How Not to Use Not

I spend a great deal of time reading books on writing and I’ve found a gem.  I know a lot of famous authors have referred people to this book, and I couldn’t agree more.  The book is The Elements of Style by Strunk/White/Kalman.  This is a marvelous “how to” book on writing.  It tends to be a bit heavy on the grammatical use of the English Language, but it has some Jewels of Advice buried in it’s pages.  I would like to give full credit to these authors for what I’m about to share with you.  The information is found on page 34 and 35 of this wonderful little book.

In my past days as an Editor in Chief, I would notice the over use of certain words and “not” was one of them.  The authors of this book offer some very good suggestions about the use of the word “not”.  First of all, avoid it.  Their quote, “Use the  word not as a means of denial or in antithesis, never as a means of evasion.” (page 34)   “Consciously or unconsciously, the reader is dissatisfied with being told only what is not; the reader wishes to be told what is.  Hence as a rule, it is better to express even a negative in positive form.” (Page 35)

This paragraph goes on to list a few examples which I will share with you here. (Page 35)

  • not honest   should read  dishonest
  • not important should read trifling
  • did not remember should read forgot

This goes along with their advice to use as few words as possible and be concise with your description.  Easier said than done, but it does make for much more powerful writing.  I also read On Writing, by Stephen King and he proclaims the three authors of The Elements of Style, as pure geniouses.  I couldn’t agree more.  If you’d like another example of clear concise writing that will draw you into the scene read some of Dean Koontz’s books.  They are the epitome of what Strunk/White/Kalman are referring to.

About Kelly Abell

I am a writer, blogger, and graphic artist. My aim for you is to utilize this blog to help you improve your writing skills, and to educate you on the publishing business. If you need help with writing, want to self-publish a book and need advice, or just want to kick a story idea around to see what works best, that's what I'm here for. As I gain knowledge from editors and publishers, I will share that knowledge with you. As writers we should always strive to improve our craft and grow. A day should not pass where you haven't learned or tried something new with your writing. Many thanks to my Night Owl Friend, Lea Ellen Borg for editing my posts! Best to you and all your characters and stories. Write on, my friends...Write on.
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1 Response to How Not to Use Not

  1. jackstr952 says:

    Great advice, Kelly. Dean Koontz is one of my favorite authors. I will need to add the word ‘not’ to my growing list of words that weaken writing. I have The Elements of Style on my bookshelf. It might be time to open it up and revisit.


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