Saturday, January 23, 2010

Other People's Writerly Advice Tip #5

This helpful suggestion series returns after a short hiatus of...what is it...year and a half? Anyway, last time you'll remember that the tip was on why you should get an MFA. Well, you've had time by now to get that MFA and write your first or possibly fourth novel and now you're in the heat of revision. So here's Martin Amis's tip on style that every reviser needs. I ran across it in a footnote as I read his memoir Experience:

John Gross was one of my two significant early editors, along with Terence Kilmartin of the Observer. he instilled a rule in me, one I still follow in fictional prose as well as journalism and book reviews. Never start consecutive paragraphs with the same word--unless (I add to myself) you begin at least three paragraphs this way and the reader can tell that you're doing it on purpose. John is right. It looks uglily inattentive, clunking against the eye as well as the ear.

This tip I think is obviously true, but I wonder at its mechanical or mathematical nature. Won't there be or isn't there already a program that will scan a piece of writing for style. Image StyleCheck right there with SpellCheck and GrammarCheck. Instead of an anthropomorphized paperclip, a little picture of Joyce pops up: "Are you trying to writing in stream of consciousness?" Ah, the future! Where all our soul-crushing laziness will be realized!

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