Writing Tools: 50 essential strategies for every writer is a book that every writer should read, and every editor should swear by.
Roy Peter Clark dreams of creating A Nation of Writers, that nation being America. It works if you want to create a Globe of Writers too. He doesn’t believe that you need flair and magic and abracadrabra to write. He thinks you need fifty tools in your tool box (remember Stephen King’s Tool Box in On Writing?)
The fifty tools are displayed in a very matter fact kind of style in fifty chapters. Clark gathered these tools from the Poynter School for journalists, and many of his examples pertain to journalistic writing.
However, any kind of writing has the same essentials. One example I can give you is what the author mentioned about Gold Coins; every good story needs something to keep the reader going, the way a video games has many red herrings to get the player engrossed.
Clark thinks the writer’s struggle is over rated. It’s a craft you can learn. After all, you are never short of mentors and books.
In the first part of the book he talks about the nuts and bolts of writing and the special effects we need to make the writing sharp. He warns us that these are tools and not rules. We can’t get stuck on these rules but we can use them to tighten our stories.
So Tool 1 goes
Begin sentences with subjects and verbs.
Make meaning early, then let weaker
elements branch to the right.
Every chapter is filled with fantastic examples like the strong verbs that Ian Flemming uses in his famed From Russia with Love, 1957. A ‘passive’ Flemming would mean no James Bond movies at all.
You should use adverbs, but carefully, Clark reminds us. Killing me Softly is a good example of compelling adverb usage. J.K.Rowling uses quite a few adverbs – not a bad idea for a billionaire writer, so there goes. Rules can be broken.
One rule I liked was the –ing rule. After each chapter, he adds a Workshop. I was able to rewrite an impossible blog post and feel good about it after I followed the Workshop rules and dropped a whole bunch of unnecessary –ings.
The Workshop makes you mindful of the way you write and the way newspaper stories are written. You can also apply these nuts and bolts to your favorite books and understand what makes them tick.
Besides striking out adverbs, redundancies, needless prepositional phrases and ugly abstractions, you can add a bit of the odd special effect to enhance your writing. This must be the elusive style that Strunk and White talked about. Try describing little things around you—there are writers who do marvels by using what is familiar to create an effect. For instance, when it comes to names, who could forget Rip Van Winkle and Huckleberry Finn? So writing is in the observation, knowing the things around you and being interested in more than the usual.
Content is king, no doubt. Packaging is queen. Long sentences are heaven if you know how to write them as they were the armor of Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolfe and so many other writers who have made it to the pantheon of worthy penners of words; they are journeys. To simplify everything as is the norm nowadays is actually not a good idea. You can change the length of the paragraph as well. Sentences don’t need to look as though they are in uniform standing to attention. There could be some remarkably tiny paragraphs and some long rambling ones.
It’s all about knowing how to use these rules. More rules and tools in Part 2.