Wednesday, April 4, 2012
The Olden Craft of Writing
To give you a faint idea how old the book is, the last time someone borrowed it was in 1976.
The date on its first page is not clear because the library, ages ago, has printed its logo on top of it. But doing some research on its authors, I can assume the work was published around 1945.
I am aware that many of its concepts might be outdated by now; the way writers write today is much different than the way they wrote before the 1940s. Yet, their works have become part of a classic canon, their writing skills are praised as being unequaled, and they are read and studied in schools and universities much, much more than the books written today are.
This makes me think that, although their ways of writing reflect ages that are no more, maybe there is still something we can learn from the "old-school" and "obsolete" tips that contemporary teachers and professors seem to hate so much.
How beautiful would it be if we could find a way to blend old-school writing skills with the 21st century writing trends and tendencies!
Following is a summary of the most interesting tips I found in the book:
1) Opening Sentence
Use a crisp opening sentence!
Your purpose is to secure your audience, arrest them with a sentence that will make them read on.
They can be of any length, but remember that what is written must be easy for the reader to grasp.
It is necessary for a practicing writer to become sentence-conscious. For example, deliberately alternating simple sentences with longish ones you will automatically make the writing more varied and, therefore, less dull for the reader.
A paragraph is normally a subdivision of a much larger topic.
The opening sentence of each paragraph should lead right into the subject; the rest of the paragraph is then an extension of the initial statement.
The length of a paragraph should vary according to the needs and the complexity of the your thoughts.
A good way to start is by listing as many aspects of your broad subject as you intend to cover. If you find this difficult, it is likely that you don't know enough about it, and must study it further.
When the list is made, consider the order of the topics: do they flow logically?
A plan, of course, can be altered as your writing proceeds. A plan doesn't have to be followed slavishly, but should be taken as a rough sketch of the novel or story.
5) Wordiness, Clichés and Journalese
The commonest fault is writing too much, often using words and phrases to be avoided.
Clichés are some of them. They have a particularly deadening effect on the writer's prose; our mind has become so familiar with them through constant repetition that they have lost the freshness and force they originally had.
Journalese is the most extreme form of wordiness! It makes faulty use of redundancy and over-elaborated metaphors and similes. The best tip in this case is to "cut the cackle" and get to the point using straightforward and simple English!
Say what you have to say in the most effective way. Keep in mind that, often, the most effective way is the shortest.
Long words and sentences, unless justified by the context, only reveal the writer's pompous personality.
Of course, the riches of a language are meant to be used; but if you come up with two sentences of equal strength for your purpose, you should choose the shortest.
I personally find these tips very useful.
Do you think they still apply to today's writing techniques? Is there anything you would like to add to complete them?