Good Writing is Simple

  • Steven 

I came across this excerpt from an unpublished novel the other day.

“Through this mantic glass I watch Manayunk dissolve. Perhaps the rain’s pursuing mist inoculates its vision, or its pandect vantage from this garret dormer. Or perhaps no eyes can ever be so low to truly see from ground level. Still, how terribly odd the way this half-light is more colorless than darkness. The gloaming palette renders the neighborhood porous & achromatic-black & white yes, but mostly thumb-swept smudges of Quaker gray. Tonight the jumble of rooftops across Levering Street descend the abrupt hillside like a collapsing staircase, down into rubble upon Main Street & the cobbled towpath of the old canal. How with such languor the brick & stone walls of the nineteenth century mills flanking the boulevard below warm with the blush of neon patina, sad facades that rouge eerie & luminous as the cheeks of an aging whore. Is it not ironic such melancholy iris radiates from the garish scribbles pimping coffee houses, boutiques, & taverns? Plaited by the wharf’s stanchions, the Schuylkill shimmers in its own black light. Ganshowhanna in Lenapé, hidden river in Dutch, its sable braids flicker with the last few glimmering eels of twilight as they slither downstream toward Boathouse Row & center city.”

When I first read this, it reminded me of a time in high school when young creative writers discover the thesaurus, and they began to use as many big words as they can find, believing that is what makes a good writer. Strunk in the Elements of Style stresses simplicity in writing and eliminating unnecessary words. I couldn’t agree more. The best writing I have read is writing that is simple and easy to understand. If your reader cannot understand what you’re saying, then you need to re-think how you are saying it. Good writing means communicating your thoughts clearly and succinctly.

Notice the simplicity of style in this excerpt from Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms:

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

Think simple.

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