Quote of the Month–October 2014

Writing The Books We Like

“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

– William Strunk, Jr.

I was looking through Strunk’s classic work, The Elements of Style, this morning, and was immediately struck by how closely this rule parallels the one that I apply when editing my own work: “A word out of every sentence, and a sentence out of every paragraph.” I am, perhaps, a rare breed of author, for I actually derive pleasure from going back over my work and trimming it down as much as possible . . . but I think as a general rule writers are apt to become overly attached to what they have written. We use a clever phrase or make up a bit of snappy dialogue and then—even though it isn’t useful in the story—we can’t bear to get rid of it. But we must be stern with ourselves and cut away ruthlessly. Just as pruning a grapevine will encourage it to fruit more abundantly, deleting clutter from our prose will make its effect more poignant and our stories stronger.


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