When I started being a reporter, one of my editors took me aside and gave me some candy and two books. One was the AP Style Guide, which is the manual for all the punctuation rules our newspaper followed.
The other was a book by E.B. White and William Strunk Jr., called The Elements of Style. My editor had met E.B. White who had a farm on the same peninsula that he did.
“This,” he told me, “is all you need to know.”
In that small book was a section called “The Elementary Principles of Composition,” and I’m not sure if it was all I needed to know as a writer, but I am positive that it was a pretty big deal.
So we thought we’d share three of those principles during this podcast. The first one is:
“Make the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic.”
Writers blow this off all the time, but we shouldn’t. We especially blow it off with dialogue and that’s a big no-no.
Why is it a no-no?
Our brains are wired to think of paragraphs as a single idea or an action or a bit of dialogue. You don’t want to clump it all together because it gets confusing.
Sally smiled. “I love her,” Jane said. They each took a bite of calzone and gazed upon the manatee. Sally said, “Dogs are fun.”
You’ve got no idea what’s going on here really.
“I love her,” Jane said.
They each took a bite of calzone and gazed upon the manatee.
Sally said, “Dogs are fun.”
Now you do. Each new speaker always gets a new paragraph for dialogue.
Here’s another principle.
“As a rule, begin each paragraph with a topic sentence; end it in conformity with the beginning.”
They go a bit on and on about this actually.
And our third one for today is once again back to the passive voice.
“Use the active voice. The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive:”
They then give these examples.
“I shall always remember my first visit to Boston.”
This is much better than
“My first visit to Boston will always be remembered by me.
The latter sentence is less direct, less bold, and less concise. If the writer tries to make it more concise by omitting “by me,”
“My first visit to Boston will always be remembered,”
it becomes indefinite: is it the writer, or some person undisclosed, or the world at large, that will always remember this visit?”S and W
We talk about passive and active voice a lot in another podcast episode. And we’ll be sharing more of these tips in our three week series, Strunk and Whiting It. No, that’s not really the name. We have no name for it.
WRITING TIP OF THE POD
Allow yourself to take advice from the masters.
DOG TIP FOR LIFE.
Don’t be a schmuck.
RESOURCES AND ARTICLES MENTIONED
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License.
Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.
AND we have a writing tips podcast called WRITE BETTER NOW!
We have a podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook.
Carrie is reading one of her poems every week on CARRIE DOES POEMS. And there you go! Whew! That’s a lot!