Monday, August 10, 2020

How a Style is Developed

Here is a word by William P. Lazarus who wrote a manual on "How to Write":

Of course, my teachers tried to “teach” me how to write, but their approach was to have us read books or, in one case, simply copy paragraphs of famed writers. I found that ridiculous.I would never have learned how to write by reading anyone else’s writing. I don’t want to write like Hemingway or Rowling. I have my own style. Everyone does. We all need to express ourselves. I don’t want my students to write like me; I want them to write their own way. That way, the writing is comfortable and easy.

While everyone who ultimately long time writes has his own style, there are two ways of acquiring it.

William P. Lazarus thinks - he sets up some clear goals, and his students then see if they achieve them, regardless of what their style is. Ultimately, you acquire a style. It's a bit of how Germans used to learn Sütterlin : it was very angular on purpose, but ultimately a German using it would develop a rounded style (either u rounded or n rounded, whichever suits his hand best), or make the angles their own style.* A little different, since I don't think Mr. Lazarus is in fact imposing any angular or strict style on his students, but still. He just lets them write, with the goals in mind, and they see how they succeed (he has a teacher's part later on, without a doubt it will show a bit on how).

The other one is the method his teachers chose, and which in fact I chose spontaneously. In writing argumentative essays, I was essentially doing the same thing as Karl May in several chapter beginnings (essentially geographic, political, historical essays disguised as parts of the narrative), and as C. S. Lewis and as G. K. Chesterton in freestanding essays, and so I was fairly consciously doing it like they.

Sure, C. S. Lewis on one occasion gave six rules for good writing:

  • turn off the radio
  • avoid a typewriter if you can
  • always read what you write out loud
  • make sure what you write can only mean what you mean, nothing else
  • don't use long words if short will do, don't say "mortality rose" if all you mean is "more people died", don't implement your promises, but keep them
  • don't use words telling the reader how to feel about something, don't say something was awful or delightful, but describe it so the reader is made to say "how awful" or "how delightful".

While I paid attention to this, I could still not have any teacher actually check my progress in these, and turning off someone else's radio is not always possible, so, I paid more attention to the turns and takes of for instance C. S. Lewis' own writing**, and then glided off to include traits that distinguish me from the Inklings (particularly scholastic writing and scientific writing, lots more maths in my style).

Hans Georg Lundahl
St. Lawrence of Rome

Romae, via Tiburtina, natalis beati Laurentii Archidiaconi, qui, in persecutione Valeriani, post plurima tormenta carceris, verberum diversorum, fustium, ac plumbatarum et laminarum ardentium, ad ultimum, in craticula ferrea assatus, martyrium complevit; ejusque corpus a beato Hippolyto et Justino Presbytero sepultum fuit in coemeterio Cyriacae, in agro Verano.

PS, later on, I see William P. Lazarus made ample use of incentives in a program with ample writing exercises, and as I made my D level essay or fourth term essay on Erasmus' Opus De conscribendis epistolis, I happen to know this was very standard in the Renaissance and Baroque. In both cases, the goal is to shape, collecively, an élite of writers and orators./HGL

PPS, other point in common with Erasmus, he gives types of writing (in Erasmus the three main types were judiciary, deliberating, describing, as in types of oratory or rhetoric)./HGL

* To the point, and this has been taken over by Germans who write a more normal handwriting, in the lowercase, both n and u have the same basic shape (or ductus), which is basically that of a Russian i : и = n, й = u. Probably, this was taken over from Russian, Bielorussian, Ukrainean, where и and й exist and where и = i, й = yod.

** Or Tolkien's, if you know his few essays or many letters, you know he often likes a ps or an appendix, or often includes a footnote or rather two or three ...

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