mouth.
Mr. Merriam, Mr. Webster. We have a problem.
SUGGESTED READSRevising Strunk and White
by Dan Kennedy (11/10/2000)
The Elements of Spam.
by Jason Roeder (2/8/2006)
The Elements of Press Release Style
by Gary Klien (5/10/2011)
RECENTLYCoffee Shop Algebra
by Allen Rein (3/27/2015)
Open Letters: An Open Letter to the Braxton-Hicks Contractions That Hit a Student in My First Period 10th Grade English Class
by Mr. Dickson (3/27/2015)
List: Things My Love Life and My Writing Career Have in Common
by Samantha Edmonds (3/27/2015)
POPULARList: What Your Favorite ’80s Band Says About You
by John Peck (7/5/2011)
Reasons You Were Not Promoted That are Totally Unrelated to Gender
by Homa Mojtabai (1/27/2015)
A Brooklyn Heights Nursery School’s Entrance Exam
by Garth Horn (3/19/2015)