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.
Reactions & Reviews
“Carl Klaus is to persona what Strunk and White are to style. A Self Made of Words offers clear, friendly instructions on how writers can create their persona of choice—a lifeline to getting a life on paper.”—Lynn Z. Bloom, author, The Seven Deadly Virtues and Other Lively Essays
“Carl Klaus is one of the great pioneers in the study of literary nonfiction. He is also a brilliant teacher who has guided countless students—many of them now well-known authors—through the joys and challenges of crafting beautiful, effective prose. Here he draws on his substantial experience to take on one of the genre’s defining, yet most elusive features: the creation of a distinctive literary persona. This book is a godsend for all writers and teachers of nonfiction—and their students!”—John T. Price, author, Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships
“Teachers of creative nonfiction have been waiting for a book just like this: an elegantly articulated, easily accessible text that reveals the clear distinctions between style, voice, and persona. The brief, relevant exercises at the end of each chapter will educate and inspire student writers. Thank you, Carl Klaus. Thank you!”—Hope Edelman, author, The Possibility of Everything
Preface: Crafting a Distinctive Self
This book is devoted to your self and the ways you can bring it to life in writing. The idea of doing such a work came to mind shortly after I finished The Made Up Self (2010), and discovered that there wasn’t a book in print on the specifics of crafting a distinctive self—a crucial element of writing, strangely overlooked. So I spent the last few years putting together the ideas and suggestions in this book, ideas and suggestions I’ve gathered and developed in 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 to your work. That being the case, it’s best to take charge of how you come across in your prose, so that you create an engaging impression, rather than letting your written self take shape haphazardly in a form, style, or voice that might misrepresent you or turn off your readers. To help you avoid that risk and create a distinctive presence, I’ve focused this book on the most important way of projecting your self in nonfiction prose —by means of a “persona,” which is a version of your self made of words, a carefully crafted version that you can vary as you see fit. Confident or fretful, solemn or sassy, tough or tender, casual or formal—these are just a few of the many stances you can assume. So many options, it might seem like a mere gesture to come across as you wish. But every persona is the byproduct of numerous decisions made in the process of writing, decisions about what to say and how to say it. Though any single word or phrase or sentence might seem to make little difference in the way you come across, collectively they produce an impression of who you are or seem to be. Thus it’s all the more important to consider the various ways to create an engaging and distinctive persona.
To help you achieve that goal, I’ve divided this book into two parts: (1) an introduction to the nature and function of a persona, which includes some preliminary exercises; and (2) a survey of the most important elements of writing, from point of view and organization to diction and sentence structure, with exercises that will give you practice in using each element to create a persona of your choice.
Table of Contents
Preface: Crafting a Distinctive Self
Part I: Your Self in Writing
- Your Self and Your Persona
- Persona and Performance
- Content, Purpose, and Persona
- Self-Revelation and Self-Creation
Part II: Elements of Writing and Your Self
- Point of View
- Levels of Style
- Little Words
- Nouns and Verbs versus Adjectives and Adverb
- Concrete and Abstract Diction
- Figurative Language
- Sentence Structure
- Serial Constructions
- Periodic Sentences
Coda: Reflections on Revision, Writing, and Your Self