Orwell’s writing rules

Prompted by a discussion on Start the Week on BBC R4 I re-read George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language. Embedded in this essay, which you can download free here, is some thoughtful and pithy advice for writers. Well worth revisiting.

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 

1. What am I trying to say?
2. What words will express it?
3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

1. Could I have put it more shortly?
2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

Later he creates six rules “that one can rely on when instinct fails”.

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an  everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Below Orwell enjoying a cig, possibly pondering if women will ever become writers too.

By Peter Kenny

I lead a double life. Identity #1. A writer of poems, comedy plays, dark fiction and the odd libretto. Identity #2: A marketing outlier, working with London creative agencies and my own clients as a copywriter and creative consultant.

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