A Self Proclaimed Style Nazi's Manifesto

A Self Proclaimed Style Nazi's Manifesto

A Story by Chopstix

My review guide from Writing.com. If you want a full style Nazi review, let me know. They take awhile, so I may decline requests

A Self Proclaimed Style Nazi’s Manifesto

Contents (lengthy descriptions follow):

(000) Why I proclaim myself a Style Nazi.
(010) I offer rewrites because it’s just easier for me.
(100) Fiction is a pack of lies best written honestly. (Story telling)
(101) Each thought must ring true.
(102) When a comedian has to explain a joke, it’s not funny.
(103) Start telling your story by telling your story.
(104) Front loaded back story can be a snooze.
(105) In fiction, character is king.
(106) Don’t Bury Dialog in Paragraphs.
(107) Description Show and Tell.
(108) Resist the temptation to describe the scene.
(110) General Note on Description.
(111) First Person Snuff Scenes must be written in the present tense.
(120) Writers are not like recording devices.
(130) He Said/ She Said: Another Speech Tag Debate  NEW
(150) Commit to the fiction.
(200) Fiction is a pack of lies best written honestly (style).
(210) When style is important and when it ain’t.
(211)  Deep POV as I understand it.
(212) Third Person Normal Forms.
(213) Deep POV Third Person (he/she) narration is literary fool's gold.
(214) A note on normal forms.
(215) Be wary of writing style advice from writer/agent/publisher blogs.
(216) Sink or skim.
(217) Deep POV Counter arguments.  
(220) It’s this, this and that.  The formation of lists.
(222) Independent Clause Usage.
(230) Endeavor to remove every unnecessary word from every sentence.
(231) A strong verb needs no help, or the right verb needs no help.
(232) Overuse is an enemy.
(235) Use a pet peeve list.
(236) Overuse of “the.”
(237) Watch out for prepositional phrases.
(238) Every Now and Then.
(239) Look for a better word than “glance”.
(240) Ending adverbial phrases do not need commas.
(241) Commas are, mostly, a slap in the face.
(500) Writing is a craft.
(810) Double Space Your Paragraphs.
(900) Limits on style reviews.

End Contents List.

(000) Why I proclaim myself a Style Nazi.

The reasons for reading this section are limited.  You may have stumbled upon this item and actually enjoy reading others reviewing guidelines.  It could happen.  More likely, you just received a review from me, and I failed to insult you enough for you to follow-up on my review rule references, and you wanted to know more about the source of my style rants.  Well here is my story.

I have congenital spinal stenosis.  For prolonged periods, my athletic activities were confined to stationary cycles and elliptical trainers.  I began reading a lot. 

Reading, not writing, informs my sense of writing style.  During back pain episodes, I read two hours a day for months on end.

As a tweenager, I discovered ten dollars at Licorice Pizza, a record selling chain, led to frustration, a wasted hour and ten dollars still burning a hole in my pocket.  The same ten dollars at Montgomery Wards resulted in two or three albums and spare change.  Too much choice is a problem for me.  

My book buying is informed by this experience.  For the most part, I shop for books in Vroman’s, a local Pasadena bookstore, bargain section.  I pick up any book that tickles my fancy.  I found a few gems amongst a pile of mediocrity and crap.  In truth I like very little I read, but I read almost every book through the end.  There was, after all, something in each book of interest to me. 

I occasionally pay full retail for books including Dan Brown’s novels starting with The Divinci Code, Howard Fast’s The Jews: Story of a People from a gym members recommendation, Bruce Chatwin’s books both fiction and non fiction, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style which I often give away to people with writing needs and The Harry Potter books.

I liked the first two Harry Potter books.  These were written in the light British style similar to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy.  The next books in the series grew longer in length; chapters swelled, themes darkened and the writing read laboriously.  One inescapable fact became obvious:  The newly famous writer ditched her editor.

The lack of any actual theory of magic in the Harry Potter books bothered me.  In my mind, I developed a plausible theory.  I developed characters to explain the theory and scenes in which their story took place.  Interestingly, I also offed Dumbledore before the last battle.  I created a new character, the wizard who co-created the Avada Kedavra (which sounds to close to Abra Cadabra) with Voldemort, to atone for his previous work and help Potter defeat their common enemy.  

CNN ran an article in which J. K. Rowling declared her opposition to fan fiction.  I thought about it, and agreed with her.  Fixing the flaws with the Potter novels would be like straightening out the street addresses in London: An arguably worthwhile pursuit, but it’s not my problem, and who has the time?

Over the next year, I wrote The Magical Life of Daniel Krane (not posted on writing.com because I lifted whole lyrics from three songs and I haven’t arranged for the reprint rights).  For another year, I tried to get a published writer friend to read it and help with the editing.  Another year giving up on my friend and performing five edit passes myself.  Out went nineteen query letters.  Fourteen returned three of which were not addressed “Dear Author.”

Writing a novel can break your heart.  I started a sequel, but what’s the point?  

My stepson gave me a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing.  This book validated my approach to writing.  I felt renewed.  I decided to take him up on the writing exercise knowing he would not read it, but, perhaps, other readers will.  Stephen King’s website stopped accepting stories long before I wrote mine.  

I found writing.com and posted Mind and Body.  Some over generous soul gifted me with an Upgraded membership.  I decided to write some short stories to post there.  I carried in my head a disturbing notion of children beating other children while singing Christmas carols for seven months.  I read Keith (Dutch) Kuttner ’s One More Drink, a brave, courageous short story with awful style.  Yet, it inspired me to be courageous in my writing.  I wrote "I Remember the Carols [18+].  Although it may be the best thing I’ll ever write, it’s only a 4.5 item.  Several others are higher rated.  That is why I do not review as writer.  I’m not that good.  But I am a reader, and reading informs my reviews.

(010) I offer rewrites because it’s just easier for me.

My rewrites are not intended to be edits.  They are the easiest way for me to express my suggestions and corrections. 

To make ~WhoMe???~  happy, I can join the above triplet of sentences at the end of (000) into one sentence avoiding starting a sentence with “and,” or “but” (One of her pet peeves).

         I’m not that good.  Bbut Please don’t start a sentence with “And,” “But” or “Or.” I am a reader, 
         and reading informs my reviews.

That took 46 characters of formatting tags and 10 words of comments.  I hear Premium Accounts and above get an editor which allows standard point and click highlighting and translates the WYSISYG formatting to WDC tags.  Such an editor does not justify the expense of a Premium Account.  I could modify an open source word processor like OpenDoc with a “Save as WDC,” but I have some writing on which I’d rather work.

I trust the reviewees to interpret the rewrite and decide what in it they’d like to incorporate into their work.  I will explain a rewrite on request.

Enough about me.  On to the real stuff!

(100) Fiction is a pack of lies best written honestly. (Story telling)

By the time a reader decides to read your story, they are in a mind to believe what you write, i.e. they are willing to suspend their disbelief.  Don’t loose it!  

Experience:  My friend from college usually performs the first read of my stories.  After reading "I Remember the Carols [18+] she wanted to know if it was true.  Despite outrageous depictions, claims and statements she never disbelieved the story.  She expressed surprise and anger when I informed her that it was all lies.  Nothing in the story ever happened nor was it based on any accounts of religious intolerance or religious hatred I ever encountered.  I asked her to read it again with skepticism.  The first paragraph describing compulsory choral Christmas carol singing stood out.

“That can never happen!” She exclaimed.

“Not in our lifetime,” I added.

Lesson:  Several factors contribute to maintaining the readers trust.  Consistency, association with the characters, pacing and style contribute to this effect.  

(101) Each thought must ring true.

I know when I read a textual segment does not ring true.  Once that happens, it is difficult to regain my trust.  The story is ruined.

This is more than simple fact checking.  Good fiction transcends facts creating a world of its own.  Fictional worlds, however, never possess the completeness of the real world.  The reader willingly wears blinders authors creates, but the blinders need to be well constructed.  Characters can not act arbitrarily or as a servant to the plot.  They must act, well, in character.

Do not introduce error into the narration.  A character can, often does, get things wrong.  Third person omniscient narrators never should e.g. A character can say that the day is February 29, 2009 a narrator can not.

(102)  When a comedian has to explain a joke, it’s not funny.

It’s much the same in writing.  When you receive a bad review, at least one of two things are true.  The reader is not part of your audience or your story does not work.

Should a reviewer at WDC remark that something in your fiction does not ring true, avoid the temptation to explain.  Worry about whether or not your story works and get another review.

Preemptive explaining makes poor narrative style.  Should you feel compelled to explain something, let your characters bring it out in dialogue.

(103) Start telling your story by telling your story.

Do not tease the reader or make promises.  The last things I want to read is “This is a story about …”  “There are three thing Mr. Smith can not abide ….”  “There was something amiss about the Gamble House …”

I’ve been in too many four hour corporate training sessions beginning with wasted half hours describing the next three and a half hours content.  If they just jumped in, I could use the extra half hour to return to my desk and catch up on emails although I’d  just assume go home a half hour earlier.

(104) Front loaded back story can be a snooze.

And it is most of the time.  Back story belongs in reflective gaps where it supports action and dialog.

(105) In fiction, character is king.

Introduce your characters as early as you can. 

Starting a story can be hard.  When in doubt, start with the characters name and have them do, say or think something.

          Joe Gamble kicked the foundation frame and watched it collapse.

If that doesn’t suit you, have a character say or think something.

          “That won’t do,” Joe Gamble said.  No-one heard him save his dog, Alfie, who cocked his head in sympathy.


         I wish I paid that contractor, Joe Gamble thought.

(106) Don’t Bury Dialog in Paragraphs.

Dialog is perhaps the key to character development.  Description can follow, but  burying dialog at the end of the paragraph dampens it’s impact.  When in doubt, separate dialog from description.  Lines of dialog should claim their own paragraphs.  

(107) Description Show and Tell.

Description tends to “Tell” your readers what’s going on.  Readers would rather the author “Show” them what’s happening.  Coincidently, this is done by having the characters point out what’s important in dialog and action, i.e. the same techniques as character development.

Think of your character entering your favorite hotel.  Have her stride purposely on the fine Italian marble past the restored Victorian divan.  Add all of the details you want as she encounters them, interacts with them or simply ignores them.  Do not give the name of the Hotel until she checks in.

“Welcome to the Serrano Ms. Davenport,”  the manager said.  “We’ve have your suite prepared exactly as you specified.”

(108) Resist the temptation to describe the scene.

Put your character/s in the scene and set him/her/it/them in motion.

         It was a dark and stormy night.  The sidewalks on the steep San Francisco
         thoroughfare were slick with  rain.  Thor Hygard fell victim as he fell on his butt. (29)

         Thor Hygard trudged up a steep rain slicked San Francisco street.  Looking up to
         the streetlights, rain drops stung his eyes.  Stepping off the curb, his right foot 
         slipped landing Thor on his butt. (34)

(110) General Note on Description.

Description and back story are essential elements of writing.

Essentially, they belong in the spaces between dialog and action.  They should support the dialog and action.

There is a great temptation to describe things with state of being verbs: is, was, be.  It is better to use action verbs.  The whole world including rocks, lakes, sunsets and rainbows are in a constant state of flux.  Or:

         The world fluctuates constantly.  Winds and rain erode rocky mountains.  Fish 
         churn lakes refreshed by rivers and streams.  Sunrise and sunset diurnally swap 
         places while rainbows keep their distance. 

(111) First Person Snuff Scenes must be written in the present tense.
Without a reasonable explanation of how the story can be told, first person snuff scenes must be told in the present tense.  Some devices, like recalling details, allow for the past tense, so there are exceptions.  But these devices need to be revealed clearly.

I discovered this myself.  The first person past tense is the easiest narration for writing clean sentences.  I wrote Mind and Body that way.  After reading it, I switched the whole story to the present tense.  

In college, I came up with a collection device called Fairly Nearly Died There, North Dakota.  At an inn in the town of Fairly-Nearly-Died-There, ND, one patron at a time entertains the inn with a tall tale wherein he faced certain death: trapped by a bear, faced the fasted draw in the Black Hills, engineer on a runaway train in the Sierras, fell into the ice of a frozen lake, etc.  Each story ends when the situation is completely lost.  Another patron asks, “What happened next?”  The storyteller answers, “Fairly nearly died there.”  The patrons at the inn chorus, “North Dakota,” clank their glasses, drink, and another patron embarks on a new tale.

The point is:  They had to survive to tell their tale in the past tense.

(120) Writers are not like recording devices.

Writers are not cameras recoding real life.  Real life is boring.  Ok perhaps just mine, and I refuse to believe anyone has, essentially, a more interesting life than I.  

A SUV recently stuck me while I rode my bicycle to work in downtown Los Angeles.  The driver kept driving.  I suffered a separated shoulder, bruised hip and bruised tailbone.  End of boring story.  Read Juror 8197 for a more interesting tale involving a bicycle accident.

Writers are story tellers.  Story tellers are liars, impersonators, imposters and thieves.  The core trait of story tellers is imagination.  Use your imagination to create characters, scenes and interactions.  Reality is too boring to insist upon.  

Even historical fiction concentrates on interactions lost to history.  History inspires historical fiction, so… reality inspires fiction.  Once the inspiration takes place, forget reality and draw upon imagination. 

If you must research, do it after the first draft is complete.

(130) He Said/ She Said: Another Speech Tag Debate

In On Writing,. Stephen King advocates for simple “he said” and “she said” speech tags.  Many writing bloggers and style advocates agree. They have, however, well spoken detractors.  Everyone seems to agree that “s/he said adverb” is just plain wrong. ”Go to sleep,” he said softly. is an example of bad writing.  Why? Because we are taught to avoid adverbs.  Why? Because the right verb needs no help.  The right verb here is “whispered” leaving us with ”Go to sleep,” he whispered. So much for the “s/he said” advocates.  They are left advocating dull, mono-emphasis speech when we know speech is much more varied and nuanced.

Many “s/he said” advocates also claim that “s/he asked” is always unnecessary.  The question mark means conveys the verb “to ask.” I see their point but wonder, don't quotation marks  convey the verb “to say” making “s/he said” similarly unnecessary?  Both minimalists and DeepPov proponents advocate dropping speech tags altogether.  This could be accomplished with three easy techniques: Establishment, Omission and Beats.  Consider the following dialog.
”What are we doing here?” Jack said.

“Because this is the spot,” Susan said.

“The spot?  I don't see any spots around,” he said.

“It's not a literal spot, genius.  Look deeper,” she said.

“I don't see anything of interest in this desert,” he said.

“You don't see the river just below the cliff over there,” she said.

“I can't see through dirt,” he said.

“Well, it's there, and this property has water rights to it,” she said.

“How much?” he said.

“One hundred million gallons a year,” she said.

“That'll support about 500 employees and their families,” he said.

“We can build the homes on this mesa,” she said.

“This is the spot,” he said.
Notice how boring and annoying “s/he said” can be though that might just be my opinion.  After establishing the names, all subsequent speech tags can omitted.
”What are we doing here?” Jack said.

“Because this is the spot,” Susan said.

“The spot?  I don't see any spots around.”.

“It's not a literal spot, genius.  Look deeper.”

“I don't see anything of interest in this desert.”.

“You don't see the river just below the cliff over there.”.

“I can't see through dirt.”.

“Well, it's there, and this property has water rights to it.”

“How much?”

“One hundred million gallons a year.”

“That'll support about 500 employees and their families.”

“We can build the homes on this mesa.”

“This is the spot.”
Readers can follow alternating speakers without direction.  Well, up to a point.  Every so often, authors should re-establish one of the speakers.  Readers tend to lose track of whose speaking after page flips.  Adding additional characters requires reestablishing the alternating dialog pairs.  This can, in a small way, address multiple character interaction.  In my novel, I have scenes where 6, 7 and eight characters interact.  This happens in real life, and I like to orchestrate complex social interactions in my fiction.  Most writers simplify social interactions to two person exchanges.

Establishment speech tags can be replaced by Beats.  Beats are short action descriptions starting with character names, related pronouns or character descriptors (Jack, he, the CEO).  In this case:
”What are we doing here?” Jack extended widespread upturned palms.

“Because this is the spot.” Susan pointed footward.

“The spot?  I don't see any spots around.”.

“It's not a literal spot, genius.  Look deeper.”


Beats work, in large part, because they resemble speech tags.  The speakers' names/pronouns/descriptors directly follows ending quotes followed by a verb.  Imagine the following sentence.
”What are we doing here?”  Hot, desert winds blew tumbleweeds over a grassbare mesa while dust torrents trailed in their wake and deposited its load on Jack's loafers.
Makes you wonder who asked the question and why the action description is in the same paragraph.

Beats can be effective, but most interactions do not have enough actions to establish and reestablish speakers.  Most Beat dependent writers run dry after two or three actions.  They resort to pointless gestures which neither develop their characters or advance plot.  To restate.  Many Beats are vacuous sentences whose main purpose is to avoid using speech tags and serve no other purpose.  Speech tags only take two words (subject verb, the line of dialog serves as predicate); Beats take at least three words (subject verb predicate), but more likely an average sentence length of six to ten words, a waste of four to eight words per beat, a word count sin in self proclaimed style Nazi's eyes.

Two more style Nazi sins oft accompany Beats.  First, many authors want to sequence action before delivering lines.
Jack sneezed, retrieved a handkerchief and blew his nose.  “What's in this air?”
or more egregious
Hot, desert winds blew tumbleweeds over a grassbare mesa while dust torrents trailed in their wake and deposited its load on Jack's loafers. ”What are we doing here?”
  This violates self proclaimed style Nazi rule (106) Don’t Bury Dialog in Paragraphs. 

Second, once into narrative mode, authors want to fill in details extending Beats into full blown verses.
”What are we doing here?”  Hot, desert winds blew tumbleweeds over a grassbare mesa while dust torrents trailed in their wake and deposited its load on Jack's loafers.  Cars roaring by on the distant two-lane highway churn further churn dust clouds.  Dust assaulted all uncovered orifices.  Jack wanted something to drink, wash dust from his mouth.

“Because this is the spot.” Susan wondered why management types never noticed anything other than surface details.  She wanted to ask Jack if the company paid for his frontal lobotomy or did he pay for it out of pocket.  Perhaps she should drop her quest to join the management ranks and maintain her intelligence.

Although Beat misuse is not sufficient cause to dismiss the technique, vacuous sentence precludes its savior of fiction status.  “S/he said” limits speech emphasis which could leave dialog flat and uninteresting (remind me to mention other emphasis techniques) leading to adverbs, perhaps the only technique which can be dismissed.  Speech verb (other than to say) can draw attention to themselves and away from dialog (that is to say, away from character development).  What a mess!  If it narrative only stories weren't sleep inducing bores, it almost makes self proclaimed style Nazis, like me, desire dialogless fiction.  That is until we remember rule (232) Overuse is an enemy. 

The issue is not which dialog techniques should be used and which shouldn't.  Speech tags and Beats are not the enemy.  Overuse of any element of writing tends to wear on reader's nerves.  Mix'm up.  Try to use “said,” descriptive speech verbs, beats and even the odd “said” adverbly appropriately but definitely non exclusively. 

When reviewing do not recommend one dialog technique over the over, but rather point out imbalances.  For example, I overuse speech verbs while under utilizing all forms of “to say,” but I do this for a very style Nazi reason: I treat “to say” as I treat “to be,” a verb of last resort.  “S/he said” overuse runs rampant, so I use it only when I can not think of any other speech verb, I should reconsider this position, perhaps later. 

(150) Commit to the fiction.

Analogy:  In college, I fell in with a group of compulsive Liars Dice players.  We wasted hours playing daily, and we wasted even more time talking about the game.  In the end, we taught ourselves the essential truth about lying.  We needed to believe it.  Before the cup passed, we decided what hand we will call out and what hand we will we accept.  The actual value of the dice under the cup was irrelevant.  

Each turn became formulaic.
Determine a believable hand greater than the hand called.
If that hand rings true, accept the cup, else declare the passer a liar.
Check the cup pulling out the dice supporting your lie.
Roll the remaining dice.

Check the cup.  This step is just for show.  Even if the result is better than your lie, stick to your lie.  Alternately, go with the roll.  Even though you are telling the truth, it will sound like a lie trapping the poor recipient of the pass.

State your lie, and await your fate.

It is much the same in writing.  Talk out your plot, characters, dialog, action sequences, thought sequences and descriptions.  If they ring true in your ears, write them down.  If someone is listening and points out flaws, don’t argue, listen.

(200) Fiction is a pack of lies best written honestly (style).

Although several experiments succeeded, stick to plain English style as described in S&W’s The Elements of Style, advice in this Manifesto and other advise from style advocates at WDC including April Sunday  and ~WhoMe???~  and  craft advocates like Max Griffin .

(210) When style is important and when it ain’t.

Third Person Omniscient �" Pristine style. If you are going to be omniscient you should 
                   know how to write as God, by God I mean William Strunk, intended.
Third Person �" Some deviation from pristine style is acceptable, but it better be for a 
                   very good reason and the reason better have a payoff.
First Person �" Still above average focus on style. Style deviations need to be character
Character’s speech in speech or thought �" Deviations are character based. The standard is 
                   mere plausibility.
Deep POV -- Either First (I) or Third (he/she) Person.  Deep POV strives to eliminate narrative
                    voices.  Similar to first person, but in First Person authors can, and often do, 
                   use two voices to set up internal dialog.  Deep POV allows only a monologue.  
                   Character’s speech in speech or thought must include style deviations are 
                   character based. The standard is mere plausibility.

(211)  Deep POV as I understand it.

I first encountered Deep POV in a May 2015 review rebuke.  I immediately hit Google and read many author's, agent's and publisher's blog and advice pages.  The usual span of agreements and offshoots, but some agreement emerged.  Every narrative thought originates from the protagonist's POV.  Deep POV writers endeavor to eliminate the narrative voice from their text. 

A few common tips: Reduce, eliminated if possible, dialog tags, both external and internal. Reduce, eliminate if possible, filtering (instead of "He saw an eagle," describe what the eagle is doing and the eagle's actions consequences).  Reduce and really eliminate the passive voice; "My face was slapped by a stranger," becomes, "A stranger slapped my cheek."  Character references must be direct and consistent, so Tolstoy's numerous nicknames for characters is completely out.  Though not a consensus, many writers suggest using active description over static description.  All writers suggest painting scenes vividly. 

Deep POV endeavors to infuse emotion into the text.  By getting deep into the Main Character/Protagonist/Hero's(MCPH) head, writers can expose deep seated emotions.  First person narration always held that potential, but it is possible to write from the first person when the person is neither the main character, protagonist nor hero.  Narration from a side character's POV is not, yet, Deep POV.  It is possible to write first person observant like Doctor Watson for Sherlock Holmes, but on observant POV is not Deep POV.

Adding Deep POV techniques can produce powerful, emotive first person narrative.  There are some pitfalls.  Deep POV should not slip into Stream of Consciousness narration.  Although analysis of a social situations, meditations on grape fruit and examination of a protagonist's motives are valid topics, they allow readers out of Deep POV's voice and should be avoided.  Keep the story moving, the protagonist engaged and their thoughts on the conflict at hand.

(212) Third Person Normal Forms.

First person always allowed authors deep access to their protagonist's thoughts, feelings and memories, but many writers want out of their character's heads a little.  Third person narrartion lets authors loose. 

In computing, relational data base design has formal rules for describing schemas called Normal Forms.  In the first normal form, for example, no tables inside tables are allowed, so if a client can have up to ten credit cards, client information is stored in one table and credit card information is stored in another.  The next normal forms deal with functional dependencies within table structures.  By the fifth normal form, non mathematician programs heads explode.

Taking a similar approach to third person.

Third Person Omniscient (TPO):  No "I" references.  Narrative voice can be simply observant or opinionated.  Narrator has access to every characters thoughts, emotions and memories.  Narrator can be characterized as super human, god like.

Third Person Limited  - Observant(TPL/O):  No I references.  Narrative voice must be observant.  Narrator voice is observant and somewhat detached from the POV character.  The POV character can be any character, but is usually the MCPH.  Narrator is like a parrot on the POV character's shoulder.  The parrot looks around a lot, but the parrot doesn't look into the POV's head, nor anyone else's head.  The narrator is not a character.  In early versions of TPL/O, the parrot can fly around a bit on his own, but, at the time of this writing, a parrot's flight would be considered a TPO slip and is discouraged.

Third Person Limited -  Traditional(TPL/T):  No I references.  Narrator voice is mostly observant and somewhat in tune with the POV character.  The POV character can be any character, but is usually the MCPH.  No head hopping. Narrator is like a parrot on the POV character's shoulder.  The parrot looks around a lot, and the parrot reports the POV's thoughts, senses and feelings.  The narrator is not a character. In early versions of TPL/O, the parrot can fly around a bit on his own, but, at the time of this writing, a parrot's flight would be considered a TPO slip and should be avoided at all costs.

Deep POV - he/she (Deep POV he/she):  No I references.  Kill the parrot.  Narrator voice is the main MCPH's voice.  If the MCPH has a lisp, so does the narrator.  No head hopping. Narrator is in the MCPH's head.

Consider the following.

Jason had Matt where he wanted him where he wanted him, held down with a fallen cabinet pinning his outstretched right arm.  A hammerhead glinted.  Aiming for fingers, he swung.

Ouch! Matt held pain inside lest Jason perceive victory.  TPO

A fallen cabinet pinned Matt's right arm. His outstretched hand clawed carpeting.  A hammerhead's glint attracted Jason.  With deliberate aim, Jason swung.  Matt's face contorted, swallowing reflexive screams.  TPL/O

A fallen cabinet pinned Matt's right arm, his outstretched hand clawed carpeting.  A metal scrape and Jason's quickened steps heightened alerts.

Ouch! A hammer's sharp blow crushed on Matt's knuckle.  He held pain inside lest Jason perceive victory.  TPL/T

A fallen cabinet pinned Matt's right arm, his outstretched hand clawed carpeting.  A metal scrape raised his head; Jason's quickened steps stopped near by.  Ouch! Matt's crushed knuckle seared. His swallowed reflexive screams.  No victory for you, Jason.  Deep POV (he/she)

(213) Deep POV Third Person (he/she) narration is literary fool's gold.

By setting the narrator deep inside the MCPH, Deep POV he/she strives to eliminate the narrative voice thus allowing MCPH internal dialog, unaltered, on the page.  An intriguing concept, but narrative voices do not expire easily.  Deep POV he/she still allows narration, and in the he/she version, that narration, whether inside the MCPH's head or not, demands its own voice, or at the very least, does not fit inside the MCPH's head. 

Take a non-omnicient  sample's first sentence, "A fallen cabinet pinned Matt's right arm."  That sentence is written in Matt's POV, but would Matt ever think that sentence?  Is that thought in Matt's head?  (Am I writing useless rhetorical questions or have I slipped into the annoying second person?  Both should be avoided.)

Most people do not narrate their own lives in the third person.  Sure, there's the kid on his driveway throwing shots to a basketball hoop mounted above his garage door.  Matt Barnes dribbles left, fakes right, finds his favorite spot on the floor and shoots a fade-away jumper.  Two points!  The fans go crazy!  Listen close.  The voice isn't the kids; it's the announcer (or the kid imitating an announcer's voice to be overly precise).  When we narrate our own lives, we, more oft than than not, use another voice.  It's internal dialogue, not internal monologue.

All Deep POV he/she samples I read included third person narration and, with it, a narrative voice. Since people do not narrate their own lives in the third person, readers assume a narrator, the parrot lives after all.  

When Deep POV he/she pulls a MCPH's internal thoughts into narrative text, it risks being read as narrative intrusion, a comment, conclusion or judgment made in the narrative voice.  Readers prefer to make their own judgments, conclusions and comments.  Self referential comments throw readers out of Deep POV. 

Often people, or maybe it's just me, think, Oh, silly me.  In first person, this works, but it's sometimes italicized to show an actual internal dialogue.  In plain font, it is the narrative I it is an allowable comment.  In Deep POV I this still works though its function as internal dialogue or comment is blurred.  In third person, "Oh, silly me," must be delineated lest it read as a first person slip.  "Oh, silly him," is not a thought any person would have about themselves, thus it reads as narrative intrusion, a TPO slip.

Several writer/agent/publishers blogs point out that self reference in Deep POV (he/she) throws readers out of Deep POV and should be avoided.

(214) A note on normal forms.

In programming, most professionals cannot recite the relational data base normal forms though they work with them daily.  The first three are pretty easy to recount.  The fourth normal form rarely merits mention or consideration.  Most work is done following the rules of the third normal form, or to be precise, a variant called the Boyce/Codd normal form sometimes referred to as normal form 3.5.  In seminar's, it is often taught as the ERA (Entity Relationship Attribute) model of database design.  When taught as ERA, normal form 3.5 is easy to understand, intuitive and almost instinctual (at least for programming types).

In writing, most writers should stick to TPL/T. It works well.  Many writer/agent/publisher blogs confess that writers slip into Deep POV only when they want to, or their editor wants them to, heighten a scenes emotional content. 

(215) Be wary of writing style advice from writer/agent/publisher blogs.

Former treasury secretary, J. Michael Blumenthal, was president of Burroughs Corp. when I started my internship there.  Every few months, all interns gathered and the head of Burroughs Mission Viejo talked with us.  

"See this."  He held up a Burroughs calculator.  We all had one on our desks.  It seemed ridiculous.  They were archaic and, almost, never used.  We also had PCs which ran spreadsheet software (Excel was still a few years away).  "When I first started, all salesmen had to sell a thousand of these before they learned to sell the mainframes we build here.  J. Michael Blumenthal stopped production of these POS calculators and ended that practice."

Only true snake oil salesmen could sell those calculators, but corporate CIOs and CEOs easily saw through snake oil tactics.  To compete with IBM, Burroughs salesmen had to make sound business cases, sound technology cases.  The antiquated calculator sales test weeded out meek salesmen, but it did not lead to business growth.  It was the wrong test, stressed the wrong values, produced the wrong result.

Writer blogs oft stated two things.  First, that readers, agents and publishers clamor for Deep POV. Second, first time authors should write Deep POV he/she.  Taking the second first.  The main reason cited for agent/publishers preferring he/she over I is that first time authors overuse the annoying "I verb" construct ("he/she verb" is less annoying?).  Overuse of any writing technique should be avoided, so first time novelists could distinguish their work by finding alternatives to "I verb."
Okay, I can't resist a hack at this one.

I aimed.  I drew the arrow back.  I steadied my quivering arm.  I shot the buck.  My arrow pierced its neck. (First Person I verb Loaded)

I aimed, drew the arrow back, steadied my quivering arm and shot the buck.  My arrow pierced its neck. (First Person I verb loaded condensed)

A long draw stretched the bow string.  Quivering arm steadied, a sure release let fly the arrow.  Crimson gushes confirmed it hit its mark. The buck staggered and fell, my arrow through its neck. (First Person I verb avoidance)

The first statement regarding readers, agents and publishers clamoring for Deep POV seems wrong.  I do not doubt some publishers might clamor for Deep POV (reasons later) nor agents endeavor to meet publisher's demands,  but readers?  No blog offered a single scientific study, published survey or sales figure to support their clamor claim.  Many of my colleagues are avid readers.  We discuss what we read, what we like.  No one has, as yet, mentioned Deep POV or even that the writing drew them in emotionally.  In fact, amongst the eight of us, I am the only one who even notices writing style, and I'm not a fan of Deep POV he/she, but I am warming up  to Deep POV I.  What we like is a good story, fresh characters,  something interesting to talk about when discussing the book.  The last book we agreed we all liked was The Rosie Project written in First Person, past tense where the narrator is emotionally stunted, possibly Asperger's.

Sales statistics should support these bloggers claims.  Simply taking the NY Times bestseller's list and determining the writing style would suffice.  I found no such research.  Two simple things explain why.  First, if you asked Stephen King or James Patterson what sells books, on an honest day, they'd say, "My name on the cover." Writers with a following can always count on a certain amount of sales.  In publishing, its called "platform."  Platform is the most important component of a query letter.  Publishers/agents might or might not care about whatever your book is about, but an opportunity to cash in on a substantial platform always draws interest.  Whenever a celebrity writes (or hires a ghost writer to write) a book, their name on the cover guarantees its publication.

Many Deep POV writer's blogs lament established writers abandonment of Deep POV, even those who used Deep POV to launch their career. Since established writers dominate book sales,  their lack of Deep POV deprives the technique sales numbers support.

Why then do agents and publisher push Deep POV?  I don't know, but I have a theory.  So much material flows over their desk, they cannot, by analytic means, determine what's good and what is not.  Although they are gatekeepers to publishing houses printing presses, distribution networks and demand creation (marketing), they are no better at predicting what sells than average readers.  They believe, again without any supporting science, that readers want emotional connections to stories.  Deep POV techniques intend to draw readers in by deep identification with the MCPH, again, there is no scientific evidence that it actually accomplishes this goal.

Engineering literature to appeal to reader's emotions seems base and cynical.  Emotions oft override reason, so it should persuade readers to fork over twelve dollars for a paperback and much more for hardcovers.  I like reading stories which engage my intellect, humor and imagination.  I agree good novels, like the first two Harry Potter books, engage readers on multiple levels.  There is nothing wrong with engaging readers's emotions, but like everything else in writing, overdoing it diminishes the effort.  Readers want a good story, and no set formula, writing style or technique guarantees one nor lack of formula implementation excludes one.

(216) Sink or skim*.

Scientific studies confirm that many readers skim especially when reading online.  I was once impressed by people who can read an entire novel in a night or two until I discovered they skimmed.  I don't.  The discovery came when a friend recommended The American Way of Death, Revisited, a worthy recommendation.  When I finished reading it, I tried to discuss it with him only to discover he entirely missed several key points in the last chapter.  Another friend, who finishes novels in less than a week, kept reading the same books over and over.  I estimate roughly a third, by number of words, of her favorite, George Eliot's Middlemarch remains unread.  

Writers/agents/publishers insist writers must hook readers and keep them riveted.  In many of their blogs, they are certain Deep POV accomplishes this, again no cited studies. With skim readers, hooks come easy and riveting impossible.  Skim readers invest in a book for reasons related to subject matter, author, buzz and so on.  Some may read the opening paragraph, where writers might lose a sale, but from there they skim.

I am a dedicated reader, slow and plodding.  Once I choose a book, based on subject matter, recommendations or buzz (I book choice I have much in common with skimmers), I work my way through it word by word sounding each out in my head before moving on.  Although I finished Sharpe's novels in a week to ten days, the typical novel steals two to four weeks of my free time.  I find Deep POV (he/she) annoying for its narrative inconsistencies; skimmers don't mind.  They skim, unriveted,  right over them.

Agent/Publisher's push for Deep POV seems to be a counter productive instance of group think.  Perhaps it's their battle against skimmers, though I'll wager most of them are skimmers as well.  I wonder why, instead of unsuccessful attempts at riveting, they don't encourage skimmer accommodation.  Give text easy touch points, clear narrative text offset by clear character thought (italicized) and throw in a few speech tags so skimmers know exactly whose talking when .

*While plying Google for reader preference scientific studies, I came accross a web page entitled Sink or Skim.  It argued callege students cannot handle reading demands without modifying their reading techinique before offerring paid lessons on effective skimming techniques.  Yep, skimming is a valued reading skill of college graduates.  

(217) Counter arguments.  

My reasoning is opinionated, so it follows that other opinions are valid and should be mentioned.  I'll start it off, and any submitted and reasonable counter arguments will added.

Rule 213 depends on the assertion that standard narration can not originate in the MCPH's head thus Deep POV he/she will always fail to live up to its goal.  Just because third person narration does not happen in our heads does not preclude readers interpreting text as if happens in MCPH's heads.  There is nothing natural about reading.  It follows that readers can learn to interpret text in many ways including 

Rule 215 depends on the lack of research.  The publishing industry is huge and profitable. It stands to reason that they commission several studies which inform their business decisions.  These studies could, and probably are, kept as industry secrets.  It may also be the case, that I stopped on the third or fourth page of Google results and the studies, I claim lack existence, resided on the fifth Google result page.

Rule 215 urges writers not to follow industry advice, since it was proven nonsensical in rule 213, and acknowledges publishers and agents role as gatekeepers, an obvious contradiction.  From a slush pile point of view, statistical zero acceptance of either Deep POV or TPL/T manuscripts.  From a debut novel point of view, the gatekeepers may do what they say.  While Deep POV manuscripts endure a statistical zero chance of acceptance; non Deep POV suffer a real zero chance.  There is a difference.  All the same, building a platform is more important than style choices.

(220) It’s this, this and that.  The formation of lists.

“And” is used too often.  Only little children on Santa’s lap would say “I want a Barbie and a pony and a Xbox 360 and a IPhone and a Netbook and five golden rings and peace on earth and goodwill to woman.”  Adding comma’s does not help.  Stick to a straight list using “and“ for only the last item.

I see semicolons used in the middle of lists.  I am not a good enough grammarian to cite the rules for this.  It seems like a good thing to do when items in the list are, themselves, complex.  As long as there is only one “and,” I’ll not attempt to revise.

(222) Independent Clause Usage.

In S&W, Stunk advises against too many loose sentences.  I believe it’s Rule 18, an unusually vague rule.  I wish he were more definitive.  A Style Nazi likes rules in black and white.  Befallen ist befallen after all.

Far too many writers at WDC string one independent clause after another building sentences longer than most of my paragraphs.  I spent two days searching for a definitive style recommendation  on independent clause usage.  I found nothing definitive.  I did find two things:

          1)Use independent clauses when the clauses need to be closely linked.
          2)Use independent clauses to avoid primer style.

Let’s deal with the second first.  Primer style shouldn’t reflect sentence length.  

         See Dick run.  See Jane run.  Dick and Jane run together.  See Spot run.  Spot 
         runs after Dick and Jane.

Is not improved by making the sentences independent clauses.

         Dick ran, and Jane ran, and Dick and Jane ran together, and Spot ran, so Spot ran 
         after Dick and Jane.

Primer style is best avoided by writing more interesting sentences.  Strive for crispness and novel thought.  I often employ sentence fragments. Incomplete sentences are capable of conveying complex thoughts.  Long strings of independent clauses only shows mastery of stringing together thoughts and a proclivity to bore the reader.

As for the need to link thoughts closer than mere contiguity.  That’s a judgment call only the author can make.  As a self proclaimed style Nazi, I will convert all independent clauses to separate sentences cutting the “and,” “as,” or “so” from the word count.  Authors will review the text reasserting independent clauses by renewed effort where they truly need a closer bond.

(230) Endeavor to remove every unnecessary word from every sentence.

OK, this is covered by S&W rule 17.  My addition is that you need to fight during every edit pass to remove as many words as you can.  Rearrange the object and the subject.  Split the sentence in two.  Simplify the tense.  Squeeze until your brain hurts.  When all else fails, call upon the cadre of word reducing style Nazi’s to help.

We all like to think the magic of typing on the keyboard produces wonderful first drafts.  It simply does not work that way.  Typos should be the first clue, but it never ends there.  Edit, edit and edit some more.  When you can no longer see any errors, subject your work to review.  Eyesight and humility will be restored.

The object is not wage war on words.  I used to experience dismay after word reducing edit passes resulted in more words.  Then I read the section again.  By stripping unnecessary words out of sentences and paragraphs, I opened room to add details and new thoughts.  The idea is not to avoid using words, but to use them better.

(231) A strong verb needs no help, or the right verb needs no help.

Listening to this afternoon’s NPR news cast, I was appalled by all of the “has verbed,” “is verbed” and “is being verbed” until I remembered their interview with Billy Mays on Sunday.  The late Billy Mays described himself as a pitchman.  “Pitchman,” he explained, “never use only one word when four will suffice.”  I think news writing degenerated to the same level.  With budget cuts, anchors need to pad.  On local news, witness all of the unscripted patter.

Good narration needs to be concise.  Let’s follow Shakespeare’s “Brevity is the soul of wit.”  Adding “have,” “had,” “has”, “were,” “was,” “is”, “being”  and “been” to a verb adds little more than weight to  sentences.

If Bob and Elliot were talkingBob and Elliot talked.

If George will be bringing a homemade lemon meringue pieGeorge will bring a homemade lemon meringue pie or better We anticipate George’s homemade lemon meringue pie.

If Peter has walked twenty-five miles to attend this weddingPeter walked twenty-five miles to attend this wedding. 

If Evan could have heard the music drifting out of the bar, and he, indeed heard the music, then Evan heard the music drifting out of the bar.

Some times these helper verbs can’t be helped.  I have problems with Joel should have been more cautious.  A little work brings: Joel should have exercised more caution. Not much of an improvement.  Reworking the sentence allows more information: Had Joel exercised more caution, he’d still own his house.  The last structure forces out more detail.  For that reason, I prefer it.

The perfect tenses sound good to the ear, but they read turgidly.  Choosing the right verb is the bet course, and leave helper verbs on your pet peeve list.

(232) Overuse is an enemy.

Ok, this falls in the Duh category, it is meant as an umbrella rule for many of the following rules.  It is not the case that all overused words need to be omitted from text.  There are times when they provide the best option far better than alternative phrasings.  

The same goes for techniques.  At one point, I was enamored with taking out “and”s converting independent clauses with participle phrases  For example:

I whistled a sorrowful tune, and I walked down the street.

I whistled a sorrowful tune walking down the street.

I performed this mutation in a line by line review for an entire novella.  The next novella I read by the same author overused this technique.

James Goldman gives Henry II so many great lines inThe Lion in Winter.  One of my favorites is “When I bellow, bellow back.  Use all of your voices …”  The important part is to use all of your voices, all of your techniques.

(235)Use a pet peeve list.

Pet peeve lists started with William Strunk’s assault on “that.”  Other words lead to poor sentences as well.  Tailor your list to include words leading to poor sentences, words you think others overuse and words you recognize you overuse yourself.

Like all style rules, Pet Peeve Lists are not Commandments.  They are a guide to better writing.  All words on your pet peeve list are cues to action.  Fight against their usage.  You owe that fight to yourself, your readers and, most of all, to me.  You may (alright will) lose some of these fights.  In reviews, a style Nazi may suggest a winning tactic.  Steal the tactic and add it to quiver.  When writing, use all your weapons.  Should someone offer a new arrow, grab it.

My current Pet Peeve List:

That (Strunk was right)
Had  (Leads to perfect tenses)
Were (Static transitive verbs lead to passive voicings)
Get (Thanks to April Sunday )

(236) Overuse of “the.”

The definitive article is overused, misused and abused.  I urge all writers to cut down on its usage.  Here’s how to do it.  As you proofread, cross out every instance of the word “the” and reread the sentence.  If it still reads well, cut “the.” If your sentence now reads wrong, apply the uniqueness test and replace “the” with “a”. 
A pimple developed on my forehead.  I popped it. Its infection spread leaving a quarter sized scab. 

At a market, the checkout clerk asked, “Wha’ happen’? Da bird bite ya?”

“Yes,” I replied, “there is only one bird in the world, and we fought.”

She thought about it and said, “Here’s your change. <bleeb> jerk!”

Usually “the” is misused to create false uniqueness.  Substituting “the” with “a” is a solution to this effect.  Giving more detail is another. Consider the sentence:
Martha was so exited to have George in the room, she jumped on the bed.

“The room, The bed,” Arg! Simply changing “the” to “her” adds possession and setting.  “His,” “her” and “their” are good substitutes for “the.”  Again, adding more detail to “the” objects can work even better.

I found a recent 55 word story where cutting down “the”s help.  

A family of vultures assembled in the sky. Their sinister gazes transfixed upon the unsteady gait of a traveler trudging across the desert. The instant he collapsed, they swooped down screeching excitedly. Unmindful of his pitiful screams, they sank deadly beaks into his flesh.

I recommended the following, giving the author 8 more words to play with.

A family of vultures assembled in the sky. Their sinister gazes transfixed upon Morgan’s unsteady gait as he trudged over desert dunes. Exited screeches announced his exhausted collapse. Unmindful of his pitiful screams, deadly beaks repeatedly tore his flesh.

Let’s look at the choices:

“Assembled in the sky”: Simply removing “the” does not work, nor does indefinite substitution.  I could have offered “assembled in azure skies,” but intent would have been distorted too much.

“The unsteady gait of a traveler”:  Here the author already achieved indefinite substitution, but detail, like a name is a better option and resolves the problem further.  Another rule will cover use of prepositional phrases, but detail substation and prepositional phrase attribution resolves to “Morgan’s unsteady gait.”

“The instant …”: Simplify the sentence, “He collapsed and screeching was heard.”  When faced with excess verbs, “was heard,” play with subject and object and change to a better verb.  So let “screeches” be the subject “Screeches” do something.  I chose “announced” giving “Excited screeches announced his exhausted collapse.”

(237) Watch out for prepositional phrases.

In college socio-linguistics class, I learned some primitive cultures language had only two or three color terms (white and black, or, white, black and red).  Early anthropologists concluded these primitive people had limited cognition and saw the world, literally, within their color terms.  Later on, more perceptive anthropologists and socio-linguists recorded these people using phrases like “the color of the banana leaf in spring after a rain.”  These people possessed full cognitive capabilities and used long descriptive phrases to compensate for a limited lexicon.

When I see descriptive “of” phrases, a red flag shoots up.  They are an opportunity to display lexical variation.  Stephen King says vocabulary is a run what you brung sorta thing.  I agree with April Sunday : Vocab is the thing.  A better position lies somewhere in between.  We all need help with our vocabulary.  I know I do.  Third person narration should opt for greater precision.

I use this distinction to suggest Ed level in my dialog.  For lower Ed level, I substitute descriptive phrases for precise terms.    Character’s can, in part, be defined by their lexical capabilities.  ..

(238) Every Now and Then.

Just about every instance of “now” and “then” I read can be eliminated without hindering intent.  Like the word “the,” simply cross it out and read re-read the sentence.

The reason for this effect lies in over use.  Too often, “then” is used to indicated a sequence of events in a sequence of events.  Trust your readers to understand an event stated after a preceding event happened next.  Adding “then” does not add anything.  In many computer languages, “then” is omitted from IF-THEN-ELSE statements.  Modern COBOL (yeah, I get the irony) is coded:
IF condition 
  statement 1
  statement 2

I like using “then” for emphasis in dialog and first person narration. For example:
I fell to the street.  My knee scraped on asphalt.  I felt pain.  Then, I really felt pain.{/quote}

“Now” is another problem.  In the past tense, it is false; in the present tense, unnecessary.

(239) Look for a better word than “glance”.

For some reason the word “glance” dominates all variants of “to see” at Writing.com.  At first I thought it cool, but now it simply annoys me.  Let’s start with my Webster’s Computer App definition:
intransitive verb  
1 : to strike a surface obliquely so as to go off at an angle  *the bullet glanced off the wall*
2 a : to make sudden quick movements  *dragonflies glancing over the pond*  b : to flash or gleam with quick intermittent rays of light  *brooks glancing in the sun*
3 : to touch on a subject or refer to it briefly or indirectly  *the work glances at the customs of ancient cultures*
4 a of the eyes  : to move swiftly from one thing to another  b : to take a quick look at something  *glanced at his watch*
transitive verb  
1 archaic    a : to take a quick look at  b : to catch a glimpse of
2 : to give an oblique path of direction to:  a : to throw or shoot so that the object glances from a surface  b archaic  : to aim (as an innuendo) indirectly  : INSINUATE
  �"glanc£er noun 

As used at WDC, definition 5 is what I see almost every item I review.  It’s an archaic usage.  Glancing is what one marble does to another.  Distinguish your self.  Look around.  Find other sight verbs.  

In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ryker is stranded on a planet where everyone uses the word “glimpse” for anything seen.  A consistent unusual usage, like slang, can define a group.  If I were to write about a real life meeting of WDC fiction writers, I’d portray them “glancing” one another like skinheads in a mosh pit.

(240) Ending adverbial phrases do not need commas.

A reviewer placed a comma after the word “right” in the following example.  My argument against the comma:

Please explain the comma. I break down the sentence as:

Their truck (subject) turns  (verb) right cutting off a cyclist  (adverbial phrase) who collides into their side (modifier of cyclist).

Throwing away the modifier:

         Their truck turns right cutting off a cyclist.

Rearranging to an introductory adverbial:

         Cutting off a cyclist, their truck turns right.

Or a medial adverbial:

         Their truck turns, cutting off a cyclist, right.

I looked in S&W and several websites. No examples were directly on point, but all agreed that ending adverbials do not use commas. I classify the text after “right” as an ending adverbial, but, as I am no grammar expert, I may be classifying the text incorrectly.

Note:  I sent this argument and never got a response to the grammar question. Until someone can cite a good reason, I say “out with the comma’s.”

I should add this notion:  Some reviewers see the action verb based ending adverbial, and they label the sentence a “verb sandwich.”  These reviewers argue “verb sandwiches” in much the same manner as I argue against overuse of independent clauses.  Well every Style Nazi chooses their own battles.

This just in from OWL (Purdue)
           Delores noticed her cousin walking along the shoreline.

The participial phrase functions as an adjective modifying cousin.walking (participle)
along the shoreline (prepositional phrase as adverb)

... and from Hannah ♫♥♫ 's "Comma Class Notes + Other Grammar Notes [E]:

Rule 9. When starting a sentence with a weak clause, use a comma after it. Conversely, do not use a comma when the sentence starts with a strong clause followed by a weak clause.
Examples: If you are not sure about this, let me know now.
Let me know now if you are not sure about this.

(241) Commas are, mostly, a slap in the face.

A codicil to (222) and (240)

In the movie Chariots of Fire Sam Mussabini says something like, “You’re over striding.  Death for a sprinter.  Knocks you back like a slap in the face.”  It’s much the same for readers.  Most commas just slow us down.  Not all commas, of course.  Commas in lists fly by.

Surprisingly, periods accelerate reading.  Readers receive a sense of accomplishment for finishing a sentence and move right on to the next sentence.  A series of short period ending sentences create a rapid fire staccato effect �" which may not be desired.

Commas, on the other hand, are connecters.  The problem is the abundance of possible connections commas represent.  The effect is like the Buffalo Springfield lyrics, “Stop, hey, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down.”  

Stopping and trying to make the right connection is a drag to the reader.  If that’s your intent, fine.  As a reader, I prefer shorter, cleaner sentences.  I want that sense of accomplishment, so lighten up on the commas and separate your thoughts into separate sentences.

(500) Writing is a craft.

I read two books recommended to me as guides to writing:

On Writing by Stephen King
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
Both books are self indulgent reflections on the craft of writing. On Writing sandwiches some good writing advise between autobiographical sections which are, arguably, related to writing.  Bird by Bird intersperses everything leaving the reader sifting through piles of emotion, experiences of a single mother, the authors own poetry and some decent tidbits on writing.

From a style Nazi’s point of view, On Writing is the clear choice.  Stephen King mentions S&W, writes in clear concise sentences and stresses both character and imagination.  Bird by Bird offers little or no style advise to the reader.  She strings together three, four and sometimes five independent clauses. Her book is more concerned with the emotion of writing.  Anne Lamott stresses observation to the point of solitude in the midst of a crowd.

Anne Lamott writes that we should pick up the phone and research while writing.  Stephen King suggests researching after the first draft.

Since real life is more often incredibly uninteresting than not, stressing observation is futile.  Take your dog to a dog park and you’ll discover your dog is more interested in other dogs than you.  When is the last time your dog sniffed your butt?  Yet your dog’s nose points to twenty or thirty dog’s butts in less than an hour.  Many of those butts your dog sniffed last week, so throw out any familiarity arguments.  My point is that people act in much the same way.  We are more interested in other humans than just about anything.  Although the facts about my cycling accident are boring, I can write an engaging story about a cycling accident by creating characters to tell the story.  These characters have motives in their recounting.  They have lives to maintain and backgrounds coloring their perceptions and actions.

Neither writer prescribes plot as the driving focus while writing.  Anne Lamott writes about struggling through.  Steven King is more explicit.  He suggests writers develop their characters, set a scene and see what happens.  Anne Loamott honestly characterizes this as a form of insanity.

Interestingly, both writers served a stint teaching writing.  Wealth allowed King to move on.

(810) Double Space Your Paragraphs.

Double space your paragraphs!  Would you rather be hit in the face with a flat board or peer through a chain link face?  The question is rhetorical like a mothers unfortunate grocery store question put to an unruly child:  Would you rather have a toy or a spanking?

Single spaced paragraphs hit the reader in the face like a 1x8.  S&W want the paragraph to be the meaningful unit in writing.  Give them air and let them breathe.  Crammed together they form a unified mass to the reader.  With space, the reader can glide from one to the next.

In photography, I learned that the eye is drawn to bright spots in the image.  When possible, writers should manipulate white space.  Stephen King, amongst others, acknowledge paragraph lengths effect on pacing.  Short = quick, long = slow.

I am also not a fan of indenting the first line.  It’s an awful amount of effort to maintain and, once the paragraphs are double spaced, unnecessary.

(900) Limits on style reviews.

Style is, by nature, a matter of taste.  For the longest time, grammarians enforced rules based on Latin formulations.  English ain’t Latin, and it’s evolving further and further away from whatever roots it may have there.  English is not German either.  English is English.  It will map out its own formulations.  

Although I believe the above paragraph is true, some sentences and paragraphs simply read better than others.  Some may not care, but I obsess.  I hope, one day, to write well enough to please my sense of good English.  I hoped to find good examples at writing.com, but I’m often disappointed.  It is hard. 

I benefited from strong critiques, and I find it easier to rip into others works than to edit my own.  The point of proclaiming myself a Style Nazi is to help raise the standard of writing I come across.  I hope others will take up the cause and, should they see something of mine, dig in.  I could use the help.

Like other authors at writing.com, I take the suggestions, however strongly worded, as just that.  Each author owns their stories and make up their own minds.  Perhaps, one of us will stumble on the next evolution of English style providing not only literary examples but also a convincing argument for their new usage choices.

© 2017 Chopstix

Author's Note

Okay, so this needs an edit itself. If you wanna help with the task, fine. Otherwise, I will continue to procrastinate.

My Review

Would you like to review this Story?
Login | Register


Please continue to procrastinate. The few errors are forgivable and I prefer clay feet to patent leather shoes any day. Translation: I'm too lazy for the job.

I'm so glad to see this excellent article. Thanks for all your hard work and compilation. Saves me a bunch of time too. Henceforth if I want to take someone to task in a review I'll simply refer them to this article and cite the rule number.

Posted 11 Months Ago


11 Months Ago

Thanx for your kind words.

It seems we look for similar things in stories we read. <.. read more

Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


1 Review
Added on February 6, 2017
Last Updated on February 6, 2017
Tags: Writing, rules, style, Nazi



Los Angeles, CA

In high school, I wrote lyrics. I started college writing poems and switched to short stories. After college, I discovered I could write computer programs, but I could not finish a novel (kept editi.. more..