Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

The writing process, writing advice, and updates on your work in progress
User avatar
Colonel Travis
Posts: 62
Joined: March 17th, 2010, 12:54 am
Location: The Alamo
Contact:

Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by Colonel Travis » May 4th, 2010, 2:55 pm

Mira, I think avoiding this book is terrible advice.

1.) It's incredibly short. In general this should be a poor reason in favor of it, except I put it at the top of the list because the attention span of people today (mine included) is not what it was 20 years ago, let alone 91. Compare S&W with every grammar book you can find. Nothing comes close to having the same impact because nothing packs as much punch in as few pages. I've got several grammar books on my shelf, and over the years the one I remember the most, refer to the most and respect the most is the tiniest of them all. If you can't grasp its clarity and meaning, you are in the wrong profession.

2.) S&W don't force writers into rules. Their rules may be broken - permission is granted in the introduction and continues to the glossary. Why this is ignored I do not know. The only way to not know it's OK to break the rules is to not read the book, or pretend you didn't see dozens of sentences like this:

Style rules of this sort are, of course, somewhat a matter of individ­ual preference, and even the established rules of grammar are open to challenge.
It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric.
This rule is difficult to apply.
This rule does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and some­times necessary.

What's emphasized even more, though, is that every writer should learn the rules of grammar before breaking them.

This is the essence of the book:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
When did clear, concise writing go out of style? What rules are outdated? I don't mean - what rules don't you like?

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by polymath » May 4th, 2010, 3:29 pm

Strunk & White amused me the first time I read it as assigned reading for a business and technical writing course. It's got an ironic voice that tickled my fancy. Imperative at the same time intended as advisory, yet internally consistent for all its ambiguity.

You must do this, unless that better serves your rhetorical purpose, except when the meaning and intent are obfuscated by that, then you mustn't do that.

A rhetorical farce that--please pardon my schadenfreude--imagining or experiencing the consternation Strunk & White caused my classmates made the course more entertaining.
Spread the love of written word.

jackthelad
Posts: 1
Joined: May 16th, 2010, 6:28 am
Contact:

Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by jackthelad » May 16th, 2010, 7:18 am

Upon reading this book- finding it in a bookshop- i remember feeling as if i had won a lottery, or i had discovered a manual not only about writing better, but also on approching it with integrity.

Nothing is definite. It puzzles me, the hatred people have for this book when,in my eyes, it has some of the finest examples of prose writing i have ever seen. I refer to White's chapter almost entirely, but the following excerpt is not only a sound piece of advice; It is beautiful prose: ''Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.''

Even if you detest this book, can't you admire the prose in it? My favourite quote is this, from White's chapter: ''Never imitate consciously, but do not worry about being an imitator; take pains instead to admire what is good. Then when you write in a way that comes naturally, you will echo the halloos that bear repeating.''

Perhaps it has more power as a whole, but that summation is, to me, exactly what everyone who writes needs to understand. There are academics who are too arrogant to imbibe this philosophy. It should be mandidory. But, as with everyone, individuality is too strong and many will say who are you to put limitations on me? It's not that anything is definite, but it is the best place to start.

I have learned my trade with this. It is true to say that almost all who have criticised the book have read it with a degree of scorn (either the first time or the second) and we should all know that anything read with scorn can't be roundly objective. This is not only the problem with this book but i believe it is the problem with humanity.

I wrote stupidly before i read this, and i still make errors. I violated not only the book's rules but my own integrity. It was shameful, and Strunk and White knew it. I needed a guide. I have only taken in some rules (to be fair they are really suggestions), but I believe what I have taken in is the truth, which i can discard at any time, and they told us that all along.

Nomad0404
Posts: 29
Joined: May 14th, 2010, 9:31 am
Contact:

Re: Strunk & White... what do you think of them?

Post by Nomad0404 » May 17th, 2010, 9:20 am

I write from instinct not from instruction which means I'd never even thought of reading a gramar manual before reading this much less heard of Strunk & White.

My writing must be hell for my editors!!

Now, however, I am intrigued and I'm either going to check this out of the library or buy a copy from Amazon.

Phil

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 1 guest