A journey through The Elements of Style: Part one…

So I’ve just finished reading Stephen King’s On Writing, and yes I know, I’m a bit late to the game on that one, but hey, I got there in the end.

First of all, I must say that it’s a brilliant book and well worth reading if, like me, you are in the infancy of your novel-writing adventure. I was given On Writing by my wonderful wife as a birthday present, along with Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. King mentions this book in his introduction, obviously holding it in high esteem, and then goes on to quote it many times throughout his own book. In truth he calls it the only book on writing that isn’t bullshit – his words, not mine.

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 14.23.57And so I have decided to apply The Elements of Style to my manuscriptblogging about as I go. I shall take each of the 43-or-so rules, covering a number in each new post, depending on how much work needs to be done for each rule.

My goal is to further my knowledge, to improve my work, and to share the process with anyone that’s listening in the hope that they may get something from it too.

I’ll just make it clear now that I have not read this book yet and only looked at the contents page to see if this idea is even doable. I have no idea what’s coming, but I will endeavour to be honest in my applications of everything The Elements of Style say to me.

Ok. Here we go…

ELEMENTARY RULES OF USAGE

1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s

Well, that first one’s a disappointment as I’ve already followed this rule (in fact, I think it was my editor who applied this rule with any true authority). In my novel, the baddie is called Riggs. In the possessive it is be tempting to say Riggs’ (and I actually think it flows better), but the correct version is indeed Riggs’s. 

Example: A number of questions from their own barrister threw into doubt Riggs’s version of events…

2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.

Hmm. Now this is funny one. I’ve noticed that many American writers, including Mr King, always apply this rule. For me personally, the rules governing this comma (also referred to as the Oxford Comma) are not set in stone. In my novel I both use it and omit it, and I believe when to do so is all about style, necessity and rhythm. I’ll give a coupe of examples to highlight what I mean:

Example: Those great fighting machines of His Majesty’s fleets were boisterous, cramped, smelly, and often dangerous places to build a career.

I left the comma in here because I wanted to add the word ‘often‘ and without it, the sentence may have read ‘…smelly and often…‘ That don’t make sense.

Example: …how much a twenty-five-thousand tonne warship made of superlite copper alloy, sitting atop a pair of keel-mounted IPDs and boasting a military detection array, could actually look like an eighteenth-century man-o-war was completely subjective.

I omitted the comma here because a I felt a comma after ‘IPDs‘ would interrupt the rhythm. It’s that simple. It’s rhythm versus grammar-correctness (is that even a term?) and in a novel I feel that rhythm and style have to win every time.

Of course if you are talking purely style – which I believe we are – then you can always put the argument to bed and omit the ‘and’. Like this:

…albeit a rough, foul-mouthed, smelly, raucous, unshaven ballet troupe.

So that’s it; two rules down and I haven’t changed a single thing in my book yet. But there’s still plenty to come.

The next post will cover rules 3-5 talking about parenthetic expressions between commas, commas before injunctions, and joining independent classes with commas (notice my correct use of the OC there?)

Thanks for reading.

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6 comments on “A journey through The Elements of Style: Part one…

  1. Both of these “rules” are optional. I find is ever-so-slightly off-putting that publishers lord it over creative people.

    • gpeynon says:

      I’m glad to see you agree with me about these being optional; although more the second than the first. It’s not the publishers, however, that I have in mind when working on this. I want my novel to be the best experience it can be for whoever may read it, and if that means things like grammar are as tight and easy to read as possible, then so be it.

  2. […] my previous post I talked a little about the Oxford Comma. And in searching for an image for said post, I found […]

  3. […] so here is the next instalment of my series that looks to apply every single rule from Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style to my manuscript. Rules 3 to […]

  4. […] so here is the next instalment of my series that looks to apply every single rule from Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style to my manuscript. Today, rules 6, 7 & […]

  5. […] four of my series that looks to apply every single rule from Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style to my manuscript. Today, rules 9, 10 & […]

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