In my last post I talked about how George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four got under my skin and shaped me as an adventure writer. Now I ponder Orwell’s rules for good quality writing.
Earlier this year, I read Orwell’s essay, Politics and the English Language.
It appealed to me because a) it wasn’t very long (always a bonus!) and b) it turned out to be less about politics and more about writing.
As I turned the pages, I found myself nodding in agreement with every point Orwell made.
He talks about the need for PRECISION (Yayy! I spend AGES purging annoying flim-flam from my own writing) … DELETING PRETENTIOUS WORDS (Double yayy!) … and REPLACING MEANINGLESS WORDS (I’m always saying to my students ‘ Don’t describe x as “amazing” … what does that actually mean?’)
And this is very good news for anyone who is worried that their writing isn’t ‘good enough’.
There’s no need to fear that your vocabulary isn’t impressive and flamboyant. And no reason to stress because you can’t write anything ‘clever’. Just follow Orwell’s six-point plan for writing and let your words speak for themselves:
- Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. (Yes, folks, say bye bye to ‘nerves of steel’ and ‘scared out of his wits’ and make up your own!)
- Never use a long word where a short one will do. (This is the BEST ADVICE EVER! Sometimes the word ‘big’ really is more powerful than ‘gargantuan’ or ‘oversized’.)
- If it is possible to cut a word out, cut it out. (In the words of Stephen King: ‘Kill your darlings.’ It’s actually very liberating!)
- Never use the passive when you can use the active. (Who wants to hear that ‘The rugged cliff was scaled unflaggingly by our feisty heroine.’? Just tell us she climbed it!)
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. (Seriously, don’t say ‘paradigm’ when you can say ‘example’ – and NEVER say ‘expostulated’ when you can write ‘said.’!!!)
BUT ALL RULES ARE FOR BREAKING, OF COURSE. And Orwell’s final rule is almost my favourite (Rule 2 beats it by a squeak) …
6. Break any of these rules rather than say anything outright barbarous.
And that’s it! Love words (especially the little ones) and use them wisely, but not barbarously! Leave the uncivilised stuff to those soundbite-loving politicians and sensation-seeking media companies.
So have that dustbin ready.
And learn to relish flinging away those pesky ‘clever’ words which get in the way of what you want to say.
If you want to hear more about how I came to love the little words in life, why not whizz over to the ‘ABOUT’ page and watch my video interview with Sue Aston. Find out which authors inspired me to ‘keep it simple’ and use everyday language to write powerfully.