Wednesday, February 08, 2023

George Orwell's advice to writers

 George Orwell - real name Eric Arthur Blair
June 25, 1903 - 1950

I came across an essay written by Orwell and was struck by how relevant these words are today. The essay is too long to post here, but here are a few paragraphs:

Politics and the English Language, 1946

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.
... one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

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

(ii) Never us 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.


I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don't know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs.

Orwell was very pro-English--this was written one year after the end of WWII, and his prejudices are often apparent. I agree with much of what he states; his rules apply to writers of prose as well as political writers/journalists.

I admit I often use long words where short ones will do, because the long one seems so right. Perhaps that makes me pretentious. I can argue that it's my characters being pretentious.What would Orwell think if he knew that computer chat rooms and cell phone text messaging have created a new version of "English" shorthand? I cringe when I see phrases like c u l8ter. Maybe I'm just too old to appreciate the beauty of words that have been condensed to their simplest forms. Or I've been programmed by years of reading to want a word to be written as a word.


– Cat

Monday, December 19, 2022

The Queen of Paradise Valley

$0.99! Diana heard he had died in prison. Rumor or truth? Someone knocked on the door. She swung it open. And there he stood! He tipped his hat. “Aren’t you going to invite your long-lost husband in?”




Saturday, August 27, 2022

Fortune's Folly


$1.99! Book 1 of Fortune series. Historical fiction with spicy romantic elements. 1860s – from Ireland to England to Canada, the adventure begins: A towering figure in a dark cloak stood in the room, his back to her. He shifted, showing the side of a proud face with a pointy black beard. Eden swallowed a gasp. The Evil One!




Tuesday, June 14, 2022

excerpt – The Queen of Paradise Valley    



She woke, her hand on her mouth, her stomach quivering. Peculiar smells filled the forest glade: woodsmoke and food. Real food.

Heartbeat quickening, she grabbed the shotgun and crept through the brush, emerging in a small clearing. A circle of flat stones surrounding a campfire supported a steaming black pot and a pan of biscuits. Biscuits! She wanted to run to this feast and fall on her knees before it. But the food hadn't appeared there by magic. Someone was near. Someone human.

An animal yelped behind her. She whirled. A black beast vaulted at her, knocking her down. The shotgun skidded across the grass. Gasping, she lifted her arms to fend off the monster and stared in consternation at the hound trying to lick her face.

"Ebony." Her alarmed cry sent the dog to his belly. Panting, squirming with excitement, he gazed at her with eager, inquisitive eyes.   

Del came from the direction of the stream, a battered coffee pot in his hand. Happiness washed through her, then vanished. He was looking at her with much less excitement and pleasure than Ebony had. His eyes, half-closed, glimmered; his mouth formed a firm line.

She swiped a hand across her mouth. "Dammit, how did you find me?"

"Ebony tracked you. Remember him? Maybe you don't remember me?"

"Go away, Del. Back the way you came."

"Not without you." He squatted by the fire and set the pot on a flat rock.

She sat and crossed her arms. "You can't force me to go back."

"I can. Roped like a maverick if necessary." He picked up the shotgun and gave her a hard stare. "Be ready to leave in one hour. You can sit here till then. I'm having my dinner."

No. This wasn’t happening. She remained seated. Soon the aroma of coffee mingled with all the other tantalizing cooking smells. Her mouth filled with saliva; her stomach cramped and groaned. She didn’t need Del. But when he loaded a tin bowl with heaping spoonfuls of stew, broke a biscuit out of the pan, poured himself a mug of coffee and sat back in cross-legged comfort, tears stung her eyes.

With bated breath she followed the movement of his hand as he dipped a spoon into the bowl and delivered it laden to his mouth. His teeth flashed tearing into the biscuit, his jaw worked as he chewed, his throat contracted as he swallowed.

She wiped the corners of her mouth on her sleeve and rose to her feet. Her gaze on the black pot, she crossed the clearing and sank down beside Del. He handed her a bowl and she filled it, finding to her delight the stew contained chunks of meat and tuberous vegetables in tomato broth. She sat back on her heels, rejected a spoon, lifted the bowl to drink the broth, and picked up the meat and vegetables with her fingers, stuffing her mouth full.

He stopped eating. "You been living with wolves?"

She flicked her hair over her shoulder. Unmannerly, unladylike--she didn't care. Like in her dream, she wanted to eat everything and take pleasure in doing it the most basic way. But when she leaned forward to refill her bowl, her stomach did a somersault. She dropped the bowl, jumped up and bolted across the clearing. Everything she'd devoured rose to mock her; basic pleasure was replaced by the taste of sour bile.