24 July 2012

How to write - Trollope's advice

Having enjoyed my travels through the complete works of Anthony Trollope, I turned my attention to his Autobiography (which I can thoroughly recommend as an entertaining read - although it does help to have read his works before you turn to it). He devotes a chapter to the art of novel writing, which he allied to the work of the ordinary tradesman, perhaps appropriate, given his approach to the whole business, which involved writing at least a thousand words before breakfast, so that he could then devote his time to his job in the Post Office!

In that chapter, he writes:

Any writer who has read even a little will know what is meant by the word intelligible. It is not sufficient that there be a meaning which may be hammered out of the sentence, but that the language should be so pellucid that the meaning should be rendered without an effort to the reader—and not only some proposition of meaning, but the very sense, no more and no less, which the writer has intended to put into his words.
This is a principle that could serve any author well; whether they be novelists, diarists—or academic authors. Having recently had to read a number of documents prepared for European Union bids, I have to say that the language of all of them is so far from pellucid that it could be described by almost any adjective from misty to downright pea-souper fog!

Contributors to Information Research should print out that paragraph from Trollope and keep it in front of them whenever they get down to writing.

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