Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Sunday, 7 April 2013

Orwell's rules by Jenny Harper

George Orwell
I've said before that I find editing easier than writing. I love cutting out the superfluous scenes (even though it pains me to think about all the hours I've wasted writing them) and polishing my efforts for a crisp, clean finish.

Recently, I've found George Orwell's rules extremely helpful, and I think all writers should think about them. Going through my own work, I've found if I follow these rules, I really do get that extra sparkle.

If you don't know them, here they are:


  1.  Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. This one forces you to really think about bringing something as fresh as a daisy to your writing. Oops, sorry, that's a bit of a cliché, isn't it? Seen that one before. What could I use instead? As fresh as a newly-laundered handkerchief? As fresh as ... well, you fill in the blank.


2.            Never use a long word where a short one will do. I'm a bit of a culprit about this. Going back through my work, I can usually find quite a few places where I can sound less pompous!

3.            If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. This is about over-indulging in those descriptions. Briefer is usually better, especially when it comes to adjectives.

4.            Never use the passive where you can use the active. This gives much more immediacy to your writing. Not 'the ball was kicked into touch', but 'he felt the ball slap hard against his foot. The kick went exactly where he aimed it.'

5.          Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. I used to work in the corporate world, where I frequently found the story I had written in what I'd hoped was a clear, interesting way came back from the managers who had to approve it littered with jargon. I think they thought it made them sound more important, but they seldom thought about the poor people down the line who had to wade through this stuff and almost certainly wouldn't have understood it. Certainly, they wouldn't have found it engaging. Simple is best.

That's it really. Oh - he had one more:

6.             Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Go for it!



16 comments:

  1. Love the rules, Jenny, thanks for sharing. All very sensible and sure to improve any writing. I love the editing stage too!

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  2. Love it Jenny. All the rules are definitely worth remembering. And I have a particular hate of corporate jargon, I really don't know why it makes people feel important.

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    1. Only inadequate people, Gill. Just as none of the really rich people I've met ever feel the need to show off about their money...

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  3. I think Rule 4 has a way of sorting all the other rules out .....and thanks for bringing Orwell's rules to my attention....my education has been so lacking!

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  4. It's amazing when you go back through, thinking you've done it right the first time, to find that you absolutely have not.

    I'm sure your education's just fine, Linda!

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  5. Hi Jenny, it's always good to be reminded (that) simple is best. My current struggle is in the brackets.
    I once read an article about a poor woman who'd been discharged by a police force because she turned the senior officers' reports into standard English before typing them up. Shows the influence of living language I suppose. Anne

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    1. As a pedant, I like language to be the way it was when I was taught it - but I do accept it's a living thing. What I really object to is when poor spelling and grammar actually change the meaning of the sentence.Personally, I'd sack the officers!

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  6. What an excellent set of rules, Jenny. I think the most difficult to keep is the one about cliched metaphors - possibly because they slide in so easily and mean exactly what you intend them to mean. After all every cliche started life as being 'fresh as a daisy'.

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    1. Yes, but if you stop and work at finding a new way to say things, they have much more impact.

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  7. I think I break them all on a regular basis! But the best thing about them is that they are so few...and yet so GOOD.

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  8. Thanks Jenny - excellent rules to keep in mind while writing and editing!

    Janice xx

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    1. I'm sure you use them instinctively, Janice!

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  9. If you need help in picking out the passive tense, this is the trick. If you can add 'by zombies' after a phrase then it's passive.

    This tip was given to me recently. (By zombies...oops!)

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