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writing STYLE what is it?
what is style? • it is a matter of the choices you make as a writer • it is an extension of your use of grammar • it can help you reach and connect with your readers in immediate and engaging ways • it can either obscure ideas or reveal them • it can be creative, poetic, and enjoyable
grammar/style: the relationship GRAMMAR STYLE When we speak of GRAMMAR we are usually talking about issues of correctness. When we say STYLE we are talking about your creative choices as a writer. Grammar and Style are part of the same continuum. Essentially they refer to the same thing: the choices a writer makes and the effects those choices have on the reader.
all writing is creative • we can learn from “creative” writers • effective writing is interesting and enjoyable to the reader • no subject is really interesting; it’s the writer’s job to make it so • good advice: SHOW don’t TELL
from In Our Time They shot the six cabinet ministers at half-past six in the morning against the wall of a hospital. There were pools of water in the courtyard. There were wet dead leaves on the paving of the courtyard. It rained hard. All the shutters of the hospital were nailed shut. One of the ministers was sick with typhoid. Two soldiers carried him downstairs and out into the rain. They tried to hold him up against the wall but he sat down in a puddle of water. The other five stood quietly against the wall. Finally the officer told the soldiers it was no good trying to make him stand up. When they fired the first volley he was sitting down in the water with his head on his knees. – Ernest Hemingway SHOWING
another version Six cabinet ministers were terribly executed. One was sick so they took him out to the wall and tried to make him stand up. They did not care that he was already almost dead with disease. They brutally killed him without any feelings of guilt or remorse. It was a sad event. – Me :-) TELLING
“ • Writing is very seldom a matter of saying things; it is a matter of showing things. • – Flannery O’Conner
“ • The surest way to arouse and hold the attention of the reader is by being specific, definite, and concrete… • – William Strunk, Jr.
from Light in August There was a track and a station, and once a day a mixed train fled shrieking through it. The train could be stopped by a red flag, but by ordinary it appeared out of the devastated hills with apparitionlike suddenness and wailing like a banshee, athwart and past the little less-than village like a forgotten bead from a broken string. – William Faulkner SHOWING
another version TELLING There was a train station. Once a day a train came through. It could be stopped by using a red flag, but usually it just went through. – Me :-)
from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men Lamplight here, and lone, late: the odor is of pine that has stood shut on itself through the heat of a hot day: the odor of an attic at white noon: and all of the walls save that surface within immediate touch of the lamp, where like water slept in lantern light the grain is so sharply discerned in its retirement beyond the sleep of the standing shape of pines, and the pastings and pinnings of sad ornaments, are a most dim scarce-color of grayed silver breathed in yellow red which is the hue and haze in the room; and above me, black; where beyond bones of rafters underlighted, a stomach sucked against the spine in fear, the roof draws up its peak… – James Agee SHOWING
from American Exodus TELLING Although we have nearly forgotten it, the spread across the South of a vigorous rural structure which we now call a problem was itself the product of a machine invented barely five generations ago. –Paul S. Taylor
from “The Sea and the Wind that Blows” Walking or sleeping, I dream of boats—usually of rather small boats under a slight press of sale. When I think how great a part of my life has been spent dreaming the hours away and how much of this total dream life has concerned small craft, I wonder about the state of my health, for I am told that it is not a good sign to be always voyaging into unreality, driven by imaginary breezes. – E. B. White SHOWING
fromThe Things They Carried First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack. In the late afternoon, after a day's march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending. He would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He would sometimes taste the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there. More than anything, he wanted Martha to love him as he loved her, but the letters were mostly chatty, elusive on the matter of love. She was a virgin, he was almost sure. She was an English major at Mount Sebastian, and she wrote beautifully about her professors and roommates and midterm exams, about her respect for Chaucer and her great affection for Virginia Woolf. She often quoted lines of poetry; she never mentioned the war, except to say, Jimmy, take care of yourself. The letters weighed ten ounces. They were signed "Love, Martha," but Lieutenant Cross understood that Love was only a way of signing and did not mean what he sometimes pretended it meant. At dusk, he would carefully return the letters to his rucksack. Slowly, a bit distracted, he would get up and move among his men, checking the perimeter, then at full dark he would return to his hole and watch the night and wonder if Martha was a virgin. – Tim O’Brian SHOWING
tips for showing more than you tell • use specific, significant detailsdon’t say fruit; say pomegranate • use sensory images: add in all five senses • use good comparisons for your metaphors—not clichés • vary your sentence structure and match the rhythm of your writing to what you are writing about • put the actions in the verbs and make the actions specific; avoid “be” verbs and passive voicedon’t say “He took a walk;” say, “He sauntered down the street.” • take advantage of dialogue to reveal significant details • don’t pad it too much and don’t be afraid to tell sometimes
share findings with class… group work • form groups of three • each person take a turn sharing the piece of writing you brought in, explaining in specific terms why you think it represents good style • as a group, write three to five qualities that you think make for an interesting and/or effective style