Eschew Surplusage ~ A View From the Keyboard of Mark Twain

A few of Mark Twain’s rules for writing:

1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.

3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

4. The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

5. When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

6. When the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.

7. When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel at the end of it.

8. Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale.

9. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

10. The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

11. The characters in tale be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

12. The author should:

Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

Use the right word, not its second cousin.

Eschew surplusage.

Not omit necessary details.

Avoid slovenliness of form.

Use good grammar.

Employ a simple, straightforward style.


→More View From the Keyboard contributions coming soon! Thanks for reading. -PMc.←

A Latina Goldilocks ~ Cyn Vargas’s Movable View From the Keyboard

I first met Cynthia Vargas when she was an undergrad, writing circles around her classmates. Today Cyn is a candidate in the MFA Creative Writing-Fiction program at Columbia College Chicago, and her work is lively, funny, heartbreaking, and all kinds of fresh. One of her short stories is in the early stages of film production talks. I don’t want to jinx things by saying too much about that, but believe me, I will share news with you as it comes. Mother, daughter, colleague, student, writer, and friend, Cyn is a glass half-full kind of woman who balances a full plate in one hand and a pen in the other. See what she’s got going on–

Cyn: I don’t really have my own writing space or office. My journals are in my closet under many sweater dresses (my latest addiction); Chekhov, Faulkner, and Murakami spoon my boots. I prefer to write at night, but will take the time whenever I can get time alone. When I can get a few hours of muted everyday on-goings. When I’m not at the library or tucked away in one of my secret writing spots, I write at home, on this couch, next to the patio windows, under the skylights, my dog always lying next to me. I’ve tried other places. My bed—which then is too tempting to take a nap—the other couches; but they just don’t do it for me. One is too large and one is too small. I’m like a Latina version of Goldilocks finding the place that’s just right. Here I write, rewrite, drink coffee or wine, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. An island of sorts I strand myself on—no cellphone, no people, no internet—with only words to devour, getting lost in another world for a while.

Short Story Excerpt:

My grandma yanked me by the arm, her short jagged nails—that she bit while waiting for the Cicero bus—dug into my skin. The bus doors opened with a squeak that sounded like a guinea pig. She pulled me up the steps as though afraid I would run the other way as soon as she got on the bus. I can’t say that thought hadn’t crossed my mind.

“She nine,” she yelled at the bus driver, an equally fat woman with CTA stretched out beyond recognition on her wide blue sleeve. The bus driver bent at the waist as far as she could—which wasn’t much—and looked at me. One of her hairy brows raised and she eyed me up and down as though I was a criminal or something. “You nine?” she asked me and the wind that was coming into the bus stopped to hear my answer. I felt my grandma’s nails in the back of my neck and I nodded, my head limp like empty banana skin.

“She nine,” my grandma said yet again. Sighs and a couple of “C’mons” echoed from the back.  I hadn’t been nine for almost five years.

The bus driver waved her plump hand as though she didn’t care anymore and we went in, two empty seats left, one way in the back where some kids sat and laughed and one toward the front where the old people were. My grandma said nothing and shoved me into the seat between these two old folks that reeked of Ben Gay and hairspray. They both looked at me.

“You’re not nine,” said one of the old ladies, who held on to her purse like a dying fish.  Her hands shook and the zipper clanked next to the million of keys that hung off the strap. Her lips were thin and wrinkled just like the rest of her, and big brown blotches on her face reminded me of the chocolate chip cookies at home.

→More about Cyn Vargas and her work-in-progress over at her website: And once again–thanks for reading! – PMc←