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Beware of ‘writing fancy.’

Beware of ‘writing fancy.’ This is the advice of Benjamin Dreyer in his book Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. Some writers and grammarians would argue that there is no such thing as an ‘utterly correct’ way of writing; words and grammar evolve, and so long as your reader can understand clearly what you have written in the way you intended, it is correct enough.

But Dreyer is the chief copy editor of the American publisher, Random House, so his advice may carry more weight than the writers of other style guides – especially if you want to get published by Random House.

Perhaps surprisingly, Dryer approves of Twitter. For him “It’s brought a punchy smartness to people’s writing.” (I’ll buy into this, and justify my growing addiction to Twitter as a means of honing my prose, not putting off doing any ‘real’ writing.) He is wary of political correctness, but can live with ‘they’ instead of ‘he / her,’ though believes that ‘ze’ is never going to catch on.

He advises newbie writers against ‘writing fancy’ as you can end up “tying yourself in all sorts of grammatical knots,” which he and other copy editors would have to unpick if your novel – against the odds – found its way onto their desks. And he advises against what he calls ‘throat clearers’ – words like ‘very,’ ‘rather,’ ‘really,’ ‘infact.’ Take them out, he says, and the sentence is stronger.

He also writes a lot about danglers,* whilst admitting that many proof-readers, copy editors, let alone readers and writers, don’t spot them. So maybe we don’t need to worry too much about letting them slip into our writing then?

*If you really want to know what a dangler (or dangling participle) is, it is when the first part of the sentence does not match with the second. For example, in the sentence ‘Walking through the field, the cow lowered its head and mooed, and the girl decided to turn back.’ Grammatically, it is the cow that is walking in this sentence, but few readers would understand it as other than the girl. Hence, the cow mooing etc is the dangler in this sentence.

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