It has been a couple of weeks since my last post as I have been taking it easy. One of those two weeks was spent on a beach with some books that I have been waiting to read for almost a year. I find that vacations are great for that sort of thing as it totally takes your mind off of all of the things that you go on vacation to forget. At any rate, I got through about five books in total and there were winners and losers. The winners were the ones that read very easily with great flow and the losers were the ones where I was wondering why I was still reading it after 300 pages. It occurred to me that anyone can author a book, but the truly successful writers possess something that makes their work more popular. That 'thing' is STYLE.
Now you cannot talk about Style at it relates to writing without of course mentioning 'The Elements of Style' by William Strunck and E.B. White. Although this book is small, it is has had a profound impact on the world of literary education. Having never studied English beyond high school, I first heard about it from Stephen King's autobiographical manual, "On Writing."
It goes without saying that artists and architects have their own style when it comes to developing designs for new projects, but I was wondering if there were any connections between the traditional design process and the construction of great prose. So I picked up Strunck and White and here is what I found. Section V of the book is called "An Approach to Style" (sections I-IV deal mostly with English and Grammar) and offers a look into the enigma of great writing. The author(s) say:
"If you doubt that style is something of a mystery, try rewriting a familiar sentence and see what happens. Any much quoted sentence will do. Suppose we take "These are the times that try men's souls." Here we have eight short words, easy words forming a simple declarative sentence. Yet in that arrangement, they have shown great durability. Now compare a few variations:
-Times like these try men's souls.
-How trying it is to live in these times!
-These are trying times for men's souls.
-Soulwise, these are trying times.
It seems unlikely that Thomas Paine could have made his sentiment stick if he had couched it any of these forms. But why not? No fault of grammar can be detected in them, and in every case the meaning is clear. Each version is correct, and each, for some reason that we can't readily put our finger on, is marked for oblivion."
Reading those words made me realize how universal Style is. Here Strunck and White are talking about words, but you could easily replace the grammar of language with the colors in a fabric or parts of a building. We have all seen structures made of wood, concrete, and brick, but why do some call for attention and others 'marked for oblivion'? Style is something that must be a part of every great designer's toolbox. Projects that are executed with an eye for function only are functional, but boring. Louis Sullivan was function with Style. Frank Lloyd Wright went through multiple styles and the rest of the modernists got together and framed 'the International Style'.
Looking back at previous generations, I wonder if we have given up style as a society. Our cities are populated with the same identical big box stores and landscapes as every other one. I tend to think that this is good for those who want to think differently. So I encourage anyone to start their own company or open up your own shop. I believe you will be rewarded for thinking differently, just make sure you do it with Style.