Jessica Bell’s new book has the longest title of any that I’ve reviewed so far: Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Subversions of Adverbs & Clichés into Gourmet Imagery (Writing in a Nutshell Series, #2). In fact the title’s also pretty lengthy in proportion to the size of the book.
As that long title suggests, this is a handy little reference book to help writers hone their writing skills. Although great for writers of fiction, it should be compulsory reading in boardrooms, newspaper offices and government departments everywhere, to expunge painful phraseology and lazy writing habits.
Jessica Bell teaches by example, presenting, reviewing and revising 34 passages of writing. (I’d have rounded that distractingly strange number up or down for neatness, but maybe that’s just me.) She gives “before” and “after” makeover style treatment to each one, forcing the reader to look afresh at passages that could easily be improved just by avoiding unnecessary adverbs and clichés. Sometimes the proposed alternatives are a bit too unusual and inventive to suit my personal style of writing, but then I’m not “gourmet”, to quote the subtitle, and she makes her point well.
Bell’s approach is didactic, instructing the student to read each example four times, with a different purpose and perspective each time. Even if the reader chooses not to do so, this command is still a great reminder to revise, revise, revise every piece of writing before sending it out into the world to make its way.
I find it especially pleasing that the book breaks its own rules by using a cliché in the title, reminding the reader that, sometimes, only a cliché will do.
For me, the book’s brevity is key to its appeal. In this short format, the text is likely to be much more widely read, and its lessons learned, than if it were part of a larger, more wide-ranging volume. I’m sure I’m not the only writer to have a shelf full of writing guides of which only a few are dog-eared. Some are still as new, with unbroken spines.
This episodic approach, reminiscent of a partwork magazine (but considerably less costly), is also a great idea to make the reader focus on one aspect of writing at a time. Isn’t it always easier to assemble a flat-pack if you know that you’ve got all the right parts? (Trying hard not to use a writing cliché here – can I have a house-point, please, Miss?)
Well done Jessica Bell – I’m looking forward to the next installment already!
To order your copy in various formats, visit Jessica Bell’s own website here: www.jessicabellauthor.com