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Commentary On The Writing Life: Of Brevity And Wrong Words.

September 13, 2016

the writer.

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” Mark Twain.

I agree with Mr. Mark Twain, (1835-1910), writing is a lot easier once you figure out what those wrong words are. But it’s never that easy to know or even recognize the wrong words. Did William Shakespeare, (1564-1616),  ever have this problem? Did he sit there in London and ponder alone the next lines to his “Hamlet”? Did it ever occur to the man of wit and human nature that maybe King Henry V, probably would have been too busy to give the speech he does at the Battle of Agincourt, (October 25, 1415), ? That his Roman historical plays would be more understood and except as fact than actual Roman history because of the choosing of the right words. Shakespeare was the master craftsman of choosing the right words for the correct and most human effect in his plays. He didn’t waste words and he knew what words needed to go. Human nature and it’s understanding via writing requires a good healthy vocabulary and how to use it correctly and with full impact and force. Too much writing is throwing words together to simply sound educated and flowery; dullest writing around. William Shakespeare never wrote a truly dull line in his life; flowery maybe but it had a very good emotional pull to it so I will say nothing. He was a brilliant writer who understood that the right words or brevity of words is the measure of truly good and important writing. Christopher Marlowe, (1564-1593),  was also a great writer but he had not quit figured out what Shakespeare understood about writing; brevity is more important than needing every word in the language. Don’t get me wrong, I like Marlowe’s plays, but he was certainly not a Shakespeare. But the man came close to achieving a greatness that only one playwright can achieve; and if he hadn’t picked a fight in a tavern he might have lived long enough to rival Shakespeare in quality of his works. It is not to say he didn’t understand the idea of words and those that can be cut, I think he just wanted to be his own playwright and stand on his own two creative legs. I can find no fault in that. Shakespeare said that brevity is the soul of whit, so are words.

This brevity, this economy, this picking and choosing of the right words to use is the core of all good writing; oh, so obvious and yet so many miss it. The problem I have with the writers of the 18th Century is that they seem to have come to the conclusion that if they use a whole lot of words and drown the reader in vast amounts of vocabulary and imagines then they are writing good fiction. Sorry, this is why Charles Dickens, (1812-1870), is not an author I read very much; and I actually like his stories and such. But too me the stories get lost in the landscape of the imagery of his style of writing. He was a brilliant writer, “David Copperfield” still my favorite of his novels; after all I named my cat Copperfield. I slowly grew to appreciate his novel, “Tale of Two Cities.” It took several reading to like this novel of the French Revolution; maybe I read it at the wrong time the first time. Though I do find his life far more interesting and worth knowing about than his full body of works; he was a brilliant but troubled man and writer. H. G. Wells, (1866-1946), and Jules Verne, (1828-1905), I feel didn’t have the problem with using too many words. Their stories and novels are short, too the point, and not too much clutter of the wordiness of Dickens. Granted, two different styles and points of view but the point still stands, brevity in a story can and does tell a clearer story sometimes than drowning the reader in a tidal wave of words to describe a sunset rising above the woods in the horizon. Of course the key is that both Wells, Verne were writing in a new territory of writing, the landscape of Science-Fiction whereas Dickens was writing social commentary via the novel; well, to be fair to Mr.Wells, so was he but not as well as Dickens. The beginning Science-fiction writer of the era of Wells and Verne understood that they needed to be brief, very brief or they would lose their reader. Dickens thundered across the pages to make a point and he made his point but it might have been better with a little brevity; but then he wouldn’t have been Charles Dickens would he. I would place Jane Austen, (1775-1817),  in the middle tier of writers for this brevity and understand when a word had to go. I enjoy her writing, mostly for me though it’s “Emma”, “Northanger Abby.” Sorry, but her “Pride and Prejudice” simply bored me. But her writing at least to me was too the point, granted sometimes a little too wordy but not on the scale of Dickens. I enjoyed Charlotte Bronte’s, (1816-1855), “Jane Eyre” very much. Writing like reading in fiction is an acquired taste and all have different tastes in fiction and I know this. I am simply stating that writing worth any effort as an author really should be with the understanding that not every word needs to be used and held unto like it’s life itself. Writing is easy, it is about crossing out the wrong words and those wrong words exist in too much of today’s writing; mainly because the writing becomes more social commentary and less about telling a story.

My problem with social commentary via story is that the story begins to sound more like a political speech and not a story anymore. Robert Penn Warren’s, (1905-1989), great novel “All The Kings Men” is the best example I can think of that manages to not sound like a speech and more like a novel with a message. It’s a great novel that doesn’t need to over explain everything and brevity is it’s key of story telling; and it doesn’t sound like a social commentary on the corruption and money of politics. I find that the novel by Sinclair Lewis, (1885-1951), “Elmer Gantry” is more novel than commentary but sometimes it’s a blurred line that separates them. Great novel of the seduction of power and lust in the church, but one gets the impression Mr. Lewis has issues with faith and the church. It’s a borderline novel between story and commentary but written well-enough that it’s not distracting from the story over-all; he was the first American novelist to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930 and was award the Pulitzer Prize in 1925 for “Arrowsmith.” He had great issues with capitalism but still worth reading though his works border on commentary and not story telling at points. A writer I have found who had managed to use the idea of Mark Twain’s quote and the combining of story and commentary is Elie Wiesel, (1928-2016), and his trilogy of books on his life and experiences and thoughts of the Holocaust’ effects on the human being and their humanity. His writings are profound and moving and never sound like a speech but a soul-searching quest for answers and understanding of the human condition and humanities responsibility to each other; in 1986 he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Elie Wiesel managed perfectly Mark Twain’s advise, cross out the wrong words and tell a story that will be remembered. And he told a profound story of human tragedy and the triumph of getting back up from tragedy.

I don’t want a social commentary and I don’t need every blade of grass explained, described, and categorized by the author for me to understand we are looking at a field with rabbits. I really don’t need everything explained. That’s what an imagination is for. I like Mark Twain’s advise and that is to cut, slash, slice, and remove the utterly useless and over-used words. If I want social commentary as a story I’ll read Frank Norris’s, (1870-1902),  “McTeague.” or Jane Addams, (1860-1935), “Twenty Years At Hull-House.” Or even “The Yellow Wallpaper” by. Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I don’t mind a story with a social message, I’m talking about the one’s that think their fooling everyone pretending to be a story when it’s not a story but a soapbox to protest or complain or turn it into a political moment. If you’re going to write a society related story then make sure you have character development, a plot, and dialogue that doesn’t sound like add-on details. Writing is easy, it’s as easy as removing the words that simply don’t belong. Of course figuring what those words are can be a challenge which why it’s called writing; and a few other things under our breaths as we stare dully at the words on the page.

Always remember as Stephen King said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”


On Writing. By. Stephen King.

Will In The World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. By. Stephen Greenblatt.

Shakespeare: His Life, Work, and Era. By. Dennis Kay.

The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare.

The Complete Plays Of Christopher Marlowe.

Charles Dickens: A Life. By. Claire Tomalin.

The Compete Works Of Charles Dickens.

Jane Austen: A Life. By. Claire Tomalin.

Complete Works Of Jane Austen.

Mark Twain: A Life. By. Ron Powers.

Complete Works Of Mark Twain.

All The Kings Men. By. Robert Penn Warren.

The Complete Works Of Sinclair Lewis.

Elie Wiesel’s Two-part Autobiography.

The Complete Works Of Elie Wiesel.

Jules Verne: An Exploratory Biography. By. Herbert R. Lottman.

The Complete Works Of Jules Verne.

H. G. Wells: Desperately Mortal. By. David C. Smith.

The Complete Works Of H. G. Wells.

McTeague. By. Frank Norris.

Twenty Years At Hull-House. By. Jane Addams.

The Yellow Wallpaper. By. Charlotte P. Gilman.



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