Into the Book


It may not surprise anyone that I am a writer. I write stories and always seek to enhance my writing ability. Therefore, I am always on the lookout for books that will help me pursue that goal. I’ve read books on plot and characters, grammar and editing. Yet, I rarely read books on the craft of writing itself. After all, anyone can write: it is the story that is difficult, right?

While it may be shocking, Kilpatrick actually agrees that everyone can write, just not everyone can write well. The first chapter of this book is filled with the failures of students and teachers which failed to properly use the English Language. Yet, for those, like myself, who may laugh at the failures and assume we are off the hook: not so fast. Kilpatrick doesn’t say proper grammar is enough to make a good writer. The back of a toothpaste tube contains proper grammar, but that doesn’t make those writers good. They are simply writers who know enough to get by. True writers go beyond the toothpaste tube to actually saying something worthwhile (no offense to writers of toothpaste tubes).

From there, Kilpatrick settles in for a step-by-step guide to what writers should and should not do. Do use proper grammar. Do pay attention to the nuances of words. Do not fall into redundancies. Do not use clichés. This is basic technique, yet it is very important; and Kilpatrick lays it out simply and concisely.

He is blunt, but necessarily so: this is a book for educating, not for satisfying my ego. During this dissection, Kilpatrick has a chapter on descriptions and how writers should pull from their experiences to accurately and creatively describe objects. The only critique of this section is due to the age of the book. It was written in the 80’s, so it can feel a bit dated in the ways Kilpatrick fusses over proper word usage, but overall this is a very helpful guide for writers of any sort.

All of the previous information is fascinating. In fact, in itself that could have been the book. However, the real joy of this book is the next section: a list of words and phrases which are often misused or confused. Kilpatrick sorts his list alphabetically, concisely stating the issues and the best means of solving them. Some are simple, such as faint/feint. Others are tricky, such as then/than or flaunt/flout. When I first encountered this section, I thought I’d be bored by the long list of words. But this ended up being the best part of the book for me. The previous section contained useful tips for writing, mostly in the abstract. These are short, simple explanations of how to use words and what words not to use.

Does this book educate on plot? On Characters? No, for that one will have to look elsewhere. However, if you want to learn the writer’s art, this is the place to find it.


The Writer's ArtEnjoyed the review? Pick up a copy yourself and support ItB:
The Writer's Art — James J. Kilpatrick, $14.99

Published on 3 November, 2015. Last updated on

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