George Orwell - On Writing
Six questions and Six Rules
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it?
- What image or idiom will make it clearer?
- Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
- Could I put it more shortly?
- Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
One can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
* From Orwell’s essay“Politics and the English Language”
George Orwell is the author of 1984, Animal Farm, and Down and Out in Paris and London, and such essays as “Shooting an Elephant.” Orwell was a passionate defender of good writing.
Source: Gotham Writers
“Ooooh, a gar-aaaaage.”
“What do you call it?”
I actually use cliches a LOT, but the idea is that they are cliches which are so well-worn that they’re no longer cliches - Orwell hated the word “organization”, which startled me because by the time I read “Politics and the English Language” in the 1980s, it was already a regular word.
I’m currently reading Titus Groan, though, and that is just a cacophony of cliche-avoidance. It’s simultaneously wonderful and terrible - on the one hand, every description is fresh and unique, and most are very good. At the same time, you’re never able to relax and just read what happened. The authorial voice is front and centre… and that’s something I never wish to have in my work.