In writing
with examples from other areas of expression that have more and better Pictures pics Visuals

3 Impressionist paintings

of close boats

But really different because of


Brush strokes, color mixing, texture …

& perspective

Prose style is shaped by choices in:
1. 2. 3. 4. Syntax Punctuation Sentence Structure Diction

Be creative even quirky but consistent

1. Syntax
Syntax = Word order
I will go where you go Where you go I will go She could not forget Spain Spain she could not forget The sailor is home Home is the sailor Snow falling and night falling fast, oh fast (Frost’s “Desert Places”)

Bill Bryson No matter how hard you try you will never be able to grasp just how tiny, how spatially unassuming, is a proton.
In the first lively second (a second that many cosmologists will devote careers to shaving into ever-finer wafers) is produced gravity and the other forces that govern physics.

Commas: 2/3 rules, 1/3 style
The Oxford comma (or “serial comma”): red, white, and blue. No Oxford: red, white and blue No Oxford comma risks ambiguity: • I dedicate this to my parents, Ayn Rand and God • Avoid that: To my parents, Ayn Rand, and God (3) or by re-ordering: To God, Ayn Rand and my parents

2. Punctuation

Always avoid ambiguity
How many items? My usual breakfast is coffee, bacon and eggs and toast. Eats shoots and leaves
Click here for a lot more about the serial comma

Use the em dash - stronger than a comma, less formal than a colon,
relaxed than parentheses.
– The insect--a blue beatle--crossed the desk.


• To set off apposatives (a noun ot noun phrase that renames another noun) • To reflect the rhythm of speech or thought
– It was very noble–very grand–very charming!–was all that Catherine had to say.

• Instead of a (more formal) colon
– At thirty he married an English girl, daughter of Jerome Dunn, the alpinist, and granddaughter of two Dorset parsons, experts in obscure subjects-paleopedology and Aeolian harps, respectively.

• Instead of a (sentence-ending) colon
– There might be particular essays whose shape is more akin to one of the other basic natural forms--a sphere or hexagon, a spiral, say, or helix or branch--but on the whole, I think, what essays do best is meander.

• Instead of parenthesis, for more emphasis
– The only thing they could do—if they could do anything at all—was persist.

• Instead of a comma pair (rare & quirky and DFW)
– And the Windsurf Cafe’s coffee—which burbles merrily from spigots in big brushed steel dispensers—the coffee is, quite simply, the kind of coffee you marry somebody for being able to make.

– Simple
• • • •

3. Sentence Structure

I am a gunsmith’s daughter. For the next week I anxiously awaited role postings. My next show was in the spring of my freshman year. It was a delicate situation.

– Compound – Two or more independent clauses , joined by FANBOYS
• When I was in high school I was a big, non-athletic kid, and I was painfully self-conscious of how these things made me different. • You couldn’t see all the little imperfections of the truck as it barreled down the narrow street, but on the sides, beneath the freshly painted and nearly professional looking lettering, was the ambulance’s former city name.

Sentence structure cont.
Independent clause joined by one or more dependent clauses. Joining words: but, because, since, after, although, or when or a relative pronoun such as that, who, or which The meanders of water seem equally aimless, but are, it turns out, very regular in their irregularity--although if you were walking along the bank of a meandering river, you might find that hard to believe. There might be particular essays whose shape is more akin to one of the other basic natural forms--a sphere or hexagon, a spiral, say, or helix or branch--but on the whole, I think, what essays do best is meander.

--From Meander by Mary Paumier Jones

Simple and Complex = contrast, variety
Paumier Jones There might be particular essays whose shape is more akin to one of the other basic natural forms -- a sphere or hexagon, a spiral, say, or helix or branch -- but on the whole, I think, what essays do best is meander. They fall short of the kind of circular perfection we expect of fiction or poetry. They proceed in elliptical curves, diverging, digressing. We can float or row or swim or speed or sail along the meandering course of an essay. We can meander on foot on the river bank with the essayist. We expect only to go somewhere in the presence of someone. Bryson No matter how hard you try you will never be able to grasp just how tiny, how spatially unassuming, is a proton. It is just way too small.

I'm assuming of course that you wish to build an inflationary universe. If you'd prefer instead to build a more old-fashioned, standard Big Bang universe, you'll need additional materials. In fact, you will need to gather up everything there is—every last mote and particle of matter between here and the edge of creation—and squeeze it into a spot so infinitesimally compact that it has no dimensions at all. It is known as a singularity.

Sentence structure, continued
– Fragments
• When it was light enough to use the binoculars he glassed the valley below. Everything paling away into the murk. The soft ash blowing in loose swirls over the blacktop. He studied what he could see. The segments of road down there among the dead trees. Looking for anything of color. Any movement. Cormac McCarthy

– Parallelism

• But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. Lincoln

4. Diction (vocabulary choices)

Diction range 1: from Casual and Colloquial >>>>> Formal and Standard

“Ain’t everybody’s daddy the deadest shot in Macomb County.” Harper Lee Not everyone’s father is the best marksman in the county of Macomb…. Now pack into that tiny, tiny space about an ounce of matter… -A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
what’s up hey how are you? greetings Peace be to you see ya so long bye goodbye farewell live long & prosper walk hit the pavement stroll meander perambulate split take off fly the coop leave decamp absquatulate To sleep, maybe to dream ? Eighty-seven years ago, our grandparents and great grandparents built, on this continent, a new country …

Diction range 2: Concrete >>>>> Abstract
Red Ford Escort with a dented bumper damaged compact car vehicle Rhododenrun bush big shrub plant Ride the stairmaster for 20 minutes exercise engage in physical activity crumpled bit of old parchment piece of old paper paper product

Very concrete and specific can be fun

“Dirk Calloway was a German not-so-gentleman with a huge hat. He wore jeans tighter than latex and wore flourescent light-bulbs (he was all about saving the environment) sewn to his clothes due to the fact that he was nearly sightless (hence the enormous pair of rayban wayfarer style glasses that adorned his squinty-eyed face) and often had trouble reading signs and other posted propaganda. The wires that ran through his clothes to keep the lights running kept him warmed him through the wintertime, although it was very uncomfortable in the summertime.”
From “The Dance of The Hipsters 2,” Creative Writing group, Fall 2010

Very abstract can be meaningless, evasive, dishonest or, worst of all, . . . wordy
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. --from Ecclesiastes

George Orwell’s translation into modern English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Diction range 3: Prosaic >>>>> Poetic
Prosaic: Common speech, ordinary, pedestrian, colorless Poetic: employing simile, metaphor, alliteration, images, rhythm and meter • • • • The sun went down The sun dropped below the horizon The golden orb of the sun sank from sight The fiery chariot achieved its destination at long last and moved beyond the grasp of human vision.
You get the idea

Quirky diction choices
Protons are so small that a little dib of ink like the dot on this i …

Contrasting prose styles
Faulkner’s “The Bear”
Anne Beattie’s “The Doctor’s House,”

There was always a bottle present, so that it would seem to him that those fine fierce instants of heart and brain and courage and wiliness and speed were concentrated and distilled into that brown liquor which not women, not boys and children, but only hunters drank, drinking not of the blood they spilled but some condensation of the wild immortal spirit, drinking it moderately, humbly even, not with the pagan's base and baseless hope of acquiring thereby the virtues of cunning and speed but in salute to them.

Some time ago, my brother Andrew began looking up girls from high school. At first I didn't think much about it, because I didn't realize it was going to be girls, plural; I thought it was just going to be Josie Bower. That was the girl he mentioned: Josie, who had survived cancer, but missed much of fifth grade. . . . I had some curiosity, myself, about how Josie was doing…. I didn't exactly get it back then; I thought it was nice that he wanted to find out how she was doing after twenty-five years.

Easier, perchance, to hear style
• Douglas Adams
– Turn predictable sayings on their head
• In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move. • The first ten million years were the worst," said Marvin, "and the second ten million years, they were the worst too. The third ten million years I didn't enjoy at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline. • Don't give any money to the unicorns, it only encourages them.

– A certain way with metaphor
• The storm had now definitely abated, and what thunder there was now grumbled over more distant hills, like a man saying "And another thing..." twenty minutes after admitting he's lost the argument. • He paused and maneuvered his thoughts. It was like watching oil tankers doing three-point turns in the English Channel.

– Matter of fact description of fanciful “facts” (:56) – Repetition, running bits
• I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed (Marvin) • ...a nice hot cup of tea (Arthur)

– Throwaways
• “I wonder if it will be friends with me” (start)
• Adapted from Project Galactic Guide (add an entry for extra credit)

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