A couple of years ago, I was at a convention. After the main talk, the speaker was selling books, including one on the topic of his speech. By the time I got there, he had sold out. But something caught my eye, and I picked up one of his other books. It’s the only book I’ve ever read that cuts through the myths around coherent writing styles.
It talks about American English Grammar with sanity and humour. The book is Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style. I thought it was an arrogant title before I read it, but it’s great. He has a few examples of excellent writing done by great writers. Two of them looked familiar. The draft I was writing had a similar style, and I related to what he was saying. I looked at my parallel passages. For several chapters, I’d been building to a monologue, and hinting at what would be in it. The character wanted to say something powerful and needed the best location to say it. I’d been thinking about it for months. This book gave me the tools to get down what I wanted to say, clearly, and without being clouded by white noise.
I couldn’t even edit my work in case I screwed it up. Pinker’s book helps me set goals and parameters. I can’t lose my work. I use version control. In school, nearly everything I learned about grammar was wrong. English is descriptive, not prescriptive. If a good writer is writing well and breaks a grammar rule, it was never a rule of grammar. English isn’t Latin. To boldly split an infinitive is okay.
This book isn’t a quick read. It’s homework. I’d read a passage and then figure out how it related to my writing. I’d check my manuscript to see if I’d made that mistake.
Maybe I should wait until the final draft, but I find it helpful to use as I work. I’m not a big fan of MS Word’s grammar suggestions. I argue with the spell-checker, and mostly win. This is a good book to have at the side of your writing desk.
Katherine Black / Susan (Sooz) Simpson
Founder of Best Book Editors
Katherine has held almost every single job imaginable, from painting gnomes to zookeeper. She spent most of her life in the caring profession and has managed both a nursing home and a care agency. But her passion for the written language always brings her home to novel writing.
Born in Tyne-and-Wear, North-East England, she has settled in the beautiful Lake District, Cumbria, with her partner, two dogs, a cat, an iguana and a python (just don’t ask her which of those six things is her favourite!).
She specialises in content creation and social media outreach, and has been a developmental editor for hundreds of clients. She owns and operates bestbookeditors.com where she helps foundling authors polish their skills. However, after being diagnosed with a dramatic brain condition in 2022, she has had to let 23 staff go, and scale back the business. BBE is still very much open, we are just fewer and can’t take as much work on.
Katherine Black is the author of psychological thriller/detective/fantasy adventure novels.