Sin and Syntax: Book Review

Good morning, fellow writers! Let me introduce you to Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose.

Right off, Constance had me jabbering with excitement to myself. My brows furrowed into a familiar crease. My shoulders hunkered forward, almost caressing the book. Typical intense learning mode.

She had me at “relish every word.”

She lulled me in farther with “be simple, but go deep.” Then, when she commanded me to “take risks, seek beauty, and find the right pitch,” I was giggling and going on to myself, like a gardener who’d unearthed a trunk of books in her back yard.

I wasn’t about to answer the phone (sorry Julie). I told my poor affection-starved dog to go lie down and stop nudging my elbow. I found myself in the paged presence of brilliance and just wanted to read, read, read, make a periodic trip to the potty, then read some more, until I absolutely had to get up and make dinner for my family.

If you don’t already own Sin And Syntax, promise me you’ll check it out at your library. Or, turn in the recycling and go buy yourself a copy. Better yet, enter to win a free copy from Inspire!

Make “remember” notes in it. Highlight and underline the phrases that dazzle you. Then, write scolding notes to yourself for not knowing better to write like that. I tell you, this is a must-have on your computer desk. You’ll want to read it over and over again; it’s that packed with good stuff.

Ms. Hale loads her pages with examples as well as explanations for her examples. For example (ha ha), she cites a piece from Jacobo Timerman, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.  She says, “His nouns are unadorned, naked, stripped of attention-grabbing adjectives, as hard as the cell itself. In fact, his description is powered by nouns.” (Don’t you just love that kind of talk?!)

Then you get to read the piece, experience it for yourself and see with your own eyes, exactly what she’s talking about.

Take your time wading into this pool of writer-ly wisdom and wit. Practice what she tells you, and you’ll see wonderful changes in your writing. She makes it so much fun learning the rules and how to work them, so that they don’t rule you. I tell you, that Pulitzer is looking awfully promising. Okay, that’s my dream. But what writer doesn’t want to write like a Pulitzer winning author, huh?

Sin And Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose is the new On Writing Well by William Zinsser. I bet even Mr. Zinsser would say so.


Jennifer Hamilton is a writer/editor who cheers the Auburn/Grass Valley Inspire group toward excellence; ever acknowledging that it is God who equips and trains, who opens and closes doors for opportunity.

Her writing affirmations: Daring Faith, a 42-day devotional; two Bible Studies; DaySpring Cards; and freelancing for Cook Communications. Jennifer is also a blossoming grandmother of eight, a reflective mother of six, and the unexpected joy of her very own Solomon of nearly thirty years—all of which, has culminated into a masterpiece stroked in oils of complete surrender. Find out more at www.jrhediting.com.  And while you’re there, leave a comment at http://jrhediting.com/blog

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