Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Attention All Writers and Wannabes

From that carnival of delights, Boing Boing, comes author V.S. Naipaul’s seven-point strategy for improving as a writer. (I especially like #4.)
1. Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than ten or twelve words.

2. Each sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.

3. Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.

4. Never use words whose meaning you are not sure of. If you break this rule you should look for other work.

5. The beginner should avoid using adjectives, except those of colour, size and number. Use as few adverbs as possible.

6. Avoid the abstract. Always go for the concrete.

7. Every day, for six months at least, practice writing in this way. Small words; short, clear, concrete sentences. It may be awkward, but it’s training you in the use of language. It may even be getting rid of the bad language habits you picked up at the university. You may go beyond these rules after you have thoroughly understood and mastered them.

* * *

You can see how well I’ve done at following these rules in the latest installment of my serial novel, Forget About It: The First Al Zymer Senile Detective Mystery, which has been posted in my other blog. All comments happily read and responded to. (Oops, I just ended a sentence with a preposition.)


Ricky Bush said...

And your last sentence is waaay too long.

Barbara said...

Great advice. I should post it where I can't avoid seeing it.

dick adler said...

John Shannon just sent me this:
"Here is a sentence that ends with five prepositions:

That is a great bush to be jumped out at from behind of."

eviljwinter said...

You CAN end sentences in prepositions. That rule is a myth perpetrated by Latin teachers.

Last I checked, English was a Germanic language.

You should also feel free to boldly split infinitives. Again, a Latin rule that makes absolutely no sense in English.