1. Ganoosh

    Ganoosh Banned

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    George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing

    Discussion in 'Insights & Inspiration' started by Ganoosh, Dec 29, 2009.

    Hey folks. I did a quick search and it doesn't appear the following has been shared before.

    Here is an essay written by George Orwell. A guideline for preventing common errors in written language. I have found it very helpful: Politics and the English Language

    One bloggers interpretation:

    1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

    This sounds easy, but in practice is incredibly difficult. Phrases such as toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, an axe to grind, Achilles’ heel, swan song, and hotbed come to mind quickly and feel comforting and melodic.

    For this exact reason they must be avoided. Common phrases have become so comfortable that they create no emotional response. Take the time to invent fresh, powerful images.

    2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

    Long words don’t make you sound intelligent unless used skillfully. In the wrong situation they’ll have the opposite effect, making you sound pretentious and arrogant. They’re also less likely to be understood and more awkward to read.

    When Hemingway was criticized by Faulkner for his limited word choice he replied:

    Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.

    3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

    Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree (Ezra Pound). Accordingly, any words that don’t contribute meaning to a passage dilute its power. Less is always better. Always.

    4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

    This one is frequently broken, probably because many people don’t know the difference between active and passive verbs. I didn’t myself until a few months ago. Here is an example that makes it easy to understand:

    The man was bitten by the dog. (passive)The dog bit the man. (active).The active is better because it’s shorter and more forceful.

    5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

    This is tricky because much of the writing published on the internet is highly technical. If possible, remain accessible to the average reader. If your audience is highly specialized this is a judgment call. You don’t want to drag on with unnecessary explanation, but try to help people understand what you’re writing about. You want your ideas to spread right?

    6. Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.


    This bonus rule is a catch all. Above all, be sure to use common sense.These rules are easy to memorize but difficult to apply. Although I’ve edited this piece a dozen times I’m sure it contains imperfections. But trust me, it’s much better now than it was initially. The key is effort. Good writing matters, probably more than you think.

    I hope you find these rules helpful, and through their application we’re able to understand each other a little bit better. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to read Orwell’s original essay. It contains many helpful examples and is, of course, a pleasure to read.
     
  2. yenta

    yenta New Member

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    why are these called rules and not just guidelines? :rolleyes:


    shalom
     
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  3. Ganoosh

    Ganoosh Banned

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    ^ Good catch. I made the mistake of copying the blogs title, instead of creating one that properly reflect Orwell's intention.
     
  4. Phantasmal Reality

    Phantasmal Reality New Member

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    Excellent list of guidelines; I agree with everything stated therein. Especially rules 2 and 3. It's so easy to misuse twenty-dollar words and come off sounding phony rather than eloquent, and it's just as easy to weigh down your work with sentences/paragraphs that don't pull their weight.
     
  5. yenta

    yenta New Member

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    then again 1 good long word can paraphase a sentence instead of using a larger number of shorter words

    as a counter argument you could say using a larger no of short words where one long word would do may insult the intelligence of the reader

    shalom
     
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  6. DragonGrim

    DragonGrim New Member

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    I believe my writing is still honorificabilitudinitatibus even though all I ever use is short words.

    Those guidelines are mostly common sense. Though I’m no enemy of an extra word here or there.
     
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  7. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Common sense isn't.
     
  8. DragonGrim

    DragonGrim New Member

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    :DNo, I suppose not
     
  9. Nobeler Than Lettuce

    Nobeler Than Lettuce New Member

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    This is especially interesting since Orwell was such a political writer. His political essays were of a very staunch language and indeed broke many of the rules he's laid down. But take for example something like 1984 and you get a completely different view on how he thought fiction should be written. I still use him to this day when escaping the pontificators of Oscar Wilde and Hemingway.

    I'd recomend you read "Keep the Aspidistra Flying". I believe Orwell was a very important writer who doesn't get any major credit outside of the inroads he made into political science which were evident in 1984.
     
  10. MSHendrie

    MSHendrie New Member

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    Great essay! Funny I just read Animal Farm again last night, when I stumbled on the movie. That was classic.
     
  11. Cosmos

    Cosmos New Member

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    This lesson took me many years to get, but it's a pretty big one. I use to think more was better, but more was only better if the more was more pratice. I hated cutting material out of my stories, but after I finally did it I realized it was so much better for it.

    Murder your darlin's. DO IT.
     
  12. Phantasmal Reality

    Phantasmal Reality New Member

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    I said it's easy to misuse big words. Using such a word in the way you described is fine--unless it's a word that your average reader would have to look up in a dictionary, or appears in the middle of a story that had, prior to that point, been at a third-grade reading level. And unless your readers are literary sorts who expect a rich sampling of haughty vocabulary from you, I doubt you'll offend anyone by keeping your writing simple. Nor should it take significantly more words to so.
     
  13. Sergeant Mirror

    Sergeant Mirror Member

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    George Orwell has to be my favourite author
     
  14. iowawriter

    iowawriter Member

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    This thread makes me wish Orwell would've had a vision of every 2020 detail and written a book about the year. What amazing reading it would've made for.
     
  15. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum

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    Unfortunately he couldn't see beyond 1984. :rolleyes:

    (Of course, what he wrote in that book serves us well today in understanding what's going on).
     
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  16. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    I don't think Mark Twain ever took the trouble to compile a set of guidelines on writing but, if he did, they'd probably be very close to Orwell's. He observed them scrupulously in his own writing.

    And he might have added: "The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug."
     
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  17. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Senior Member

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    But... but... I LIKE sounding pretentious and arrogant.
     
  18. Hammer

    Hammer Contributor Contributor

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    What I love about this thread is that it is a very real reminder that, once they're written, words can last forever.

    Eleven years is nothing.
     
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  19. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Those rules for writing are taken from an essay on political writing. He was putting them down as 'rules', aiming them at political pamphleteers so they would not mislead the public - by having bad ideas behind impressive-sounding vocabulary, not writing in general.
     
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  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Makes sense. I don't think they work as general guidelines for fiction, except possible for #4. Otherwise, whether to adhere to them is story specific (even true with respect to #4, but I think as a rule people try to avoid passive voice these days).
     
  21. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    The passive voice only gets a lot of stick in the English speaking world, for some reason - to the point that when I was a teacher it was honestly a bit of a nightmare to teach. 'Sir? So .... the passive voice is just the past tense?' I know a few foreign teachers who find this hosility toward the passive voice infuriatingly baffling.

    I don't really understand why. Sometimes it's just unavoidable, 'This is drawn by a very well known artist' - sounds fine to my ear, while 'A very well known artist draw this' just does not have the same emphasis, and it doesn't sound as nice. To me anyway. I'm against the passive voice being abused though, and it genuinely depends on the tone of a piece of writing.

    The first of these 'rules' though, I think does apply to fiction. I wonder how many cliches have slipped into my work.

    ... best not think about that, it's the kind of thought that could keep me up at night. :p
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2020
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  22. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

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    I don't know though. Avoid cliches, use concise but accessible language, remove superfluous words and avoid passive tense are all pieces of advice you find in modern writing manuals. (I didn't paraphrase 5, because 2 covered it.) Stephen King, for example, harps on every one of those in his book On Writing. I've read different versions of these same rules all over the place. The endless exceptions and caveats we could come up with for each are the reason for rule number 6.
     
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  23. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Your restatement of the rules isn’t the same as the rules as presented, and the rules as-written as absolutes, except to avoid something “barbarous,” which I don’t agree with. In fiction there are many reasons one might break these “rules” short of that.
     
  24. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

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    I summarized, but I don't believe I deviated. The writing guides I'm referencing aren't going to plagiarize Orwell word for word either, but they use the same basic rules. And "barbarous" isn't the word I would have chosen either. As I said, there are endless exceptions and caveats to these rules, to any writing rule really. I think Orwell was acknowledging that, even if he believed in adhering to the rules more strictly than you or I or most of these other authors would.
     
  25. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I suppose you could possibly take them as general guidelines for writing better, but it wasn't the aim of these specific rules. The word 'barbarous' was specifically referring to someone praising Stalin though verbose, Latin-heavy Marxist code-words or something like that. He just wasn't thinking about creative writing when he wrote that, it's at the end of a carefully argued piece on political language.

    Besides, I don't think they are rules you should live or die if you decide to do that. Avoiding cliche like the plague is a good one (sorry, I'm being a bit silly - I do agree avoiding cliches is important in good writing). And I'm not passionately in love with the passive voice or anything, but saying it should always be avoided is I think a bit simplistic, and you could probably find examples in both King and Orwell where they have used it. Pointing to something more specific and concrete, the passive voice is good for creating certain moods - like a mystery. For example:

    'The body had been hung during the night, and no one saw a thing.'

    Just has a different air from:

    'The body was hung during the night, and no one saw a thing.'
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2020

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