Book Review: The Elements of Style

Amazon Cover


You know the authors’ names. You recognize the title. You’ve probably used this book yourself. This is The Elements of Style, the classic style manual, now in a fourth edition. A new Foreword by Roger Angell reminds readers that the advice of Strunk & White is as valuable today as when it was first offered. This book’s unique tone, wit and charm have conveyed the principles of English style to millions of readers. Use the fourth edition of “the little book” to make a big impact with writing.


(Review of Second Edition from 1972 – review done January 2020)
I recently ran across a recommendation to read “The Elements of Style” and discovered the book on my shelf; I must have inherited it from my parents.

This classic book, though the initial material is over 100 years old at this point, is still relevant today (with a bit of care as the language continues to evolve). The central point of The Elements of Style, writing brief, specific, powerful, and active, is as relevant today in genre fiction as when this short book was a self-published pamphlet Professor Strunk shared with his classes.

If you don’t want to slog through the Chicago Manual of Style, pick up this short book (74-pages in the version I got). It’s still a gold standard.

Other Cool Blogs: Magical Words 8/21/2015

Glad to see I’m not the only one to go on editing rants.

The best part, to me, of John G. Hartness’ post of “Rude Truths about publishing and writing – Part 347” from Magical Words 8/21/2015 is his first point.

Kill Adverbs. Stabby, stab, stab.

Not only does he tell you why to kill them, but how to kill them.

If you got an adverb + verb combo, just make the verb more powerful. Search on “ly (space)” and start knifing the adverbs.

He has three more points – A trident maybe? Anyway, read all of them here:

Writing Exercise: All the Trimmings

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

All the Trimmings at Thanksgiving usually means so much good stuff: stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, homemade mashed potatoes, heavenly hash, yeast buns, and pumpkin pie.

Trimming when writing is cutting things down. Sometimes it is done to control word count, other times to get rid of dead words which add nothing to the book, and still others to slay the dreaded adverb and copula monsters.

Sewing has a saying: As you sew, so shall you rip.

Writing should have a saying of: As you write, so shall you trim.

Modern writing is lean. Trimming words down is a required skill.

WRITING EXERCISE: Pick something you wrote but haven’t cleaned up yet. At least 250 words. Cut the words down by 10%. (e.g. For 250 words, you want to end up at 225. For 500 words, only 450 in your final product.)

REVIEW EXERCISE: What words did you remove? Dead words like “that”? Changing out the weak copula for a stronger verb buried in the sentence? Fixing adverb+verb combinations for a specialized word (she ran very fast – she sped; he walked slowly – he sauntered)? Dropped extra dialog tags like “said” and “asked”? Something else? Comment below.