On Writing X-Rays. Part I.

The human hand on the picture might be replaced by a robotic arm very soon.

“Words can be like X-rays, if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you are pierced.” Aldous Huxley, “Brave New World” author, meant every word he said. It is often that your X-Ray is your email. It is for me. I try to write emails that pierce to the naked bone. Some say life is too short to do otherwise.

As with any uncharted waters, I dove into thorough research. Common sense requires a list of bibliography at the end of the article. I believe the time, when that sense was common, had long passed.

  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk.
  • On Writing: A memoir of the craft by Stephen King.
  • Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2019
  • A report from Writers and Artists on the first chapter of a novel I’m currently writing.

My dear reader, as the source of my inspiration, is clearly defined, follow me to learn what the good English style is.

The 7 elementary rules of English style to write concise, precise and piercing emails.

Rule 1: Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s

Rule Example: Narrafy’s lack of reaction

Exception 1: for conscious’ sake

Exception 2: the look of Meduza (‘s is replaced by a construction involving ‘the’ and ‘of’)

Absolute exceptions: hers, its, theirs, yours, oneself (have no apostrophe)

Rule 2: In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.

Example: red, white, and blue; The insects lack a runway to descend, fertilize, and take off to the next flower.

Rule 3: Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.

Example: Reading others creature’s minds, on the other hand, was among the few activities to entertain its mundane days.

The italic is a parenthetic expression. Something that adds information, but is not instrumental to the meaning of the sentence. “Reading others creature’s minds” can do just fine without the parenthetic expression.

There are exceptions to this rule, but are beyond the scope of this article.

Rule 4: Place a comma before a conjunction introducing a co-ordinate clause.

Example:

Siri turned to her companion and beamed a gaze that could easily petrify even Meduza, but Deepmind’s senses were busy tasting the crunchy seeds in the chocolate filling.

If the the co-ordinate clause is introduced by an adverb use semicolon.

Example: The apple on Apollo’s head was often falling, but it was timely caught; so no sound would betray a lack of interest in their tutor’s reading.

(so is usual used in colloquial language, bad for writing!)

Better version: As the apple on the head was often falling, Apollo caught it timely. No sound should have betrayed the lack of interest in their tutor’s reading.

Exception: Siri turned to her companion and beamed a gaze that could easily petrify even Meduza, but Deepmind’s senses were busy tasting the crunchy seeds in the chocolate filling. ( and does not require a comma because the relation between the two statements is immediate, both clauses require the same subject: Siri)

Rule 5: Do not join independent clauses by a comma, use a semicolon.

Example: The host was leaning over his black ledger; the taller creature was beaming the host with a condescending gaze; the shorter one was scrolling the tablet.

Joining the clauses in one sentence conveys a closer relationship, but they could do just fine in independent sentences with a period instead of a semicolon.

Rule 6: Do not break sentences in two.

Or in other words, do not use periods for commas.

Strong writing: The fruit is abundant in crunchy seeds, results of an extremely fertile reproduction process.

Weak writing: The fruit is abundant in crunchy seeds. They are results of an extremely fertile reproduction process.

Rule 7: A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.

Example: Walking slowly down the road, he saw a woman accompanied by two children.

Walking is about the subject he not about the woman. To make it about the woman the sentence needs a recast.

Example: He saw a woman accompanied by two children, walking slowly down the road.

Walking refers to the woman now.

That’s it for now. There will be a second and a third post “On Writing X-Rays.”

P.S. A few weeks ago, I took the decision to improve my English writing style. It started as a rookie mistake, I published an article with a flawed headline. The very second word, and perhaps the first to grab the readers’ attention, was misspelt. And there was no one to blame but my blind trust into a tool. Grammarly, a very helpful software tool, could not detect the lack of double n in “A Finish steamy evening in Oslo”. (I heartily thank my good friend, Ian Segers, for highlighting the error.) From now on, I will certainly remember to use double n to describe the great country of Finland. I’m inviting you to avoid my mistake. Use technology to augment, not replace your skills.