In his 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell advocates the following writing principle:
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out
87 years before Orwell wrote this essay, Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities. Here’s an excerpt:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
It’s pretty safe to say that Orwell would not be a fan of Dicken’s 119-word sentence. But does this make the sentence “bad”?
In regards to verbosity, it’s clear these two authors exist on different sides of the spectrum. Verbosity is one key component of style, and therefore this gaping difference in verbosity causes the authors to write with very different styles. And while some readers might prefer certain styles, there is no “correct” style of writing. Style is a fascinating grey area; some genres lend themselves better to certain genres, but in the end there is no concrete formula for each genre. This is why I found the Style Masquerade activity so interesting.
The author I emulated for this activity was George Orwell. I quickly realized that he writes with an extremely concise and to-the-point style. He doesn’t use flowery metaphors – or really even metaphors in general – and seems to avoid wordiness in every sentence. As I read more about his style, I began to feel embarrassed about my own style, which is more like Dickens than Orwell. While I try not to be unnecessarily wordy in my writing, I do tend to utilize long words and long sentences. The more I read Orwell, the more I thought “Wow, my writing is horrible; I’m breaking many of his six famous rules for writing.”
However, as I reflect more on this activity, I’ve come to realize that style is a very personal aspect of writing. Many people consider George Orwell to be a great writer, but this doesn’t mean I should try to be George Orwell. The activity was meant to expose us to different writing styles, so we can start thinking about our own style. And while we shouldn’t try to copy other writers, it’s certainty reasonable to evaluate how different elements of their style fit together. Orwell has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about the choices he makes in regards to style (reflected in his 6 rules), and the biggest takeaway from this activity has been that I should do the same. In the future, I plan to spend more time reflecting on my style on a macro level, and this will hopefully jump-start my writing development as I navigate the Sweetland minor.