Rule #1: There Are No Rules

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"There are no absolute rules of good writing--generalizations are instantly riddled with exceptions--but the principle of the 16-word average comes closest.  No other single principle you can follow will yield such quick results in clarity and vigor." - Rene Cappon

 

I must say, I'm lovin' Cappon.  His advice is straight forward.  When reading Clark and Scanlon, I remember thinking how absurd it was that they provide a list of "do's" for writing a lead then renege on it by saying good writers will break all of the above.   I prefer Cappon's method: explanation followed by example.  He doesn't just tell us we must be clear and concise, but shows us how to make that happen.

 In chapter 4 he uses the period as a solution to over-indulgent sentences.  It's an easy fix--break them up.  Remove the conjunctions and commas and insert the simplest form of punctuation, one with the least room for misunderstanding, a period.  I wasn't expecting such a simple solution for shortening sentences. I anticipated agonizing reconstruction, something like total sentence-overhaul. 

Period placement isn't nearly as problematic as other punctuation marks can become.  I use thoughtful consideration whenever dealing with the "comma," and even still I'll find I've sloppily thrown an unnecessary one in here or there.  Interestingly, Cappon has an additional book The Associated Press Guide to Punctuation that I am considering purchasing, on Amazon, for about 4 bucks. Consider a stolen excerpt, courtesy Amazon's "LOOK INSIDE" feature:

In the word business, punctuation is considered a given (it isn't and actually takes thought).  So perhaps it's true, as has been long rumored, that some respected authors leave punctuation to such inferior beings as editors and proof readers.

Cappon notes that punctuation is not "the peaceable kingdom where everything is settled" and goes on to quote Theodore Bernstein.  Bernstein says writers and editors only ever agree about where the period and the question mark go.

 It would seem Cappon was a writing guru of sorts.  I was sorry to learn he died in 2007.  His obituary heads, "Rene J. Cappon, writing ace, dies." I wonder if he would have been satisfied with it.

 

Peer Thought on the Period

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