Writing Notes: The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr

This post started out as a book review of ‘The Elements of Style’ by William Strunk Jr, a book that Stephen King strongly advocates in his autobiography In Writing.

Very quickly my review notes became revision notes and the purpose of this book being more study material than anything else became clear.

I started listing the rules from ‘The Elements of Style’, but found myself recreating the book in summarised form, so for ease of reference, I have instead found the rules on YouTube, and linked these below.

Again, for ease of reference, find the below link to an online Oxford reference site which lists grammatical jargon with helpful definitions: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/grammar-a-z

Though there is some controversy on William Strunk Jr’s “rules” to writing, due to several of these points being considered more style options than rules, I am grateful for the advice and tips outlined in this book, and would recommend these rules as pointers on the right direction of correct grammar.

The rules are listed below:

How to Write Better No.1: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style: Usage Rule No.1
Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s

How to Write Better No.2: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style: Usage Rule No.2
In a series of three or more terms with a single conjuction, use a comma after each term except the last

How to Write Better No.3: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style: Usage Rule No.3
Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas

How to Write Better No.4: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style: Usage Rule No.4
Place a comma before conjunction introducing an independent clause.

How to Write Better No.5: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style: Usage Rule No.5
Do not join independent clauses by a comma.

How to Write Better No.6: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style: Usage Rule No.6
Do not break sentences in two.

How to Write Better No.7: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style: Usage Rule No.7
Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, an amplifiication, or an illustrative quotation.

How to Write Better No.8: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style: Usage Rule No.8
Use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption and to announce a long appositive or summary

How to Write Better No.9: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style: Usage Rule No.9
The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.

How to Write Better No.10: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style: Usage Rule No.10
Use the proper case of the pronoun.

How to Write Better No.11: Strunk & White’s Elements of Style: Usage Rule No.11
A participial phrase at the begining of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.

 

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Writing Tips (Part 1)

OK, bear in mind that I’m only one novel in (with lots to learn!), but to date here are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt during the writing process:

Word count

I remember being worried about the number of words needed to qualify a story as a novel. I got really hung up on this. I can recall thinking that less than 80,000 words would be too short or invalidate the story in some way.
Check out this article in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word_count
During the editing process I was encouraged not to get hung up on the number of words per chapter or the overall count of the novel. As a result my chapter lengths differed but (in my opinion) things drastically improved. Worrying solely on the flow of the story gave me the freedom to strip out filler and focus the novel to be as ‘punchy’ as I could make it.
‘A Game For The Young’ ended on just over 77,000 words.

Read

This one I found really difficult. Every spare moment I wanted to use to write, but a massive help for me was to read other authors I inspire to be. Look at how they’ve described a location or character, set the tone, pacing, etc. It means reading with a more analytical head (and making notes) but this was really helpful. If you’re struggling for time, the next best option is to use audiobooks.

Website / Social Media / Blog

You need to start a website asap, create your social media accounts and post on a blog as soon as you can. You want to have a ‘following’ long before you’re anywhere close to publishing.
I found tweeting about the subject matter of my book the best way to find content. If not, then maybe review things – books or films similar to the one you’re writing.
By the way, when I say ‘following’ I’m not talking about building an army of die hard fans, you just need to have as many social circles in place when you’re ready to ‘plug it’ – if you follow like minded people they generally follow back. I found authors in particular are great at supporting each other.

Use a professional editor

Up to you on this one, but the first draft I wrote for ‘A Game For The Young’ doesn’t compare to the novel that was published – and that’s after I edited it for about a year and had my wife read it twice.
After a while you simply can’t see the mistakes you’ve made. Your brain compensates for missing words and spelling mistakes because you wrote it.
A professional editor will make it ‘read right’, challenge segments that don’t make sense or don’t flow, but also format the novel into a style that’s professional and accepted. Again, this is my opinion and some feel strongly about NOT using editors, but I would recommend you do.

Use a professional graphic designer for the cover

An extension to the above. I’d heavily recommend getting a graphic designer to create your book cover, as they have experience on what works as well as understand the necessary dimensions for the different formats.
Maybe you’ve already got a vision, in which case you can guide this process, but I needed help. When I look back on the early amateurish designs I put together myself I cringe!

Hope this helps.

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David P. Philip


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