Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The power of being concise and clear in our writing

By Dennis Mellersh

As we gather knowledge and insights about how to write a book, an important skill to develop is to learn to write with clarity and conciseness.

The writer E.B. White says, “The main thing I try to do is write as clearly as I can. Because I have the greatest respect for the reader, and if he’s going to the trouble of reading what I’ve written – I’m a slow reader myself and I guess most people are – why the least I can do is make it as easy as possible for him to find out what I’m trying to get at. I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.”*

Being concise and keeping to the essentials can add power to the book you are writing. Books that are verbose are often examples of weak writing. One of the keys is to make sure you don’t fall in love with your words.

Georges Simenon, who wrote psychological novels and mysteries, commented about excess or unnecessary words in writing in one of The Paris Review Interviews. The Interviewer asked Simenon, “What do you cut out, certain kinds of words?”

Simenon replied, “Adjectives, adverbs, and every word which is there just to make an effect. Every sentence which is there just for the sentence. You know, you have a beautiful sentence – cut it. Every time I find such a thing in one of my novels, it is to be cut.”*

The Canadian painter David Milne, in discussing what makes a powerful painting made a comment that could equally be applied to the art of writing a good book, “The thing that ‘makes’ a picture is the same thing that makes dynamite – compression.”

In writing a fictional book, such as a novel, less can often be more.  As noted by Ernest Hemingway, “If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.”

E.B White as quoted in For Writers Only by Sophy Burnham, Ballantine Books, New York, 1994

*Georges Simenon as quoted in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, The Viking Press, Viking Compass Edition, 1959, p. 146

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