Rewriting in Style

Rewriting in Style

Writers and editors might review this 1960 F.L. Lucas essay, On the Fascination of Style, brought to my attention by Stan Carey. Much is still relevant, particularly these principles:

First, honesty. In literature, as in life, one of the fundamentals is to find, and be, one’s true self. …. In writing, in the long run, pretense does not work. …. If handwriting reveals character, writing reveals it still more. You cannot fool all your judges all the time.

Secondly, courtesy – respect for the reader. From this follow several other basic principles of style. Clarity is one. For it is boorish to make your reader rack his brains to understand. One should aim at being impossible to misunderstand – though men’s capacity for misunderstanding approaches infinity.

Brevity is another basic principle. For it is boorish, also, to waste your reader’s time. …. [B]revity is often more effective; the half can say more than the whole, and to imply things may strike far deeper than to state them at length.

This week, Carnegie Mellon will have me back to talk to students in the program I graduated from, one founded after the Plain Language Movement in the early ‘70s. It was there, in a course called “Style,” that we learned to practice (and practice) clarity, brevity, and respect for readers. And that much of writing is really rewriting.