The kids are back in school, so I was able to spend a blissful hour on the patio with the dog and a cup of coffee, reading "The Sense of Style" by cognitive scientist Steven Pinker. I'm just a fraction of the way in, but picking up plenty of gems already.
Remember Andrew Stanton's "Unifying Theory of 2+2" (see my 9/23/2015 blog post)? Or maybe you've heard of the more scholarly approach, called "Reader Response Theory". Or in it's simplest form, you've certainly heard the writerly adage, "Show. Don't tell." Whatever the theory, the thing is that there's an elusive, indefinable zone, a je ne sais quoi we're all trying to put a finger on--that sweet spot where writer and reader meld and elevate the written word into something approaching art. We all wish we could figure it out. Here's one more coin for your wishing well...
"The guiding metaphor of classic style is seeing the world. The writer can see something that the reader has not yet noticed, and he orients the reader's gaze so that she can see it for herself. ... A writer of classic prose must simulate two experiences: showing the reader something in the world, and engaging her in conversation. The nature of each experience shapes the way that classic prose is written. The metaphor of showing implies that there is something to see. The things in the world that writer is pointing to, then, are concrete: people (or other animate beings) who move around in the world and interact with objects. The metaphor of conversation implies that the reader is cooperative. The writer can count on her to read between the lines, catch his drift, and connect the dots, without his having to spell out every step in his train of thought. ... Classic style also differs subtly from plain style, where everything is in full view and the reader needs no help in seeing anything. In classic style the writer has worked hard to find something worth showing and the perfect vantage point from which to see it. The reader may have to work hard to discern it, but her efforts will be rewarded."