Write in Style: A Guide to Good English

By Richard Palmer | Go to book overview

3

INTRODUCTION

Style, like the human body, is especially beautiful when the veins are not prominent and the bones cannot be counted.

Tacitus

It is flesh which makes a body both beautiful and individual. Few people other than rampant ghouls find skeletons aesthetically delightful, and I've yet to find anyone who found them sensually attractive. And whereas each human body seems unique, each skeleton looks identical to all but an expert eye.

Consider what happens to the body, however, if any of its bones is deformed or deficient in some other way. Not only does the frame appear forlorn and full of pain; the flesh on it often looks comparably unhealthy. Just as good bone structure and skin tone can enhance healthy flesh and transform it into beauty, so any flaws in the body's basic structure seem eventually to infect it throughout.

It is the same with language. The ultimate aim of this book is to help you achieve an elegant, precise and individual style in all that you write-to give your writing the functional beauty that characterizes a healthy body. But that cannot be done until the skeleton is in good shape. The foundations or 'bones' of your language must be sound if its flesh-what you want to say and how you wish to say it-is to prosper.

Of course, flesh and bone go together. A fleshless skeleton may not be much to look at, but then neither is flesh on its own: it is so much dead meat. Writers who ignore the basic structures and concentrate on disembodied style don't just fail to write well: they end up butchering the language they claim to nurture and enjoy. The sections which follow look at the bones and ligaments of language (the sentence and the clause) and its essential joints (punctuation and paragraphing).

-15-

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