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.←

George Orwell Makes the Rules ~ Another View From the Keyboard

In his essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell provided a list of five (by his count) rules for writing:

 i.    Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

  ii.    Never use a long word where a short one will do.

 iii.    If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

 iv.    Never use the passive where you can use the active.

  v.    Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

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

Let me just say that I find rules number ii, iv, and vi particularly good ones.

More pictures and words coming soon to View From the Keyboard. If you’d like to submit your own work and workspace, please see the guidelines. And thanks to the evocative (but perhaps now dormant) for the Orwell image. -PMc←