Bob Greene wrote in the “Handbook of Magazine Article Writing” that the best style is clean, no frills and bare-bones. His basic tenet is “Show me, don't tell me.” Having writing talent is a potential it does not mean you are a great writer. His writing recommendations include: Use of the five W's (who, what , where, when and why), the inverted triangle. (Put the most interesting information first or you'll loose the reader.) Draw your readers in with interesting, fresh, effective titles. Write in an active voice.
For example compare these statements: “The passive voice is avoided by good writers” versus “Good writers avoid the passive voice.” The second is more vigorous and concise. A passive voice makes for passive readers.
Get help when you need it. Nobody can tell you what your words mean to you. But others can tell you what your words mean to them. Be sure you're ready for feedback. Don't ask if you only want praise. Never be a name dropper. Instead of just naming the places, animals, people and plants cultivate the essence of the place so you can interpret it for others. Although a writer looks for the specific and the universal. Choose the specific where possible.
For example compare the sentences: “You can take a ferry between European Turkey and Asiatic Turkey” versus “The ferry zigzagged between European Turkey and Asiatic Turkey letting off and taking on passengers and cargo at dozens of docks.” The passive voice (universal/general) the active voice is more detailed and specific. When describing places include the location, time of day (dawn, noon twilight), the season (summer, spring, fall or winter), history, people, animals, plant life, smells, sounds and food etc.
Oakley Hall begins his book, “How Fiction Works” with a quote from “The Elements of Style:” “The surest way to arouse and hold the reader is to be specific, definite, and concrete.”
Hall says the following opposites my not be perfect but the distinctions are clear. Concrete versus abstract, specific versus general, particular versus ill-defined, individual versus type, particular versus generic, precise versus ambiguous, detailed versus summarized, definite versus indefinite and distinct versus indistinct.
Good writing lives on the specific and dies on the abstract and general. A passive voice example: “Local man appointed to post.” Also “Horns were blown, bells were rung, ticker tape was thrown, embraces were exchanged” versus the active voice: “Horns blew, bells rang, ticker tape flew out the windows, couples embraced.” Hall says the passive voice is a deadener. A verb is active when its subject is performing the action the word is describing. The verb is passive if its subject is being acted upon. The passive voice is composed of “is”, “was” or “has been.”
Abstract versus specific examples include, “It is cold in the kitchen” versus “She hunched her shoulders and rubbed her hands together against the chill of the kitchen.”
“He was a big man with a beard” versus “He filled the doorway, his beard glistening with curls.”
Hall lists a number of writing tips in his introduction. He says write every day, observe and listen, employ the senses, use strong verbs (action), include detail, be specific versus abstract, describe in motion, be aware of the habitual case (would), the passive voice and the word “there,” delete adverbs in the second draft, borrow widely and steal wisely.
Powerful verbs make adverbs unnecessary. A good example is Norman Mailer's sentence in “The Naked and the Dead:” “A machine gun lashed at him from across the river, and he ducked into his hole...the tracers spewed wildly into the jungle on the other side of the river.”
Hall says accidental and careless word repetitions are poisonous to good writing, but thoughtful repetitions can be effective.
Greene and Hall's books have sound and sensible advice. They are indispensable for the beginning writer, the seasoned pro and the editor.