Strunk and White.
BY DAN KENNEDY
REWRITING A FAMILIAR SENTENCE
Suppose we take “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Here we have eight short, easy words forming a simple declarative sentence. Yet, in that arrangement they have shown great durability; this sentence written by Thomas Paine in 1776 is into its third century. Now compare a few less effective variations:
These are times for soul men that are trying.
I try so that men’s souls feel it these times.
It’s hard out there, man… and I’m looking for some times to keep my soul trying.
USE THE ACTIVE VOICE
The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive.
I shall always remember my first visit to Boston.
This is much better than:
There was something pathetic about visiting her in, uh, that city… and it will be sort of, you know, etched into my brain for eternity and recalled as this, like, basic response to anyone saying the name “Boston” or “Kristin”. I mean, God help me if something painfully coincidental happens, you know, like somebody starts raving about their favorite bar in Boston named Kristin’s… it’ll induce, like, a… a seizure of nervous memories and sobbing in me, right in the middle of whatever dinner party it happens at, and everyone will assume something terrible happened to me in a bar or something… or that I have something against Boston.
AN APPROACH TO STYLE: Do Not Inject Opinion
His writing has been largely criticized as “Dull” and “Humorless”. Regardless of what some critics say, he is a popular contributor to several journals and weeklies.
This is better than:
Jesus, there’s nothing Strunk and I hate more than the high-horse that whiny little leftist collegians rest so confidently on when they further ruin their typically dull and humorless writing by garnishing contributions with the crap they actually believe in. I swear to everyone in hell and heaven, if there is such a thing (who would know if it’s still around with all of the freaks giving whatever higher power resides there a bad name these days?) that I will refuse to pick up another one of those stupid-ass (always free, you’ll notice) weeklies as long as I have blood in my body and breath in my lungs. I’m serious. Drop the opinions, ass-bites. Don’t push me, because you have no idea how close to the edge I am, you weak and empty also-rans. You little 28-year-old journal junkies that still take rides home from lectures and taverns courtesy of your moms and girlfriends.
SUGGESTED READSThe Elements of Spam.
by Jason Roeder (2/8/2006)
A Scene From the Upcoming Film The Elements of Style
by Matt D. Wilson (6/1/2010)
The Elements of Press Release Style
by Gary Klien (5/10/2011)
RECENTLYNotes on Your Banner Ad Copy for Medicated Wipes
by Jeff Johnson (7/24/2014)
My Own Private Shock Corridor: My Own Private Shock Corridor.
by Bob Schneider (7/24/2014)
List: Eminem Lyric or Line of Lesbian Poetry?
by Sascha Cohen (7/24/2014)
POPULAROur Band Only Sold One Copy of Our Album and We’d Like it Back
by Jake Tuck (6/26/2014)
List: Lines from The Princess Bride that Double as Comments on Freshman Composition Papers
by Jennifer Simonson (2/23/2012)
Client Feedback On the Creation of the Earth
by Mike Lacher (5/30/2014)