Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review "Make Every Word Count"

“Make Every Word Count” Book Review (Part 1 of 3)

Spreading confidence is one of the main purposes of a good teacher, no matter the subject. “Make every word count,” by Gary Provost, (available on does that. It’s not a new book, but it offers timeless advice in a friendly tone in an attempt to guide writers in their craft.

The book doesn’t preach, but offers information and practical examples designed to make the reader/writer think seriously about the process while demystifying story/article development. The process of writing is described in a way I could follow, but offered some surprises that made the book fun to read.

Although there are dozens of good examples of writing styles, I’m going to focus on three areas that were only briefly covered. They each have less to do with good sentences and more to do with thinking about writing and its possibilities. Each one offers guidance on why we do what we do and how we can do it better.

In the beginning

Provost begins by asking the question “Can writing be taught?” His answer is “No. Throw this book away.” He is kidding, of course. I know this because the book in my hand has about 200 more pages of printed information not designed to be tossed in the garbage can. He changes his answer in the next line and says that writing can be taught indeed, and laments that fact that that question keeps popping up and no one ever asks his wife, who plays the guitar, if playing the guitar can be taught. Obviously he’s a bitter, cynical man, and I liked him right away.

He explains that writing is not like learning auto mechanics, in that each part in a car has only one purpose and those purposes are not interchangeable. He does, however, break down the parts of writing into categories in order to explain them. These parts will not fit into the molds other writers may have, but it’s a working description that meets our needs here. We learn that words and sentences and stories all have meanings that can be altered depending on the circumstance.

For instance, he cites two sentences that convey the fact that a man died in a work-related accident. But, by using different words, one makes a reader sad and one makes the reader smile. The first states that a 27-year-old man died in an accident at work, leaving behind three little boys. The second states that “Hubie Humwicker” (a funny name) died from drowning in a 300-gallon vat of chocolate syrup.

Both sentences tell us what happened, but each has a different tone and purpose. Same general information--different means of expressing it. He forces us to look closer at the written word and why some words work more efficiently than others. This also explains why writers should know a story’s purpose before deciding what and how to write.

To be continued …

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