I know most serious writers know E. B. White as the author of “Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.” I didn’t know this until three years ago when I decided to take writing seriously. But I did know Mr. White as the author of two of my favorite children’s books: “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little.”
In fact “Charlotte’s Web” was the first book I ever read that was not required reading. Then I read it again; still not required reading. And then when I had my own kids and they were assigned to read this classic book, I read it again…still not required.
Okay, I confess. I still love children’s books. In fact I appreciate them more now than when I was a kid. My childhood delight had no concept of the grueling hours of writing, editing and slashing that took place to put Charlotte into my hands. I just knew I was transported from my big city bedroom to Zuckerman’s Farm where I could talk to pigs and geese and spiders. And that’s all I needed to know.
This is the high ideal of every storyteller. We consider our job well done if the reader gives no thought to details of how the book got into their hands and simply find themselves escorted to a world far far away.
But, as we know not every book accomplishes this ideal. Why? What will get in the way of our reader getting wonderfully lost in our story?
Sloppy style, shallow characters and saggy plots are all potholes readers get tired of navigating. Eventually they will put the book down and leave the world of make believe behind.
E. B. White knew this. That’s why I keep “Strunk and White, The Elements of Style” close at hand; right next to my copy of “Charlotte’s Web.”
What do you keep close by?