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Excerpts from the introduction to the Style section: This text begins with instruction in style techniques, the small parts of writing having to do with words and sentences. Style is usually reserved for creative writing courses or discussions about literature, yet the strongest essays must be rich with style. In some ways, sentences and individual words make more difference to a piece of writing than overall organization and the general idea. Often, when we read magazine articles, newspaper columns, short stories, letters, or memos, our memories pin the overall idea or thesis onto one or two well-turned sentences and crumble away the skeletal structure of the work we have just read. Other times, we simply remember the tone of the writers voice, created by his or her style, and that reminds us of everything we thought was important about the piece. Style is an essays soul. . .
. . . Since style creates a writers voice, many feel that style cannot be taught and that the distinctive styles of essayists such as Jonathan Swift, H. L. Mencken, Annie Dillard, and so many others come from these writers DNA. Just as when we use our talking voice and body language to make our points effective, written style is largely determined by a writers passion, understanding, and sincerity about the subject at hand; but a written piece is a crafted work, not a spontaneous outburst, and writers can refine and develop one or more styles to capture the uniqueness of their vision.
It is now feasible and necessary to teach style in composition courses. First, word processors have made stylistic revisions much easier. Also, students no longer need to spend hours planning essays: They can go straight to writing and then rewriting, devoting much more time to gradually shaping organization and spending much more time refining style. Secondly, academic writing has changed. The idea of a single, correct academic style has become pass. Colleges and universities are now populated by students and professors from diverse cultural backgrounds who bring their own style and sensibility to composition, so a writer such as Amy Tan might include a whole page of her mothers broken English in her essay Mother Tongue. Also, during the last half of the twentieth century, many scholars have devoted serious thought and work to popular culture. Not only are pop, media, and consumer cultures now subjects for serious academic discourse, writers such as Camille Paglia and William Gass blend words and images from these cultures with the priestly voice of academia, thereby depicting reality with the strengths of both literary allusions and pop imagery. In short, the distinction between learning to write essays for college and learning to write to communicate has blurred.
. . . Students choke on rules that are not meaningful so we have done something never tried before. The style unit in this book boils many grammatical rules down, simplifies them, and melts them into concepts that are accessible to the playful and expressive parts of the mind. All writers, whether they are great fiction writers, business correspondents, scientific explorers, journalists, or restaurant critics, use these concepts. What writers do with them is governed by individual purposes and DNA, but all writers are using the same notes and color wheels we define in this unit to create their sounds and hues. Writing style depends on five major writing activities that together are the language of style: flow, pause, fusion, opt, and scrub. The five forces constantly combine and recombine in surprising ways to create a writers unique voice.
Excerpt from the introduction of the Form section: . . . This traditional organization works well for in-class essay exams because it is easy to follow and appears to be fail-safe. However, the precast bones of the essays structure can protrude, distracting from the pieces meaningfulness. If the writer does not apply the stylistic choices to give the essay soul, the material has no flesh, dehydrating into a tedious, unreadable academic exercise. Too often the form is an English-teacher-pleaser because over the decades teachers have made the essays bone structure a holy relic.
Strong writers never believe there is only one way to shape a large piece of writing, particularly an essay that has been crafted over several days or weeks and has undergone countless revisions. The new breed of essayists do not base their organization on the academic thesis essay described above. Designing organizational architecture for any occasion can be creative and stimulating, often evolving from the function or purpose of the piece. Whatever shape a piece takes, the notion that an ideal organization for writing exists is an illusion shattered by many learning-to-write books, beginning with the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle. His works on writing knocked the written world off the ancient wall; then he created new modes, never intending those modes to be cast in bronze.
We have re-examined the forms of classic and contemporary essays, knocked them off the wall, and put them back together again, some as variations of classic forms, others as new forms, but not with the idea that any should ever be ossified in stone. We think Aristotle would approve. Each form has its own purpose, strengths, and weaknesses. All can be combined with each other to form countless others for endless applications, ranging from academic purposes to personal or practical ones. Essayists typically shape in one of four ways: They narrate, define, divide, or disarm. We include discussion of the problems of each and possible design solutions under Time-Warping, Encircling, Layering, and Uncorking.