The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

Every writer should own a copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Yes, that E.B. White. I bought my copy when a professor required it for a class. I’d forgotten how essential it is until author Edwina Perkins recommended it in a workshop I took at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. The reason why I forgot is that this book teaches the very basics in good writing, going over rules I now know instinctively but forgot how I knew them. Those rules are so important to any kind of writing that I’m perusing the book. I can’t read it cover to cover or my brain will pop. But I’m finding it so helpful to review chapters as I tackle the edit of my WIP novel.

I own the third edition There’s a fourth available, but aside from a forward, I couldn’t find any differences. I studied the table of contents are identical in both volumes. But be sure to get the latest edition. Writing style does change over time and it might contain a few, small differences.

Including the index, my copy isn’t even a hundred pages long. But it has so much to offer. I’m eager to reread chapter four, “Words and Expressions Commonly Misused”, such as the substitution of “utilize” for “use” and the explanation that there are no degrees of unique. Unique means “without like or equal.” So if I’m describing a book, it can only be “unique”. The book can’t be “very unique” or “more unique”. I love seeing a pet peeve of mine upheld. Chapter five, “An Approach to Style”, lists twenty-one tips to make our writing understandable.

What books do you recommend for editing?

What are Your “Weasel” Words?

To kick off 2021, I chose editing for this month’s theme. I realized that I don’t have much posted about editing and thought I should fill that gap. It’s hard to have writing prompts about editing, so I will have to branch out for my Monday Sparks this month. But I did want to ask you what are your “weasel” words?

I’m borrowing “weasel” words from the authors of Go Teen Writers: Edit Your Novel. These are also called “weed” words, words that pop up far too often in a manuscript, usually in the first draft. I sometimes deliberately leave in a “weasel” word when I’m writing my first draft because I don’t want to break the flow. When I go back to edit, I watch out for those words and try to replace them with something better. I can get away with more “weasel” words in dialogue, but if I over use certain words, although it’s in character, readers will get bored or irritated.

Here are a few of my “weasel” words:

Just and only. I like to be precise when I speak, but in writing, these two words usually don’t add much meaning.

Eyes, smile, and grin. Because many readers expect a more cinematic experience in books, describing a characters’ body language and facial expressions is a way to cue them into the characters’ feelings. But I tend to overuse what the eyes and mouths look like. I’m trying to broaden descriptions to include how characters carry themselves and their mannerisms.

So what are your “weasel” words?

Final Advice on Writing Endings

It’s appropriate for my final post of the year on the final day of the year to be about final advice on writing endings. This advice comes from three YA authors, Jill Williamson, Stephanie Morrill, and Shannon Dittemore, in their recently released book Go Teen Writers: Write Your Novel. I finally received my copy once Amazon figured out that I didn’t live in Maryland. The advice these ladies offer on how to craft endings is worth the price of the book alone.

There’s no single way to craft an ending, and each author offers different approaches. Ms. Williamson discusses “the five-step finale”. Ms. Morrill uses the ending of Frozen to illustrate certain concepts and give tips on when to use an epilogue. I particularly like the section by Ms. Williamson entitled “Make Your Main Character Integral to Saving the Day.”

One of my biggest gripes about YA books is when I feel cheated because the main character is sidelined at the climax. I’ve followed the teen through the roller coaster of the plot, rooting for them through all their battles, only to have some adult character save them during the finale.

The questions the authors pose in this section are ones I’ve wrestled with as I’ve shaped the ending of my YA mystery, such as how to make the climax exciting and surprising but not shocking and the denouement satisfying. One way is look back at what you have built throughout my story. Ms. Williamson calls this bringing the story full circle. I’ve been calling it echoing. I need to echo themes I’ve woven into my story at the end.

And this is what I’ve gotten out of one chapter. If you need writing advice, check out Go Teen Writer: Write Your Novel. For more tips on writing endings, visit my blog post, “The Three Key Elements of an Ending”.

Any final thoughts on how to write endings or stories with great ones?

What’s the Ending?

What’s the ending for this final prompt of the year? The photo is suitable for any holiday or celebration, but I’ll set it during New Year’s Eve. For more prompts for endings, click here.

Here’s my inspiration:

“Let’s burn up the old year.” I hand him sparkler.

He takes it, and I light one for me and one for him.

“But some good things did happen.” A smile pushes aside his weariness.

“Yeah, some good things.”

We lift the sparklers high, and the burning sparks mimic the stars glittering over us in the height of the sky.

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