How to write: [Room] 101

June 17th, 2007

Would you be able to write any better with Big Brother looking over your shoulder? It’s worth a try.

George Orwell, the man who described Big Brother (pictured) and Room 101 in his apocalyptic novel 1984, left budding pensmiths some handy pointers as to how to write.

Orwell’s 12 Writing Tips are taken from his book Politics and the English Language and still make sense today …

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.

So, there you go. If it worked for Winston Smith, it can work for you.



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