George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing

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

  1. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    I'd heard the rule (if it really is one; it might be more of a convention) that the pronoun would refer to the subject of the previous clause or sentence, in which case the subject would be the brother and not the vicar.

    The confusion is when the passive voice is introduced. In the active voice, the problem evaporates:

    "On my way home from school, the town vicar chased my brother. He'd heard about the catechism class vaping ring."

    Consider this :

    "Mr Harvey gave the fishmonger only sixpence for the fish. He didn't have any more." Clearly, it was Mr Harvey who didn't have more, not the fishmonger or the fish. but recast the sentence in the passive voice, and the confusion returns:

    "The fishmonger was given only sixpence by Mr Harvey for the fish. He didn't have any more."

    How true. That is what bedevils writers. I think it was Cicero who said that it is not enough to be understood, but to make it impossible to be misunderstood. Or, in other words, if there's any way to make a sentence clearer, go for it. Your reader will thank you.
     
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  2. baboonfish

    baboonfish Member

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    Very true, they are not directly comparable. But nonetheless it's interesting Asimov considered Orwell to be a poor writer. I think most would agree Orwell is far better. Asimov is a super talented ideas man with workmanlike writing skills.
     
  3. Ed from Bama

    Ed from Bama New Member

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    Good morning to all-

    I can remember spending some time- not a great deal of it- trying to show my high school students what active voice and passive voice mean and how they are formed. I don't suppose many of them every had any need to know this specific information, but I taught it. And I will admit, there is real confusion among people in the word biz who ought to know better what exactly these grammatic terms mean. I had an editor tell me not a month ago that I should not use "passive" voice verbs because it put the action in the "past". I resisted the urge to explain the terms; editors don't take kindly to being corrected.
    Since I almost never write fiction, most of my work is dead down the line active voice, but when the rare time comes that passive voice works better, I by God use it and go on. I never lost a moment's sleep worrying about active/passive voice. I put the words down and then when I proof and edit, if the sentence works better in another form, I change it.

    Interesting discussion- thanks to you all

    Ed
     
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  4. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    I'm not sure what you mean by "workmanlike writing skills;" if you mean that his words are spare and undecorative, you're probably right. But I've been re-reading his two-volume Guide to the Bible and was once more impressed with his ability to convey a lot of complicated information in clear, concise form. He was one of the greatest "explainers" in literary history. It's true that he doesn't show a great talent for eliciting emotions or indulging in florid description. That is not a point against him, in my opinion. He does exactly what he intends to do, and uses his language carefully and deftly to get it done.
     
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  5. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I have his massive Guide to Shakespeare.
     
  6. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    I have that, too. It's invaluable for explaining Shakespeare's many references to mythology, classical history, and the popular culture of his time that are now so obscure that they need a "crib sheet." And Asimov's fiercely analytical mind explores the depths that old Willy put into Hamlet, Macbeth, and the historical plays.

    Believe me, if you've read only Shakespeare without this reference, you're missing a great deal of the literature.
     
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  7. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Oh, when I delve into Shakespeare, I also use the Folger editions, where the right page is Shakespeare's words and the facing page explains the difficult parts in plain modern English, and I also try to find a movie or recorded performance of the play so I get the body language, expressions and vocal inflections etc that are entirely missing in the script. I also bought a book called What Happens in Hamlet while I was working through that one.

    There's also an online site similar to the Folger books, where there's a modern translation and explanation on one side facing the actual page of the play. I forget what the site is called.

    Edit—It's No Fear Shakespeare, by Sparknotes.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2021
  8. Augie

    Augie New Member

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    Great list of guidelines, thanks!
    Great list of guidelines, thanks!
     
  9. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Asimov isn't concerned with that as much as he is in portraying the actual sources of the plays in mythology and history, and in contrasting the histories as portrayed by Shakespeare with the actual histories of the countries and reign. He also points out, with delight, some of the anachronisms that Shakespeare's plays displayed. For instance, did you know that the plot of Macbeth was actually a legend attached to a quite different king, in another part of history, that Shakespeare grafted onto Macbeth's actual reign? Or that the allusions to witchcraft were a sop to his patron King James I, who was intensely preoccupied with the subject? I'll bet you didn't find that in the Folger edition.
     
  10. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    You're right, but I did find it in Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare. :p Hence why I said I also use the Folger's.
     
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