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March 28 , 2009

A Matter of Style

Writing and Technique


Good prose - fiction and non-fiction alike – is part mystery and part technique. Mystery cannot be taught, but technique can, and if it is well taught it can open a window onto the mystery. In &IA Matter of Style Matthew Clark draws on examples from real writers, past and present, to examine the stylistic techniques that lift written language from bare communication to art. Clark assumes that his readers know the basics of grammar and style. But everyone, even the best writers, can make mistakes. Therefore he begins with a brief look at the problems such as ambiguous pronouns, dangling modifiers, and confusing word order before moving on to the fundamental subject of rhythm. Drawing on his training as a musician, he demonstrates how important it is to write for the ear as well as the eye. Many style books advocate a clear and simple style, but simplicity is not the only virtue. To show how effective – and varied – ornate style can be, Clark points to examples ranging from Dickens to Beckett. In the process he reveals how adeptly even an "anti-rhetorical" writer like Hemingway can use the techniques of classical rhetoric. He then examines in detail a number of the most useful figures in that tradition. In the following chapters Clark's perspective widens steadily as he moves from the basic principle of parallelism ( and antithesis ) to the complexity of the periodic sentence and on to the level of the paragraph and, finally, the conventions of plot structure in novels. Throughout, the approach is descriptive rather than prescriptive, and every point is generously illustrated with examples, good and bad, from writers that Clark respects and even loves. An invaluable resource for writers and editors at every level, from the novice to the professional, A Matter of Style will delight readers who want to know more about how the writers they love achieve their effects.
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