Style: The Art of Writing Well by F.L. Lucas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Style: The Art of Writing Well (1955) by F.L. Lucas repeats those immortal words originated by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (p 203) in a 1914 lecture one cold January day at Cambridge and published later in On the Art of Writing (1916) and so often repeated and quoted by writing professors to their young students: “murder your darlings,” meaning to delete those phrases most cherished by the writer who wrote them.
Actually, the quote so often used by professors is not the actual intention Lucas had meant, but the purpose, in the end, is the same result.
Lucas did not mean to delete the most beautiful sentences from the writing; he actually meant that bold epigrammatic statements that simply could not be proven as true and accurate should either be omitted or have an introductory phrase inserted beforehand.
As an example: Rice is food for the heart; should actually read, ‘It might be said that’ rice is food for the heart. Here is the actual quote in length:
“I have spent years saying: ‘Your generalization is beautifully epigrammatic. I understand that you could not bear to leave it unwritten. But consider all these exceptions to it. You knew them.
“If you could not bear to kill your darling, why not introduce it with the words ‘It might be said’, and then yourself point out the fatal objections? Then you could serve Beauty and Truth at once. At least you could have inserted ‘possibly’ or ‘sometimes’ into this sweeping pronouncement” (pg. 131).
This is not the only misunderstanding Lucas proves to be a fallacy.
As for Style (dedicated to Sir Charles Tennyson), Lucas’s major claim is that although he agrees with some writers who believe ‘C‘est que le bon style est dans le coeur‘ (The truth is that good style is found in the heart), style can be found, at its origin, in the writer’s character.
Lucas claims psychology is the key, found both in the reader and the writer. “The fundamental thing,” writes Lucas, “therefore, is not technique, useful though that may be; if a writer’s personality repels it will not avail him to eschew split infinitives, to master the difference between ‘that’ and ‘which’, to have Fowler’s Modern English Usage by heart. Soul is more than syntax. If your readers dislike you, they will dislike what you say. Indeed, such is human nature, unless they like you they will mostly deny you even justice” (pg. 35). How true this is. For I have often seen mediocre writing gain an abundant amount of applause by readers who simply make the mistake of supplanting their own beliefs onto the writing. Writing should stand on its own merit, but, as Lucas asserts and I tend to agree, it does not. Character is vital.
“For a writer, likewise,” continues Lucas, “such shrewder minds are always there in wait. The readers who read between the lines are the readers worth winning. But if the writer forgets them, if his mood in writing is mean or peevish or petty or vain or false, no cleverness and no technique are likely, in the end, to save him. That is why I repeat that the first thing in style is character” (pg. 39).
Lucas does offer two extended examples that illustrate this point extremely well. One is a letter by Samuel Johnson to Chesterfield and the other is a letter from Coleridge to Lord Byron. Coleridge had wanted Byron to recommend some poems to Byron’s publisher (It seems the writing world hasn’t changed that much after all). In closing of this chapter on character Lucas writes, “Naturally no fineness of character is likely to make an ungifted man write well (though I think that even this sometimes happens); but it can make a gifted one write far better” (pg. 43).
The chapters include subjects on Clarity (worth reading, but often cited in other craft books), Brevity, Urbanity and Simplicity, Humour, Good Sense, Simile and Metaphor (another one worth reading), Harmony of Prose, and various Methods of Writing. If Style starts with a bang, it certainly ends in a whimper. The section on harmony is a bit dull and focuses on word stress and the alterations a writer can make for better prose, but Lucas does offer this piece of advice in the section: “Feeling tends to produce rhythm; and rhythm, feeling” (pg. 198). Amateur writers often lead with their heads rather than their feelings and the writing turns out flat and more like a drone than a hymn. Write with your heart; revise with your head.
The last chapter, “Methods of Writing,” is very interesting, showing how certain writers through the ages have undertaken the craft of writing. Samuel Johnson is one writer Lucas often considers, and earlier in the book, Lucas reveals a good laugh about the writer:
“But I take shelter behind the massive bulk of Johnson,” writes Lucas, “When Lady Macleod objected that a writer did not practise what he preaches, ‘I cannot help that, madam,’ was his reply. ‘That does not make his book the worse… I have, all my life long, been lying till noon; yet I tell all young men, and tell them with great sincerity, that no one who does not rise early will ever do any good'” (pg. 31).
So one tends to believe Lucas when in the last chapter he writes: “One need not believe too literally in Oscar Wilde’s account of how he spent the morning putting in a comma, and the afternoon in taking it out again” (pg. 233). Lucas does have a way with words, and it is a joy to read his advice and stories of some of the most famous writers in the world.
One last quote I would like to share is one worth remembering: “I believe,” Lucas writes, “that a writer should try, not to be different from others, but to be himself; not to write ‘originally,’ but as well as he possibly can. Real originality is spontaneous” (pg. 254).
There are several dozen quotes worth sharing here, but I will simply recommend Style: The Art of Writing Well to any serious writer and for any one who teaches writing at high school or at a higher level. A very strong recommend.
(Happy 37th birthday, Big ‘Sis! Pooh-didley-Pooh!)
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a been member of the Hemingway Society, Americans for the Arts, PEN America, Club Med, & the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a been Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America (2020); A Time to Forget in East Berlin (2022), and Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being (2023).
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
A TIME TO FORGET IN EAST BERLIN
BREW Book Excellence Award Winner
BREW Readers’ Choice Award Winner
“A spellbinding tale of love and espionage set under the looming shadow of the Berlin Wall in 1975… A mesmerising read full of charged eroticism.”
~ Ian Skewis, Associate Editor for Bloodhound Books, & author of best-selling novel A Murder of Crows (2017)
“An engrossing story of clandestine espionage… a testament to the lifestyle encountered in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War.”
~ Lone Star Literary Life Magazine
“There is no better way for readers interested in Germany’s history and the dilemma and cultures of the two Berlins to absorb this information than in a novel such as this, which captures the microcosm of two individuals’ love, relationship, and options and expands them against the blossoming dilemmas of a nation divided.”
~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“A Time to Forget in East Berlin is a dream-like interlude of love and passion in the paranoid and violent life of a Cold War spy. The meticulous research is evident on every page, and Fewston’s elegant prose, reminiscent of novels from a bygone era, enhances the sensation that this is a book firmly rooted in another time.”
~ Matthew Harffy, prolific writer & best-selling historical fiction author of the “Bernicia Chronicles” series
“Vivid, nuanced, and poetic…”
“Fewston avoids familiar plot elements of espionage fiction, and he is excellent when it comes to emotional precision and form while crafting his varied cast of characters.”
“There’s a lot to absorb in this book of hefty psychological and philosophical observations and insights, but the reader who stays committed will be greatly rewarded.”
“Readers of The Catcher in the Rye and similar stories will relish the astute, critical inspection of life that makes Little Hometown, America a compelling snapshot of contemporary American life and culture.”
“Fewston employs a literary device called a ‘frame narrative’ which may be less familiar to some, but allows for a picture-in-picture result (to use a photographic term). Snapshots of stories appear as parts of other stories, with the introductory story serving as a backdrop for a series of shorter stories that lead readers into each, dovetailing and connecting in intricate ways.”
~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“The American novelist CG FEWSTON tells a satisfying tale, bolstered by psychology and far-ranging philosophy, calling upon Joseph Campbell, J. D. Salinger, the King James Bible, and Othello.”
“In this way, the author lends intellectual heft to a family story, exploring the ‘purity’ of art, the ‘corrupting’ influences of publishing, the solitary artist, and the messy interconnectedness of human relationships.”
~ Lone Star Literary Life Magazine
GOLD Winner in the 2020 Human Relations Indie Book Awards for Contemporary Realistic Fiction
FINALIST in the SOUTHWEST REGIONAL FICTION category of the 14th Annual National Indie Excellence 2020 Awards (NIEA)
“Fewston’s lyrical, nostalgia-steeped story is told from the perspective of a 40-year-old man gazing back on events from his 1980s Texas childhood…. the narrator movingly conveys and interprets the greater meanings behind childhood memories.”
“The novel’s focus on formative childhood moments is familiar… the narrator’s lived experiences come across as wholly personal, deeply felt, and visceral.”
American Novelist CG FEWSTON
This is my good friend, Nicolasa (Nico) Murillo, CRC, who is a professional chef & a wellness mentor. I’ve known her since childhood & I’m honored to share her story with you. In life, we all have ups & downs, some far more extreme than others. Much like in Canada, in America, the legalization of marijuana has become a national movement, which includes safe & legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use & research for all.
“This is a wellness movement,” Nico explains. The wellness movement is focused on three specific areas: information, encouragement, & accountability.
In these stressful & unprecedented times, it makes good sense to promote & encourage the state or condition of being in good physical & mental health.
To learn more you can visit: Americans For Safe Access & Texans for Safe Access, ASA (if you are in Texas).
The mission of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research.
TEXANS FOR SAFE ACCESS ~ share the mission of their national organization, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research, for all Texans.
Stay safe & stay happy. God bless.
Nico Murillo Bio ~ Americans & Texans for Safe Access ~ Medical Cannabis
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