Style is purely subjective -- unless you are a writer.
This is for all those of our fellows who value the widest range of choice of implements. Beneath the clever bits, I mean to offer my tools frankly and simply, for all to choose among them.)
So you have read, re-read and read some more. Happy, are you? Go on, turn the page.
I write to those of you who remain here on the same page with me. You who must, as I must, write.
Writing is easy enough, sure. Start with an idea. The first few characters come almost of their own will. The plot develops as each interacts with some or all of the others. Conflicts emerge. Tension rises. It all comes to a head, with a bang. Then it's time to just bed the whole thing down with a few choice words, conventional and sure as the dawn.
A writer is born. Gold star. That pesky proof-and-edit haunts the back of the mind, but, manana. The next idea has already popped at the head of the queue. Idea-characters-plot-narrative-repeat.
If that is your process, I can save you a burst, a long hot grind, of annoyance. In the best of faith, I admit frankly that I have nothing to offer to the story processor. I cannot even keep pace with a concept Cuisinart. Finally, I do not hesitate to encourage you to go to Hollywood, where your leonine storytelling heart may win you a place in the very pride of MGM.
That should have freed some elbow room the virtual habitat. I am of an elephantine storytelling mind. Lions don't hang around in a herd. End of bridge metaphor.
Begin overall metaphor. Where were we? Look with your mind's eye to the rear view. Ignore, for the time being, that blue button set into the bottom of the frame. Style will only clutter copy that is not as clean as new glass.
Read your copy for proof. Clean up your typos. Get square with spellcheck. Smooth your grammar. Count quotation marks and don't rest on an odd number. Rid up after your flaky CAPS key. Interrogate your punctuation, rigorously. Take a good last scan. Freshen your coffee.
Last of all, reach down and ease back your seat. Now, press the blue ONStyle button.
NOTICE: This is a first beta version of ONStyle. The developer will deliver updates as they become available.
ON the Willing Suspension of Disbelief:
Your reader's will to believe is fundamental. As a matter of style, it is the upper limit on any device you bend to your narrative. Story first.
In the examples I offer, the reader's will is always a ruling criterion.
Variety -- Read back over the previous nine paragraphs. No two begin with the same word. Only two begin with the same letter. This technique lends drive to your text;
Specific meaning -- "decimate" versus "devastate";
Synonym; Get yourself a big bag of synonyms. These invaluable "free" puzzle pieces of the language allow you to set sentence length and narrative tone with precision and at will. Often, you can choose among connotations, shades of meaning, as a painter the greys of clouds.
Frequency -- Do not use a specific word twice in a paragraph without weighing alternatives;
obscurities in context (ref. Brin);
A Lost Distinction -- degree versus kind;
word placement and flow
ON the Zipf Line:
ON the Lift:
The lift is a minimal inline quote that delivers a specific implication. Write "Use the Force!" and you tap into a reservoir of familiar, even hackneyed, implications and connotations. This use is inept.
Write that your antagonist has "nursed the pinion which impelled the steel" and you conjure the shade of Lord Byron, eloquent of desserts ironic whether or not just. This use is penetrating.
Write "The strength of the drink is the liquor and the strength of the liquor is the mixer" and you gift a pack of fraternity boys with a syntax of Kipling. This use is no better than sarcasm.
Use footnotes only in non-fiction. Don't worry, after you've done your best, that the reader of your fiction will "get it". If he does, all to the good. If not, let him slide.
ON Advance the Plot:
ON Getting "Cute": Don't. Certainly, don't get caught. Wordplay is show-off writing. Showing off violates the willing suspension of disbelief.
That said, consider creating your own magic words. I used "sorcel" in a sentence -- alii
Easy onomatapoesy -- "Don't praggle me ...
Alliteration: Mister Rogers always had to leave when the river crested over the dike -- Fred frequently fled flooded flats.
To write is to play "a Fender guitar with a heart of gold and a voice like a horny angel!"1
Finally, the lightning of climax sears the oeuvre and devastates the personae. The aftermath washes over the survivors.
A writer is made by his own hand.
1. J. Steinman, Love and Death and an American Guitar, Album "Bat Out of Hell", CBS, 1977