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A Self Made of Words

Crafting a Distinctive Persona in Nonfiction Writing

Carl H. Klaus

Publication Year: 2013

Confident or fretful, solemn or sassy, tough or tender, casual or formal: the self you project in writing—your persona—is the byproduct of numerous decisions you make about what to say and how to say it. Though any single word or phrase or sentence might make little difference within the scope of an entire essay or book, collectively they create an impression of who you are or seem to be—an impression that’s sure to influence how readers respond to your work. Thus it’s essential to take charge of how you come across on the page, to craft an appropriate persona for whatever you’re writing, whether it’s a personal essay, a blog, a technical report, a letter to the editor, or a memoir. In this wise and ingenious little guide, noted essayist Carl Klaus shows you how to adapt your self to the needs of such varied nonfiction, by varying his own persona to illustrate the distinctive effect produced by each aspect and element of writing.

Klaus divides his book into two parts: first, an introduction to the nature and function of a persona, then a survey of the most important elements of writing that contribute to the character of a persona, from point of view and organization to diction and sentence structure. Both parts contain exercises that will give you practice in developing a persona of your choice. Challenging and stimulating, each of his exercises focuses on a distinctly different aspect of composition and style, so as to help you develop the skills of a versatile and personable writer. By focusing on the most important ways of projecting your self in nonfiction prose, you can learn to craft a distinctive self in your writing.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

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Preface: Creating a Distinctive Self

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pp. xi-xii

...the specifics of how to create a distinctive self—a crucial element in writing, strangely overlooked. So I spent the last few years putting together the ideas and suggestions I’ve gathered and developed over the course of my work as an author, editor, and teacher of nonfiction. Though you can’t see it on the page, an impression of your self is there in everything you write, and it’s bound to influence the way that readers respond...

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Part I: Your Self in Writing

...Your self in writing? Yes, if you wrote it, you must be in it somehow, for an imprint of your self is unavoidable, as surely as a fingerprint. It’s there in the gist of what you say and the style of how you say it. Overtly in a personal essay or opinion piece. Implicitly in an article or a report. The only problem is that a version of your self made of words, a persona, is not really the...

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Your Self and Your Persona

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pp. 3-5

...To see how varied one’s persona can be, I’d like you to reread the preceding paragraph, which is addressed to “you” in an informal style; then compare the way I sound in that passage with the way I would have come across in a completely different style, beginning instead with...

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Persona and Performance

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pp. 6-10

...Another way to think about your persona is to consider it an essential element in a performance of sorts. To take part in a performance may seem like a fanciful—and somewhat devious—thing to do in your writing. But most of us perform a variety of roles every day of our lives, given the different people...

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Content, Purpose, and Persona

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pp. 11-15

...Though most of this book is focused on the form of your writing, on how to word things and how to organize and present your material, it’s important to keep in mind the rhetorical truth exemplified in the passages by Ephron and Franklin—that the content and purpose...

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Self-Revelation and Self-Creation

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pp. 16-20

...Though I’ve written about self-revelation in Oates and other essayists, and have discussed this fascinating subject in writing courses, I’ve never tried to offer guidance about it in a how-to book such as this. So I’m a bit uneasy about discussing it here, especially because...

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Part II: Elements of Writing and Your Self

...Creating a distinctive persona involves decisions about a wide range of options, from the choice of a word to the design of a sentence to the structuring of an entire piece. So this section explains those elements of writing and provides exercises...

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Point of View

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pp. 23-25

...How should I present it? What point of view should I use? Such overarching questions arise whenever I think about writing a piece, whether it involves a memorable incident, like my vertigo attack, or an explanation of presentational strategy such as you’re reading right...

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Levels of Style

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pp. 26-31

...When you’re planning a piece of writing, it’s always important to consider the level of style that you intend to use, in order to make sure that you come across in a way that’s appropriate to the audience, subject matter, and purpose of your work. A technical report...

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pp. 32-35

...Organization, like point of view, encompasses the work as a whole, given its concern with the arrangement of events or topics—with what comes first, what comes second, what comes third, and so on. Such a structural matter might seem unrelated to the projection of your self. But if you think about it a bit, the way...

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pp. 36-41

...The root of “continuity” is “continue.” Thus the word refers to the quality of being uninterrupted and is such a fundamental element of writing that most readers take it for granted, expecting information and ideas to flow from one sentence to the next like the lines...

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Little Words

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pp. 42-46

...Thus far I’ve been so concerned with large aspects of writing that this segment on little words might seem like a minor matter. But diction is the most basic element of writing, so it’s bound to have a major impact on your prose, as you’ll see from this segment. By “little,” I mean words that contain only one or two distinct vowel...

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Nouns and Verbs Versus Adjectives and Adverbs

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pp. 47-49

...Nouns and verbs are the workhorses of writing. Whether you’re telling a story, explaining an idea, making a report, or sharing your feelings, the gist of what you have to say is carried by nouns and verbs. Try to communicate without them and you’ll see what I mean. Without...

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Concrete and Abstract Diction

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pp. 50-53

...The nature of your written self is influenced not only by the extent of your reliance on adjectives and adverbs but also by whether your diction tends to be concrete or abstract. Concrete diction refers to things that exist in a physical, tangible, visible form, such...

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Figurative Language

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pp. 54-57

...For a distinctive way of expressing your ideas and projecting your self, there’s nothing quite like a well-turned bit of figurative language, also known as a figure of speech. Figures of speech use language creatively by altering either the literal meaning and/or the usual arrangement...

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Sentence Structure

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pp. 58-61

...Whatever you write about—whether it’s the drift of your thoughts, a childhood memory, or a surprising footrace—your persona is determined not only by your choice of words but also by the grammar and structure of your sentences. The basic element in any sentence...

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pp. 62-64

...Corresponding ideas expressed in corresponding form—that’s the basic principle of parallelism. It may be as brief as a pair of words—“I adore and admire her.” Or it might take form in a pair of phrases—“I deplore his greed and despise his grandiosity.” Or it might...

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pp. 65-67

...With balanced form you can accentuate comparisons or sharpen distinctions between two related subjects, such as broccoli and cauliflower (both cruciferous vegetables), or Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle (both British mystery writers). If the pairs...

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Serial Constructions

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pp. 68-70

...Serial constructions contain three or more phrases, or clauses, or sentences in parallel form. The parallel items in the series might be as few and as brief as the three short clauses in Caesar’s celebration of himself: “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Or they might be more...

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Periodic Sentences

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pp. 71-74

...A periodic sentence, the structure of which derives from the grand style of classical oratory, is distinguished by the fact that its main point, its chief meaning, its central idea, rather than being expressed right at the start, as in a straightforward sentence, is not revealed until...

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pp. 75-78

...No matter where they stand, at the beginning, the end, or scattered throughout, quotations lend other voices to your own. It may be the voice of a well-known person you invoke to establish a theme. Or the voice of an authority on the subject at hand to endorse...

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Coda: Reflections on Revision, Writing, and Your Self

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pp. 79-80

...When I asked my editor how to wrap up this little book, her first piece of advice was “keep to your informal, confiding manner,” and that’s what I’m doing in this coda so you can see what’s involved in sustaining a persona over the length of a whole work, right to the...

Suggested Readings

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pp. 81-84

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pp. 85-86

...Although this book is a distillation of ideas I’ve developed in my writing, editing, and teaching, I’m keenly aware of the people whose influence has shaped my thinking about the nature of a persona, elements of style, and various ways of showing people how to apply those concepts to their own writing. Professor David Novarr, late of Cornell University...

E-ISBN-13: 9781609382148
E-ISBN-10: 1609382145
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609381943
Print-ISBN-10: 1609381947

Page Count: 98
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1st ed.


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