Elements of Literary Style… for Dummies

books stack_0Somebody once gave me as a gift, a book on the Elements of Style. I assumed it wasn’t as a prescriptive, in that they thought my worked lacked it, but more because it was a simple solution to the problem, “What do we get Tom for his birthday? To which the answer was probably right in front of them in a bookstore, “Oh, here’s something about writing, he does that… and it’s only $14.95!”

I approached the book with appropriate interest and anticipation of what secrets to trade craft lay between its covers.  To my dismay it turned out to be a “slog”.  It read as a lengthy, dry, dissertation that was droll and lacked any dynamism to motivate me to turn to the next page.

It angered me.  After all, isn’t the whole issue of ‘style’ a concept emanating from the good side of the literary arts? Isn’t it a positive entity, one that enhances the reader’s experience? Yet, here the author (lecturer, in the most gruesome sense) felt no compassion, compulsion or responsibility to his reader/student to try to utilize any style in his presentation, no attempt to do the hard work it would entail to romance his presentation, add challenge or wonder to the litany of the very style he was attempting to impart. Not even a jocular quote on style from GBS, if he ever said one. Nothing… flat line.

Readability, if I may forge the term, is an index of many factors, one of them being  ‘style’, that becomes the connective tissue of a story, indeed the sinewy strands of communicating neurons that allow the mind to flow with the story, a current that unconsciously holds the reader magnetized to the track the author wants to lead them down. Not so much for this book.

Indeed this was a book that one had to be assigned to read out of fear of flunking the course.  Then it hit me, Textbook! A book whose sole ingredient, to the exclusion of all else is, text! – Without subtext, context, pretext or super-text. (See my short blog; Writing Tip # 4 Text Appeal)

Yes, I know, many of you would argue, “The one place you don’t want style is in the elaboration and illumination of style as not to obfuscate or diffuse the examples.”  And you would most likely be correct, but it didn’t work for me, I had to put it down, I never read it, couldn’t read it and couldn’t force read it, so I left it on the shelf.

Which by now, as you probably realized, is self-evident by the lack of style (whatever that is?) by which I wrote this blog!

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