Monday, June 27, 2011

Last Monday Book: Spunk and Bite

Post by Jenny

I have, on my shelf of writers’ books, a slim, mustard-colored paperback. The names Strunk and White stand out in bold, red letters. It is my copy of the venerable guide entitled The Elements of Style. In it, I can find rules of usage (“do not break sentences in two”), principles of composition (“use the active voice”), commonly misused words (“disinterested”), and an approach to style (“do not overstate”). Most of the “elements” are practical and pithy--“Do not overwrite. Do not overstate. Be clear.”

But language can be so vibrant and compelling that in many cases, judicious bending of the rules makes prose more fun to write and to read. Enter this month’s book, Spunk and Bite – A writer’s guide to punchier, more engaging language & style, by Arthur Plotnik.

I liked this book. It was entertaining. It increased my writer’s vocabulary (prosopopoeia, catacosmesis, enallage, parataxis). And it gave me permission to loosen up a little. Take the case of adverbs. Writers are cautioned against using them, to the point where I feel guilty even typing the letters ‘l’ and ‘y’ in direct succession. But Mr. Plotnik points out that the occasional adverb can perk up writing, provided that it is unexpected and original—or perhaps unexpectedly original.

And fragments. Can have their place. When used sparingly.

After reading in Stephen King’s On Writing that any word culled from a thesaurus is the “wrong” word, I’ve been afraid to dip back into my Roget’s. But Mr. Plotnik suggests that a quick romp through a thesaurus inspires fresh word choices that can push writers “in new and unintended directions.”

Through chapters such as Extreme Expression, The Punchy Trope, Words with Foreign Umami, and The Feng Shui of Writing, Mr. Plotnik uses humor and plenty of examples to make a good case for bending Strunk and White’s dusty rules. Not to the breaking point, but just far enough, and just often enough, to kick things up a notch.

As for those vocabulary words:
Prosopopoeia: giving life to inanimate objects
Catacosmesis: delivering statements in descending order of importance
Enallage: using one part of speech for another
Parataxis: joining sentences, phrases, or clauses without conjunctive words

Have you learned any tricks to give your writing more bite?

8 comments:

Derek Blass said...

Liked the link, will try to check out the book. Linked to your blog at my own http://derekblass.wordpress.com

Laila Knight said...

This promises to be an excellent aid for any writer who wants to perk up their grammar.

Luanne said...

Interesting reading! Thanks.

Dean K Miller said...

Other than including vampires and the like, I'm still working on getting more bite from my prose.

Jenny said...

Thanks for your comments! If you choose to read the book, I hope you enjoy it.

Kerrie said...

Another fabulous post Jenny. As to adding more bite to my writing... it is hard to follow the tips you already shared. This sounds like a great book!

Arthur Plotnik said...

Mil grazie for your inspiriting take on my book, Jenny. Whenever someone so clearly appreciates my intent, I'm jubilated for weeks. Best wishes to all those wrestling with the bug.

Art Plotnik

Jenny said...

Thanks, Kerrie!

And thanks, Art, for visiting and for your nice comment. I don't think I've ever contributed to a weeks-long state of jubilation. Now I'm jubilated, too.

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