Monday, January 26, 2015

Orwell's Writing Tips

Like many great writers George Orwell spent quite a bit of time talking about, and writing about, writing. Orwell lovers who also write have probably ran across this before ---

“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 
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?”

So with that in mind I thought I would take a random, and this is random, short paragraph instead of a single sentence, from a work in progress. With this particular project, a modern day western, I am about 30,000 words in. Here goes.


Detective Ron Hafner, Chief Holliday’s only plain clothes officer, had the site cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape before seven AM. Hafner and Holliday paced around the body, measuring, looking carefully at everything, Hafner taking photos. Holliday stopped for a few moments and smelled the air. He reminded me of a scruffy Calvary scout from some late night black and white smelling the air for buffalo, horses or the enemy. I made a mental note to ask him what in the hell he thought he could smell out there. As I contemplated sniffing the air myself, the Pronghorn Flats ambulance arrived with sirens screaming.
 “Shut off those lights and turn that dammed siren off, we don’t need to hurry with this guy,” Holliday shouted at the two EMT’s as they jumped from the ambulance. 

Now let’s look at Orwell’s four steps and plug them into my few sentences.

Step 1. What am I trying to say? – In this case I am still introducing three of the main characters, the Sheriff, his deputy and the narrator, the novels protagonist.
Step 2. What words will express it? Tougher question. I am trying to play with a bit of small town police work, efficient but small town.Step 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? I like the picture I have painted, might be a bit prejudiced here.Step 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? They are looking at a fresh dead guy, should be fresh enough.
Not sure anyone today will take the time to look at each sentence this way – takes too much time. Writing today often includes deadlines, and deadlines frequently mean the closer it is, the faster the writing becomes. Have any of you read a book you loved, for the first half, and then felt like the rest was rushed to get to the conclusion? Seems I find way too many of these.

If the writing is too bad to fix - put it to a good use


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