Friday, January 18, 2013

Politics and the English Language, George Orwell

People who know me IRL know that I dislike English class because for some reason or another I don't get along with the teacher. The actual material is often quite interesting, and thus I present:

"Politics and the English Language", by George Orwell. Go ahead, take a gander.

Most salient points that I found were a series of questions Orwell posed that I will list here:

1. What am I trying to say?
2. What words will express it?
3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
5. Could I put it more shortly?
6. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

Some rules from the end of the essay:

i. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.


I suspect that Orwell's imperatives apply better to nonfiction than to fantasy; still, he reminds me that a couple of weeks ago I was thinking about style.

My sister had just shown me a story she'd written, an evocative atmospheric incursion-of-the-supernatural-into-the-ordinary (I'll write about suburban fantasy anon) kind of story, and while I enjoyed it I realized that my style is vastly different.

The ideal I hold for my writing/general deportment: vigorous, precise, imaginative, unobtrusive. Of course I want my prose to be beautiful as well - but the writing should serve the story, not the other way around.

As Orwell says:

"What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is to surrender to them."

1 comment:

  1. I wonder at what end of the spectrum I am. I don't think I can really classify myself though. I just tend to write what feels best. But even though at the time it felt beautiful, I can come back to it later on and by then it feels outright barbarous. Probably like this post in a couple hours.