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Writers on Writing: Selected Quotations


Style is an author’s choice of words (diction), arrangement of words in each sentence (syntax), and handling of sentences and paragraph units to achieve a specific effect. David Madden

I should like to put it on record that I never took the smallest pains with my style, have never thought about it, and do not know or want to know whether it is a style at all or whether it is not, as I believe and hope, just common, simple straightforwardness. Samuel Butler

There is not satisfactory example of style, no infallible guide to good writing, no assurances that a person who thinks clearly will be able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rules by which a young writer may shape his course. E. B. White

Bad style often comes when a writer is trying too hard to imitate the style of other writers. Duane Unkefer

It is the beginning of the end when you discover you have style. Dashiell Hammett

A really good style comes only when a man has become as good as he can be. Style is character. A good style cannot come from a bad undisciplined character. Norman Mailer

Few people realize how badly they write. Nobody has shown them how much excess or murkiness has crept into their style. William Zinsser

The really popular books are full of clichés, people “flushing with anger” or “going pale with fear.” Popular authors bring nothing new to their readers, and I have no wish to belong to that type of popular writer. Graham Greene

I write in different styles because I hear different voices in my head. It would be boring to have always the same voice, point of view. Gore Vidal

Essentially I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon. Obsession of this sort, and the time I take over them, irritate me beyond endurance. Truman Capote

Insecure writers want to show off their vocabulary from fear of sounding ignorant. If I don’t use obscure words, they seem to wonder, how will readers know that I have a college degree? If I do use simple words, won’t people think I’m a simpleton? Such attitudes make for deadly writing. Ralph Keyes

Professors are often shy, timid and even fearful people, and under those circumstances, dull, difficult prose can function as a kind of protective camouflage. Patricia Nelson Limerick

Those who write clearly have readers; those who write obscurely have commentators. Albert Camus

I don’t think style is consciously arrived at, any more than one arrives at the color of one’s eyes. After all, your style is you. Truman Capote

Good similes depend upon close observation. They depend upon brevity and wit….They have to fit in context. James J. Kilpatrick

….modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. George Orwell

A few sociologists write the best English they are capable of writing, and I suspect that they are the best men in the field. There is no mystery about them. If they go wrong, their mistakes can be seen and corrected. Others, however—and a vast majority—write in a language that has to be learned almost like Esperanto. It has a private vocabulary which, in addition to strictly sociological terms, includes new words for the commonest actions, feelings, and circumstances. It has the beginnings of a new grammar and syntax, much inferior to English grammar in force and precision. So far it has an effect on standard English, the effect is largely pernicious. Malcolm Cowley

One of the first signs of insecure writers is the number of phrases they use to say what could be said in just a few words. Instead of writing “now” or “then,” these writers use “at this point in time.” Richard Anderson

One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short one. Stephen King

I think sometimes we give people a lot of credit just because they’re writing nice sentences even if it isn’t adding up to much. James Patterson

Mannered writing is writing that continually distracts us from the fictional dream by stylistic tics that we cannot help associating, as we read, with the author’s wish to intrude himself, prove himself different from all other authors. John Gardner

It is in writing of the emotions that style becomes most individual, in moments of passion, betrayal, of life and death. Hallie Burnett

Style isn’t something added on; it’s intrinsic to the perceptions and the way you see life. Martin Amis

The best style is the least noticeable. Whit Burnett

This page was last updated on: Tuesday, January 22, 2008

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A. James Fisher
Dept. of Political Science & Criminal Justice, 146 Hendricks Hall
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA 16444
e-mail: jfisher@edinboro.edu blog: http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com