|My friend Kevin gave me this illustrated edition for my birthday a few years ago.|
12. Choose a suitable design and hold to it.I go back to this book every few months, whether or not I'm writing anything at the time. I tend to pick it up when I'm mired in some kind of unfinishable project, when I am too overwhelmed with life to begin reading a novel or too unfocused to read poetry. (It was the only book I could even pick up after my friend Stephen died, suddenly and far away, over three years ago now. I read it over and over, because it was small and concrete and certain, and life was big and vague and confused.)
13. Make the paragraph the unit of composition.
14. Use the active voice.
15. Put statements in positive form.
16. Use definite, specific, concrete language.
17. Omit needless words.
Each of Strunk and White's rules is followed by examples of good writing that follows the rules and bad writing that doesn't. Sometimes, though, our heroes deviate from the plain examples to explain why the rule is important to the world. Here is one of my favorite passages in the entire book:
Muddiness is not merely a disturber of prose, it is also a destroyer of life, of hope: death on the highway caused by a badly worded road sign, heartbreak among lovers caused by a misplaced phrase in a well-intentioned letter, anguish of a traveler expected to be met at a railway station and not being met because of a slipshod telegram. Think of the tragedies that are rooted in ambiguity, and be clear! When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of your having said it are only fair.
The illustrator of the most beautiful edition of The Elements of Style is Maira Kalman, who is proof that I am not the only one fixated on this book. She has also made a short film based on her illustrations, which I stumbled upon via The Kitchn:
And here is Maira Kalman talking about her life and art. She talks about The Elements of Style about 8 minutes into the talk.
Her illustrations look like the inside of my brain.