The Vicar of Christ & Cormac McCarthy’s writing tips
Posted: 29 October 2019 01:02 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Guardian.

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Posted: 29 October 2019 02:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Good writers make good choices that lead to easy reading.

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Posted: 29 October 2019 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The quibble about ‘omit needless words’ is surely modelled on this old Jewish joke (I gather that it’s also ascribed to Mullah Nasruddin):

The owner of a fish store put up a sign “Fresh Fish Sold Here”. A friend of his saw the sign, and said, “You don’t need to say ‘Here’: would you be selling them somewhere else? And you don’t need to say ‘Sold’: would you be giving them away? And you don’t need to say ‘Fresh’: would you be selling rotten fish? And you don’t need to say ‘Fish’: you can smell them a block away.”

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Posted: 29 October 2019 06:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The problem with “omit needless words” isn’t the core advice. Pretty much everyone agrees that concision is generally good. The problem is misunderstanding what constitutes “needless.” Often one can go too far in one’s excision. And what is needless in one genre or for one audience, may not be needless for another. Speeches, for example, often use redundancy because it’s easy to miss words when one is listening. And often polite phrasings may make a piece of writing more apt to be well received, but usually aren’t necessary for literal comprehension.

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Posted: 29 October 2019 08:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Eyehawk - 29 October 2019 02:59 AM

Good writers make good choices that lead to easy reading.

Should we then assume that, Joyce, Faulkner, Melville, Shakespeare, Hawthorne, W. Burroughs, Bellow, Dos Passos et al. ad infinitum; oh and yours truly, C. McCarthy don’t make good choices for easy reading and therefore are not good writers?

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Posted: 30 October 2019 02:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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What I mean is that successful writers (good writers) choose to add and subtract whatever they feel fits (their style), and obviously people like what they do. They don’t necessarily follow critics’ rules, though I’m pretty sure they have their own rules. Strict rules don’t fit all styles.

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Posted: 30 October 2019 03:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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This has reminded me of Mark Twain’s attack on J. Fenimore Cooper’s style which I found here and here.

Needless words (Rule 18. Employ a simple and straightforward style) get a real hammering eg “Without any aid from the science of cookery, he was immediately employed, in common with his fellows, in gorging himself with this digestible sustenance.” which Twain reduces to “He and the others ate the meat raw.”

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Posted: 30 October 2019 03:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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The Guardian article points out that such rules don’t really apply to fiction writing.

But “be concise” is a good rule for beginning writers and pretty much anyone engaged in non-creative writing. (Trying to find a term that encompasses fiction and creative non-fiction, as opposed to writing intended primarily to convey information.) After all, that’s who such “rules” are usually intended for. In those genres, wordiness impedes communication and is a common problem with aspiring writers.

I tell my students just to write plain English; don’t try to write like an academic or to make you sound smart. Writing in an academic voice is something for more advanced writers, once they have been doing a lot of reading of peer-reviewed material, if they even ever want to adopt such a voice at all.

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Posted: 30 October 2019 11:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Yes, there certainly are areas that need simplification of style. My pet peeve is how instructions are written. I can’t remember the number of times I have yelled out, “Keep it simple stupid!”, while trying to build something or just to make something work.

I think there should be two sets of instructions for every project. The first set should be simple and to the point. More often than not, that is all that is needed. The second set can ramble on as much as the writer wants, as far as I’m concerned. That would sure help to make this poor dyslexic guy’s life more liveable.

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Posted: 30 October 2019 03:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Logophile - 29 October 2019 08:16 PM

Eyehawk - 29 October 2019 02:59 AM
Good writers make good choices that lead to easy reading.

Should we then assume that, Joyce, Faulkner, Melville, Shakespeare, Hawthorne, W. Burroughs, Bellow, Dos Passos et al. ad infinitum; oh and yours truly, C. McCarthy don’t make good choices for easy reading and therefore are not good writers?

Joyce, yes…

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Posted: 31 October 2019 12:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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“be concise” is a good rule for beginning writers and pretty much anyone engaged in non-creative writing.

Especially people who have come through a school system in which pupils are routinely obliged to write essays of a minimum length, and can expect to be marked down if they turn in a piece of homework, however intelligently written, that comes in at much less. My father, who after a career in industry ended up teaching postgraduate engineers, used to warn his students that he just wanted a correct clear answer to the problem he had set them, however short that was, and would actually mark them down for any unnecessary verbiage. Even so, in many of them the rubric ‘I must submit at least 2 pages of A4’ was so deeply ingrained that it took almost the whole course before they could shed it.

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Posted: 31 October 2019 03:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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One of the most effective writing assignments I ever received as a student was in my master’s program in national security policy. The assignment was: “It is 1948. Write a justification for the US joining NATO. You will fail if it is longer than 2 pages, double-spaced.

The justification was that high-level government policy makers don’t have the time to read lengthy policy papers, so you need to get your point across in as few words as possible.

(With our current leader, it’s probably down from two pages to 280 characters.)

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Posted: 01 November 2019 02:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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So true! So funny! So sad.

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