Adventures in Reading


Spunk and Bite by Arthur Plotnik

While reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird I also sank my teeth into Arthur Plotnik’s Spunk and Bite. If Bird by Bird attempts to serve the basics then Spunk and Bite is the garnish, the raspberry sauce drizzled over a slice of cheesecake. For those of you familiar with perhaps America’s most famous style manual The Elements of Style by Strunk and White you may have already picked up on the double entendre of Plotnik’s book. Where The Elements of Style functions as a manual with the “right” and hard line answers, every chapter in Spunk and Bite poses arguments and examples to bend and break the rules to add spunk and bite to your writing.

Plotnik begins his book touching on the writer’s love and hate relationship with The Elements of Style. The style guide works as a useful tool if you’re looking for a precise answer but many of the rules offered can debilitate and suck dry more creative writing. Spunk and Bite leads the reader through chapters and exercises chock-full of suggestions (as well as cautions) to add color and enthusiasm to your writing. These exercises range from use of adjectives, to the hyphen, to narrative tense, to color depiction, to the use of a thesaurus.

Perhaps my favorite suggestion of Plotnik’s was to maintain a list of writerly words that you may find useful in the future. He encourages the use of word reference collections and listed a few interesting websites that can help expand the writer’s language.

Ironically, early in my reading of Spunk and Bite I scanned through a New Yorker article making the claim that the extravagance of language usage and excess color hurts language. While this more conservative language reflection is nothing new it was an interesting presentation of problems with poor word choice. Unfortunately I cannot recollect the title or writer of this article, but it began with an excerpt from another article (or a fake excerpt intended to mock similar articles) describing the sinfulness and decadence of a scene in a wealthy area of a South American city. The author’s argument is that when words used to describe serious issues are used too casually they begin to lose significance.

I found Spunk and White rather difficult to read straight through but it does contain excellent suggestions for writers from all fields (creative, journalism, research papers, business documents, etc.) to inject pizazz into their writing. My only other concern with the book is a timeliness issue. The book is not particularly old but I discovered that at least one of the suggested websites was now defunct (or misprinted in the text). Plotnik’s Spunk and Bite is a sensational book for anyone looking to add some punch to their writing.


7 Comments

I found your blog through Weekly Geeks – you have some great articles and links here! I haven’t read this particular book, but you’ve made me curious. Thanks!

Comment by Wendy

Wendy: It’s relatively recent that I got sucked into reading style and writing guides, but there’s a lot of splendid information out there.

Comment by bookchronicle

Speaking of writers’ words, I experienced a “frisson,” or thrilling little shudder, when, to avoid the day’s writing chores, I sank to ego-surfing and came upon your review of my book.

It is salve for the soul when one’s intent is understood and appreciated. Thank you so much for the time and thought you put into the analysis. You and your fellow readers are cultural heroes!

As for the recommended Web sites—sigh!—they die like fruit flies during the year-long gestation of a book.

All best wishes to you and your blog mates.

Comment by Arthur Plotnik

Arthur Plotnik: After a hard day of work I came home to find your comment and was thrilled (though realized I spelled your name incorrectly – how embarrassing!). I really did enjoy your book and did not realize exactly how useful it was until I started to apply your suggestions for description to my own creative writing. Thank you for a fabulous book and a make-my-day comment.

Comment by bookchronicle

Yes, I agree — this is a great book. I have it on my writing desk to dip into again and again.

Comment by Melanie

Melanie: Originally I checked Spunk & Bite out from work and I thought it was a great book but not one for me to own. Now I’m definitely kicking myself for the decision and will be purchasing the book next time I find it.

Comment by bookchronicle

[...] confusing. I recall an NPR interview with him and Chabon’s vocabulary is immense (perhaps he read Plotnik’s Spunk and Bite too?). For a 131-page story I found myself turning to my electronic dictionary with regularity, but [...]

Pingback by Michael Chabon’s Final Solution « Adventures in Reading




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