Today covers rules 13, 14 and 15, and can I just say how nice it was of S&W to group these rules together thus allowing me to alliterate them into a catchy title. Thanks.
Anyway, on with the post.
Rule 13. Make the paragraph the unit of composition.
This rule basically tells us that writers should use the paragraph as a means of communicating intent to the reader. A paragraph can be used introduce a new topic as well as defining separate dialogue and punctuating prose. S&W make a good point on paragraph length saying in general, remember that paragraphing calls for a good eye as well as a logical mind. Enormous blocks of print look formidable to readers, who are often reluctant to tackle them. (True) But remember, too, that firing off many short paragraphs in quick succession can be distracting.
For me personally, I think the paragraph is a solid tool for creating style and finding one’s voice, and although I agree with S&W, I also think there is plenty of room for manoeuvre. Like they also say, moderation and a sense of order should be the main considerations in paragraphing.
Rule 14: Always use the active voice.
Oh God. Here we go. No matter how many times I am explained this rule, I still cannot grasp it. Maybe S&W and can make sense of it for me…
Nope. That didn’t help either. I still don’t grasp this rule. I don’t think I’ll ever get a grip on the passive voice. Besides, that’s what editors are for. Isn’t it?
I shall simply re-iterate what all writers are told: don’t use the passive voice if you can avoid it as it can make you writing harder to comprehend and less forcible. I shall simply have to hope my writing doesn’t contain too many passive sentenaces, because no matter how much I read on the subject, it just gets more confusing.
So, moving swiftly on…
Rule 15: Put statements in positive form.
Ah, now here’s an interesting rule. In brief, consciously or unconsciously, the reader is dissatisfied with being told only what is not; the reader wishes to be told what is. This is referring to the word ‘not’. If possible, try to find ways around using it too often, because there’s usually an alternative. Never use the word ‘not’ as an evasion. I’m not so sure how much this applies to fiction, but S&W argue, if your every sentence admits a doubt, your writing will lack authority. They also argue against the overuse of words such as may, could, never, etc.
Here are a couple of examples where I applied this to my manuscript:
The detection suites mounted aboard modern warships were second only to those employed on deep-space exploration vessels, but the technology was not without its weaknesses.
The detection suites mounted aboard modern warships were second only to those employed on deep-space exploration vessels, but the technology was limited.
Riggs was not convinced.
Riggs was unconvinced.
The above examples (I think) are both improved by the application of rule 15. And going further, this has been such a revelation that I shall write a separate post on this topic and provide more examples of the improvements this rule can deliver.
So, just as I was starting to get bogged down in past participles, passive voice, subject/object clauses, conjunctions and other such confusing writing thingamajigs and oojamaflops I can’t quite grasp, Strunk and White hit a home-run and present me with yet another tool with which to tighten up my manuscript. Thanks, guys.
Tune in next time for rules 16, 17, 18, and we’ll se what other priceless jewels of prose perfection these boys can come up with.
Thanks for reading.