Advice, Author, Books, Craft, Tips, Writing

Sin and Syntax

In my last post, I mentioned that after a few months working on my first novel, I decided I needed to educate myself on writing. I started wondering which books I bought first and now I think it was Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale. You can see from all the post-it tabs that I found a lot to love in this book.

Although I have no memory of how I found this particular book, I am a confessed grammar geek, so it’s likely the title led me to buy this one. Here’s an excerpt from a jacket blurb:

Sin and Syntax is one of the rare books that recognizes—and even celebrates—the fact that good writing has little to do with ‘rules’ and much to do with a true understanding of effective prose.” —Jesse Sheidlower

That’s my kind of book! It’s just my nature to question why, which I’ve done with every writing rule I’ve come across. It’s funny, but until I pulled this book from my shelves and started reading some of the parts I’d marked, I had no idea where I’d learned certain things that are now second nature in my writing. Sometimes, I’d question my own reasoning, wondering if I’d just “made that up.” I’m relieved now to know I didn’t.

Sin and Syntax offers these new principles of prose:






Moving from the most basic to the most sophisticated, Sin and Syntax covers the parts of speech and how to exploit them (in “Words”), shows the parts of a sentence and how to arrange them (in “Sentences”), and reveals how voice, lyricism, melody, and rhythm give prose its mystery and poetry (in “Music”). —from the Introduction to Sin and Syntax.”

Why do I rarely use passive voice in my writing? Because I learned how not to from this book. Why do I sometimes use passive voice on purpose? Because I learned when and why to from this book. Why do I take care to place the adverb “only” in the proper spot in a sentence? Because this book taught me how the wrong placement changes the meaning of the sentence. I learned lots of goodies like that … but that’s not the best of it.

My favorite section of this book is the last, titled Music. Do you remember my post Your Sentence Deserves a Good Beating? At the time I wrote that, I had forgotten where I learned about sentence beats, but now I know … Sin and Syntax.

So, today I feel like I’ve reunited with a long lost friend. Excuse me while I go add this book to my For Writers page and then spend some time catching up with this friend. I recommend you get to know her too.

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