Metaphor: Metaphor will forever be in my toolbox. Metaphor brings big concepts down to a manageable scale (Johnson 90), like turning crunchy carrots into baby food. Metaphors, for me, really shine in anyone’s style. You can be writing about the .015% increase of property tax law in the Winnemucca west district and all you have to do is throw out a metaphor comparing taxes to Ellen DeGeneres and readers instantly perk up. Metaphors have healing power (an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, I am the bread of life, etc.). They usually bring security by hearkening back to something recognizable.
Punctuation: Truly, the period and the comma make or break style. Lukeman in Dash of Style, says the period and comma have “supreme power.” Understanding when to use these two punctuation marks can turn fanfic into published fiction. Johnson says punctuation is meant to serve the writer, not the writer serve punctuation, and yet so often I feel enslaved by the comma because I’m not sure where it belongs. To understand punctuation literally means to control a sentence and to write a novel.
Poetic prose: Making a prose poetry is a secret weapon for a writer. It adds unexpected alliteration, rhythm, a surprise rhyme or two, basically turning the prose into art. According to Style: An Anti-Textbook there are many who scorn poetry as prose, but how can you not want to sound like Goldberg and Collins when you’re putting your soul on paper?
Verbs: Mark Twain said the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. That’s why precise verbs matter. I struggle sometimes with overusing the “to be” verbs, like saying “he was sitting” rather than “he sat.” Passive verbs often lead to longer sentences and vagueness, such as “it is believed by pirates that all planks must be tested first.” Active verb sentences make the action present and quick to the point, such as “Pirates believe that planks must be tested first.”
Here’s a list of 26 active verbs: amplify, build, confine, diffuse, emit, fracture, galvanize, hypothesize, isolate, justify, locate, maximize, nullify, overstate, permeate, quantify, redefine, surmise, terrify, underscore, vindicate, withstand, yield, zip.
Throw away the rules: The Anti-textbook says “Nobody can—and nobody should—make rules about what prose can do.” Don’t get me wrong, I think you need to know the rules before you can toss them. But you can tell when a writer has checked out too many style books because they stick to rules even when it sounds unnatural. Writing should flow, like water—you don’t need to see the source to feel the power. But never fear! You can keep the rules on the first draft and then revise, revise, revise until it becomes your own.