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The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing 
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing
You gotta love a book that analyses Wordsworth and Dave Barry on the same page. Ben Yagoda tackles the slippery subject of style and wrestles that wet seal into submission, or at least a victory on points. Predictably, the advice on how to improve your own style is thin - how much more can there be to it than trying new stuff out, ya either got it or ya don't - but the wonderful romp through so many examples of style is more than enough substitute. Particularly heartwarming are the many inventive put-downs of execrable styles, including the occasional jab at the classics - Hemingway of course, but also Dickens (Oscar Wilde: "It takes a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing").

Yagoda reveals what may be the reason for Robert James' panning of the later Foundation and Dune novels - eventually an author's style turns into self-parody. Hence Tom Wolfe can pen classics like The Right Stuff and Bonfire of the Vanities but then start downhill with A Man in Full and take a header into the ditch with I am Charlotte Simmons.

You don't have to be a writer to enjoy this book, but it helps. The many examples of wonderful writing, the trenchant analyses (down to the use of commas in The New Yorker), and the interviews for the book all help tickle the creative funny bone whether you use it to put pen to paper or not.


Sun Oct 04, 2009 8:49 pm
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Heinlein Nexus

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Post Re: The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing
Sounds like a wonderful book, and yes, self-parody is a danger in repetition. But it's more that Asimov and Herbert were writing those for the money, and not for the joy of invention.

They just went to the well too many times, and it went dry -- but they kept telling us to drink the water, and we kept drinking it, out of fond memory....

Robert


Mon Oct 05, 2009 11:52 am
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Heinlein Nexus

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Post Re: The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing
I've just started reading this book, Peter. I've actually been making a list of the books you've been recommending, because they have proven to be well worth my time. This one may just be the best book I've ever read on style!


Thu Nov 19, 2009 11:35 am
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Re: The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing
I've been on a reading binge lately. Currently reading How the Way We Talk Changes the Way We Work.


Thu Nov 19, 2009 3:04 pm
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Re: The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing
RobertJames wrote:
Sounds like a wonderful book, and yes, self-parody is a danger in repetition. But it's more that Asimov and Herbert were writing those for the money, and not for the joy of invention.

They just went to the well too many times, and it went dry -- but they kept telling us to drink the water, and we kept drinking it, out of fond memory....


I think also the expectations place upon their sequelae work essentially demand that they be great, and that denies them the opportunity to experience creative freedom.

Case in point: Dan Brown's latest. After he hit a home run with The DaVinci Code and the ball caught a ride on a passing pigeon and traveled into the next state, you knew that he had to produce another book (The Lost Symbol, which is on the subject matter that was promised if you decoded the clues on tDVC), and that his publisher would insist that it satisfy his now-much-larger fan base by being essentially a clone of tDVC. Which it is, only lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place, and the subject simply isn't portentous enough to sustain the rhetorical promise. In tDVC, the payoff was worth it; in tLS the ending is a bit of a let-down.

It's easy to cast stones at Brown in general, but I had a lot of fun with tDVC and Angels & Demons and his earlier works were worth the time too. More than most authors, he noticeably improved with each book. Incidentally, tLS is the first book where he doesn't murder someone on the first page.


Thu Nov 19, 2009 7:31 pm
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Heinlein Nexus

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Post Re: The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing
By the way, I've gotten i touch with Yagoda, since I was curious if he had ever heard of the arguments that have gone on over style in SF, particularly Asimov and Ellison's in-print debate on the subject. He also mentions Heinlein as a stutterer. but i think he stammered rather than stuttered.

Yagoda, not surprisingly, has never read any SF, but he thanked me for the information.

He's written a bio of Will Rogers that looks authoritative, so I may track that down.

On my own reading lately, I've been digging my way through the various volumes of the new Oxford History of the US (all authoritative and well worth reading), the entire Nero Wolfe and Perry Mason series, and a Rex Stout bio that was excellent.

Robert


Fri Nov 20, 2009 11:30 am
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Heinlein Biographer

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Post Re: The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing
RobertJames wrote:
By the way, I've gotten i touch with Yagoda, since I was curious if he had ever heard of the arguments that have gone on over style in SF, particularly Asimov and Ellison's in-print debate on the subject. He also mentions Heinlein as a stutterer. but i think he stammered rather than stuttered.

Yagoda, not surprisingly, has never read any SF, but he thanked me for the information.

He's written a bio of Will Rogers that looks authoritative, so I may track that down.

On my own reading lately, I've been digging my way through the various volumes of the new Oxford History of the US (all authoritative and well worth reading), the entire Nero Wolfe and Perry Mason series, and a Rex Stout bio that was excellent.

Robert
Have fun with the Nero Wolfe books -- which biography? One was done by Macaleer who did an authorized biography of Clarke as well.

I think Asimov became particularly vulnerable to self-parody because he put his fingers in his ears forso long and went "neener-neener-neener" when anyone talked about any of the technical aspects of writing. So he never developed any tools to evolve: pastiche became all that was possible for him. Certainly by the time the essays of Asimov on SF came along, the theory he had developed was plausible *until you look carefully at it),superficial, naive.

This Yagoda book sounds like one of those pivotal important books because it's a subject that's so hard to talk about in any really meaningful way -- kind of the writing equivalent of Watson's Play of the Hand.


Mon Nov 23, 2009 7:27 am
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Heinlein Nexus

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Post Re: The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing
It was the McAleer bio.

It's not so much that Asimov refused to talk about it, as he pegged himself as a dinosaur and refused to budge from the kind of writing he liked. The debates he got into with Ellison were kind of like a discussion of sex with your grandmother -- you knew she had it, but it probably wasn't very interesting, and it was all a trifle embarrassing that she wanted to have the conversation at all...


Mon Nov 23, 2009 12:36 pm
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Heinlein Nexus

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Post Re: The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing
By the way, different McAleers -- Neil McAleer wrote the Clarke bio.


Mon Nov 23, 2009 12:40 pm
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Re: The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing
Where can I read these Asimov-Ellison debates? Sound like fun.


Mon Nov 23, 2009 1:45 pm
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