Did you watch the new PBS documentary on Ernest Hemingway which premiered on Monday? If so, you heard Hemingway say “the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing” came from the Kansas City Star stylebook. He reported for the Star 1917 to 1918.
Here are some of those rules:
- Use short sentences.
- Use short first paragraphs.
- Use vigorous English. [Use active verbs.]
- Be positive, not negative.
- Never use old slang. Slang, to be enjoyable, must be fresh.
- Watch your sequence of tenses. [Be consistent.]
- Don’t split verbs. [Put adverbs before a verb phrase.]
- Be careful of the word “also.” “Also” modifies the word it follows, not the word it precedes.
- Be careful of the word “only.” “He only had $10” means that he alone had $10. “He had only $10” means $10 was all the cash he had.
- Don’t split infinitives.
- Avoid using adjectives, especially extravagant ones.
- Use “none is,” not “none are.”
- Animals should be referred to with the neuter gender unless the animal is a pet with a name.
- Break into a long direct quote early in the quote to identify the speaker.
- Avoid expressions from a foreign language.
- Collective nouns take singular verbs.
Posted in adverbs, direct quotes, English Writing Instruction, good writing v. bad writing, grammar, Hemingway's writing rules, number of words per paragraph, number of words per sentence, passive verbs, writing rules, writing tips
President Trump “might finish his presidential term without ever speaking a complete sentence—subject, object, predicate,” critiqued conservative columnist George Will in The Washington Post two days after last week’s presidential debate on September 29.
While Will’s words are an exaggeration, they contain a truth: President Trump often speaks and writes in disjointed phrases rather than in complete thoughts. Perhaps this is because his preferred method of writing is tweets—tiny bursts of information which dispense with the rigors of grammar.
I wonder what past presidents would think of Trump’s fragments? Cerebral Jefferson—who composed his classic sentences using elegant Eighteenth Century logic? Plain-spoken Lincoln—who crafted beauty and compassion from one- and two-syllable Anglo-Saxon words? Poetic Kennedy—who relied on myriad figures of speech to inspire his generation and ours?
What words of Trump will be remembered by posterity? You’re fired?
Read the following and decide: good writing or bad writing?
The magnetic shapes come in vibrant colors like red, orange, yellow, Kelly green and magenta. They can be connected to form two- or three-dimensional forms.
Kids can construct cubes, tetrahedrons, hexagonal prisms, hour glasses and hearts.
This toy is made with 360-degree rotating magnets inside, so each side connects with a perfect fit to the side of another piece.
With these geometric shapes of squares, triangles and hexagons, kids can develop mathematical and geometric understanding while playing. Even three-year-olds can do it!
Here’s my take. See if you agree.
- The passage talks around a topic (a magnetic toy), but the passage doesn’t state a main, controlling idea. Is the toy new? Is it unlike any other toy? Does it develop math skills in toddlers better than other toys? What is the point of the passage?
- The passage contains details, but they are presented in random order. Is the color more important than the forms the shapes can be made into? Is the magnets’ fit more vital than the toy’s educational value?
- Without an overall controlling idea, a conclusion can’t emphasize it. The ending is fun, but does it state the point of the passage? What is the point of the passage?
So my take is that this is bad writing.