My Rules for Prose Style

  1. Alliteration is cloying. At least two words must intervene before you are allowed to reuse an initial sound.
  2. Ditto rhyme, but assonance may sometimes be acceptable as connective tissue.
  3. Strenuously avoid repetition. Apart from prepositions, determiners, conjugations of “to be” and so forth, every word must have a reason for appearing more than once in a paragraph.
  4. Unless you’re writing in a genre that mandates them, don’t worry about complete sentences. Not every span between a capital letter and a period needs a verb. Make liberal use of em dashes and ellipses. Open with conjunctions to your heart’s content. Full sentences are whole notes. Noun phrases and single words are quarters and sixteenths.
  5. That said, never emphasize a point by putting it on a line by itself. This is showy and unearned. It’s more effective to conclude a long paragraph with a short punchy sentence.
  6. What matters most is rhythm. Delicious phrases have an explicitly temporal sense of build and release. This is the art and cannot be formulated any more precisely. As you write, check to see if you are bobbing your head, or making little karate chops with your hand. This part is exactly like music.
  7. If you have a choice between six words and four words, go with four.
  8. Write the way you talk. This is a lifetime’s endeavor.
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