George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing

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

  1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I’ll add a “rule” for Mr Orwell:

    Be precise and make your meaning clear. Don’t use words like “never” or “always” if you don’t mean them :D
     
  2. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Naughty Orwell! :D

    Mind, cutting words out is a very good one.
     
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  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Yes. Though I still think the language is overly broad. Cut a word whenever it is possible? There may be plenty of times, in fiction, where it is possible to cut a word and you don’t want to do it. It may depend on style, the narrative point of view, and even the personality of the narrator if you have one that is overt and engaged with the reader. You could ruin a lot of good fiction by paring every sentence down to the least necessary number of economical words.
     
  4. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Yeah, I certainly agree with that. I was going to make a joke about wanting to cut all the sentences in my last review or story down to absolute zero. :D

    I think that is it though, and you are absolutely right, it's context that's key. I mean, if he was so against the passive voice and cutting words out, why would he start the very essay those rules came from with this:

    "Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it."

    Cutting down all the 'unnecessary' words and switching to purely active voice it would be something like:

    'Most people who care about the English Language would admit it is in a bad way, but they generally assume nothing can be done about it.'

    But the first one feels more aloof and objective, more academic. It's the kind of tone you want when you are trying to be objective. The second feels a lot more scrappy and hurried, and more partisan. The first sentence is talking calmly before a wall of books while the second is at the barricades with a rifle, shooting at government soldiers.

    In general, I suppose keeping rules like this in mind can't exactly hurt, but yes - I think they are too broad too.
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2020
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  5. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    That's a great point about the objective/academic tone. It's good to be aware that active voice can sometimes be too blunt and confrontational. All 'voices' have their uses, don't they. :)

    You're a lot less likely to argue with this statement:
    Than this one:
     
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  6. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber oike despatio Contributor

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    Pardon me for horning in, but aren't these examples both in the passive voice?

    I agree though; I think any wholesale rejection of the passive voice is misguided. It's kind of an integral part of English grammar.
     
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  7. Foxxx

    Foxxx The Debonair Contributor

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    The Heaven and Hell in my mind.

    Regarding the part of your comment that I took the liberty of bolding: I found this both incredibly accurate, and for some reason incredibly funny.

    Anyway, this is why I think Orwell's most important rule here is actually his last one.
     
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  8. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Looking at it again you are right. I suppose for a more active sentence you could have 'someone had hung the body during the night'. :)
     
  9. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Regarding the passive voice, the device can be an important tool. "Mistakes were made" is different from"we made mistakes" in that the speaker is dodging the issue as to where the blame lies. I see that a lot in government proclamations.

    And Robert Claiborne, in his brilliant book Our Marvelous Native Tongue, gives an excellent example of government obfuscation:

     
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  10. RobSmith87

    RobSmith87 Banned

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    Those who have been on this forum for a long time need personal advice.
     
  11. Storysmith

    Storysmith Active Member

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    I'm amused that the first sentence after the rule against using the passive is in the passive even though it could be in the active.
     
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  12. baboonfish

    baboonfish New Member

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    I'm a huge Orwell fan, but I'm reading some essays by another idol of mine Asimov and he's absolutely scathing of Orwell! Says that dystopian fiction as bleak as 1984 offers no light at all and as such is no good! Sorry Aso old pal, I have to disagree. 1984 might be one of the bleakest pieces of literature ever created but it also happens to be one of the best as well. Its utter despair is part of its appeal, in life there is not always redemption, sometimes things do not end well at all. "....- Imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever." I mean, Asimov had some great ideas and is of course one of the all time top dogs of Sci Fi but let's be honest, he never wrote a single line as powerful as that. So I wonder how much attention Asimov paid to Orwell's 5 rules....!
     
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  13. Lemex

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Interesting post, I had no idea Asimov said this. I must admit I'm not really very familiar with Asimov - but I suppose it's because of different ways of thinking. I doubt Orwell would have personally called his book science fiction, or cared to, he was strictly a political writer. The science fiction in Nineteen Eighty-Four isn't the focus, while as I understand it for Asimov it was. I'd have to look into this.
     
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  14. baboonfish

    baboonfish New Member

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    You can find it in the anthology 'Gold'. The latter half is all short essays and in the essay 'nowhere' which is about Utopia/Dystopia he says "And yet pure dystopian tales are as dull and unbearable as pure utopian ones. Consider the most famous pure dystopian tale of modern times, 1984....I consider it an abominably poor book. It made a big hit (in my opinion) only because it rode the tidal wave of cold war sentiment in the US" Disagree Isaac sorry pal. agree, Orwell was not a Sci-Fi writer at all, his other work is a testament to that. But then for someone who isn't Sci-Fi he still managed to set the bar for what is now known as 'Speculative Fiction'!
     
  15. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber oike despatio Contributor

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    Asimov and Orwell aren't really comparable imo. Asimov's main goal was to entertain with enjoyable, well-written space stories and novels. Great author. I've enjoyed his books. Orwell's main purpose, as far as I'm aware, was not to entertain; it was political, to warn against totalitarianism and authoritarian forms of government. Great author as well, but I can't say that I've really enjoyed his books, as much as I value them. Orwell was a journalist, and I think the purpose of journalism carries over to his fiction.
     
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