Sunday, February 03, 2008

Re-Reading George Orwell's Rules

Sorry to be so late in posting. My afternoon got away from me.

Well, I'm a happy camper. I got Dutch tulips and daffodil bulbs at half price at my very pricey nursery.

I also had a very nice chat at the Writer's Chatroom.

Nathan Bransford mentioned a couple of things in his blogs on Thursday and Friday that I think bear repeating.

In his Thursday blog here, he pointed out that people submitting entries for his first page contest are trying too hard to provide "shock and awe" in their openings.

I agree. But I also noticed something else that relates to Nathan's Friday post. Nathan directed readers of that post to George Orwell's six rules for effective writing here.

As I'm sure most of you have, I've seen these rules before. However, in looking at the entries for Nathan's contest, I was struck by the relevance of #2 and #3, which I believe go hand-in-hand.

Orwell's Rule #2 says, "Never use a long word when a short one will do." Rule #3 says, "If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out."

Sometimes I suspect newbie writers feel a need to "prove" themselves as literate. When I read the entries, I sometimes had the sense of someone trying to pack twenty pounds of potatoes into a five-pound sack.

Every sentence does not have to be fifty words long. You need to vary your sentence structure with short sentence and an occasional long sentence.

And don't write with a thesaurus in your right hand. Twelve-dollar words are not better than one-dollar words. Keep it simple. When readers read for pleasure, they usually don't want to have to work at understanding what they're reading.

The old KISS principle still applies.


The Anti-Wife said...

It often seems like writers are trying to out-obscure each other. It makes you want to say, "Step away from the thesaurus!"

The Anti-Wife said...

Meant to add, just because a word's in the dictionary, doesn't mean you have to use it.

Maya Reynolds said...

AW: "Step away from the thesaurus."

I love it.

John Arkwright said...

I have recently started running my stories through a web based writing analyzer that a friend suggested.

Generally it turns out that the required grade level is about 4th grade. I have a PhD, but I think that ornate language is distracting.