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Review: “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” by Roy Peter Clark

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Jeff’s Rating:
Excellent
Amazon Rating:
Excellent (50 reviews)

Some of the reviewers on Amazon claim they feel “talked down to” by Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. But I sure don’t. In fact, the author uses examples from his own earlier writing to show how it could be improved by using the steps outlined in this book. That was a very refreshing approach, where how-to books are concerned.

I have an Ivy League Ph.D. and so often suffer under the delusion that I don’t need anyone to tell me how to write effectively, thank you. But I decided to apply the steps here to one of my short stories from a couple of years ago. I began whittling away at it with this book at my side, and was astonished at how much tighter and clearer my prose became — and therefore, more expressive.

The section on passive voice, for example, demonstrates well the author’s philosophy. He doesn’t argue, as so many authors of these how-to books do, that the passive voice means poor writing. Rather, he says you should use the passive voice where it makes sense, e.g., where something is happening to a character that the character has no control over, if you want to emphasize that lack of control. “He was beaten and tortured.” Yes, you could write “They beat and tortured him,” to make it an active sentence, but it also has a different tone. If the character doesn’t know who’s beating and torturing him, for example, the passive voice adds to the sense of mystery.

An excellent book of tools. Even if you decide not to apply them to your writing, this book will make you think about how your prose communicates.

My two favorite tools (see below): “Fear not the long sentence” and “Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction” — alone worth the price of the book.

Bottom Line

Indispensable.

Table of Contents
  • PART ONE: Nuts and Bolts
    • Tool 1: Begin sentences with subjects and verbs.
    • Tool 2: Order words for emphasis.
    • Tool 3: Activate your verbs.
    • Tool 4: Be passive-aggressive.
    • Tool 5: Watch those adverbs.
    • Tool 6: Take it easy on the -ings.
    • Tool 7: Fear not the long sentence.
    • Tool 8: Establish a pattern, then give it a twist.
    • Tool 9: Let punctuation control pace and space.
    • Tool 10: Cut big, then small.
  • PART TWO: Special Effects
    • Tool 11: Prefer the simple over the technical.
    • Tool 12: Give key words their space.
    • Tool 13: Play with words, even in serious stories.
    • Tool 14: Get the name of the dog.
    • Tool 15: Pay attention to names.
    • Tool 16: Seek original images.
    • Tool 17: Riff on the creative language of others.
    • Tool 18: Set the pace with sentence length.
    • Tool 19: Vary the lengths of paragraphs.
    • Tool 20: Choose the number of elements with a purpose in mind.
    • Tool 21: Know when to back off and when to show off.
    • Tool 22: Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction.
    • Tool 23: Tune your voice.
  • PART THREE: Blueprints
    • Tool 24: Work from a plan.
    • Tool 25: Learn the difference between reports and stories.
    • Tool 26: Use dialogue as a form of action.
    • Tool 27: Reveal traits of character.
    • Tool 28: Put odd and interesting things next to each other.
    • Tool 29: Foreshadow dramatic events and powerful conclusions.
    • Tool 30: To generate suspense, use internal cliffhangers.
    • Tool 31: Build your work around a key question.
    • Tool 32: Place gold coins along the path.
    • Tool 33: Repeat, repeat, and repeat.
    • Tool 34: Write from different cinematic angles.
    • Tool 35: Report and write for scenes.
    • Tool 36: Mix narrative modes.
    • Tool 37: In short works, don't waste a syllable.
    • Tool 38: Prefer archetypes to stereotypes.
    • Tool 39: Write toward an ending.
  • PART FOUR: Useful Habits
    • Tool 40: Draft a mission statement for your work.
    • Tool 41: Turn procrastination into rehearsal.
    • Tool 42: Do your homework well in advance.
    • Tool 43: Read for both form and content.
    • Tool 44: Save string.
    • Tool 45: Break long projects into parts.
    • Tool 46: Take an interest in all crafts that support your work.
    • Tool 47: Recruit your own support group.
    • Tool 48: Limit self-criticism in early drafts.
    • Tool 49: Learn from your critics.
    • Tool 50: Own the tools of your craft.
  • AFTERWORD
  • ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
  • WRITING TOOLS QUICK LIST

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (January 10, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0316014990
ISBN-13: 978-0316014991

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3 comments on “Review: “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” by Roy Peter Clark

  1. [...] Review: “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” (jefferycotton.com) Rate this: Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

  2. adding to book wishlist, sounds interesting

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