Whatever writing challenges we’re facing, it helps to have a wise counselor in our corner. Helpful hands and voices are all around — we have only to look for them. One ever-helpful source of inspiration for me is The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. I love paging through it, not only for its advice, but for its sprightly language. In my latest foray into this classic writing guide, I was especially struck by several helpful style “reminders” and quote them in all their juicy directness:
Write with nouns and verbs: Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place. This is not to disparage adjectives and adverbs; they are indispensable parts of speech….In general, however, it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give to good writing its toughness and color.
Do not overwrite: Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating. If the sickly sweet word, the overblown phrase, are a writer’s natural form of expression, as is sometimes the case, he will have to compensate for it by a show of vigor, and by writing something as meritorious as the Song of Songs,
which is Solomon’s.
Avoid the use of qualifiers: Rather, very, little, pretty — these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words. The constant use of the adjective little (except to indicate size) is particularly depleting; we should all try to do a little
better, we should all be very watchful of this rule, for it is a rather important one and we are pretty sure to violate it now and then.
Do not explain too much: It is seldom advisable to tell all. Be sparing, for instance, in the use of adverbs after “he said,” “she replied, and the like (he said consolingly; she replied grumblingly). Let the conversation itself disclose the speaker’s manner or
condition. Dialogue heavily weighted with adverbs after the attributive verb is clumsy and annoying. Inexperienced writers not only overwork their adverbs, they load their attributives with explanatory verbs, sometimes even with transitive verbs used
intransitively: he consoled, she congratulated.
Use figures of speech sparingly: The simile is a common device and a useful one, but similes coming in rapid fire, one right on top of another, are more distracting than illuminating. The reader needs time to catch his breath; he can’t be expected to compare everything with something else, and no relief insight.
When you use metaphor, do not mix it up. That is, don’t start by calling something a swordfish and end by calling it an hourglass.
Much to ponder and apply here as we all write on.