Sin and Syntax is designed for those who need more spunk than Strunk. It has been called “the hippest grammar guide ever written,” but its purpose is to promote great writing, not prissy prose. Its readers are not students trying to write competent term papers, but writers hoping to make their sentences sing.
The book accepts the four articles of faith spelled out in William Zinsser’s classic how-to, On Writing Well: clarity, simplicity, brevity and humanity. But Constance Hale argues that once writers have taken these four articles of faith as far as possible, we might want to explore five more principles to take our writing to the next level:
- Relish every word
- Be simple, but go deep
- Take risks
- Seek beauty
- Find the right pitch
After laying out these principles, Hale applies them in each of the three sections of the book: Words, Sentences, and Music. (That last section should convince you that this is more than a grammar guide.)
Those sections themselves are broken in chapters with each chapter containing:
- a little grammar lesson (”Bones”)
- a sermonette on writing (”Flesh”)
- a list of minefields (”Cardinal Sins”)
- examples of memorable creative misbehavior (”Carnal Pleasures”), which are pulled from great literature, brilliant advertising, cheeky wine labels, and unforgettable song lyrics.
In the end, it’s that creative misbehavior–the sin in syntax–that the book seeks to encourage.