Pity the readers !

Maart 11, 2009 in Sonder kategorie

Kurt Vonnegut ( 1922- 2007) is een van my “all time” gunsteling skrywers.

mal bliksem !

Hier skryf hy oor skryfwerk, bv ‘n brief aan die meisie langsaan, of aan die munisipaliteit oor die slaggat in die pad. (mens sou sweer hy het in SA gebly). Hy is nou al oorlede, maar sy raad is seker goed vir blogs ook.

How to Write With Style

by Kurt Vonnegut

reporters and technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing
about themselves in their writings. This makes them freaks in the world
of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that
world reveal a lot about themselves to readers. We call these
revelations, accidental and intentional, elements of style.

revelations tell us as readers what sort of person it is with whom we
are spending time. Does the writer sound ignorant or informed, stupid
or bright, crooked or honest, humorless or playful– ? And on and on.

should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do
so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you’re writing. If
you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel
that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an
egomaniac or a chowderhead — or, worse, they will stop reading you.

most damning revelation you can make about yourself is that you do not
know what is interesting and what is not. Don’t you yourself like or
dislike writers mainly for what they choose to show you or make you
think about? Did you ever admire an emptyheaded writer for his or her
mastery of the language? No.

So your own winning style must begin with ideas in your head.

1. Find a subject you care about

a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should
care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with
language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in
your style.

am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not
be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about
something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your
house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.

2. Do not ramble, though

I won’t ramble on about that.

3. Keep it simple

for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language,
William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost
childlike when their subjects were most profound. “To be or not to be?”
asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long.
Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate
and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence
in his short story “Eveline” is this one: “She was tired.” At that
point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as
those three words do.

of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The Bible
opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively
fourteen-year-old: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the

4. Have guts to cut

may be that you, too, are capable of making necklaces for Cleopatra, so
to speak. But your eloquence should be the servant of the ideas in your
head. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent,
does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it

5. Sound like yourself

writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech
you heard when a child. English was Conrad’s third language, and much
that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his
first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who
has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and
musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds
like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as
unornamental as a monkey wrench.

some of the more remote hollows of Appalachia, children still grow up
hearing songs and locutions of Elizabethan times. Yes, and many
Americans grow up hearing a language other than English, or an English
dialect a majority of Americans cannot understand.

these varieties of speech are beautiful, just as the varieties of
butterflies are beautiful. No matter what your first language, you
should treasure it all your life. If it happens to not be standard
English, and if it shows itself when your write standard English, the
result is usually delightful, like a very pretty girl with one eye that
is green and one that is blue.

myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust
it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which
is what I am. What alternatives do I have? The one most vehemently
recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to
write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago.

6. Say what you mean

used to be exasperated by such teachers, but am no more. I understand
now that all those antique essays and stories with which I was to
compare my own work were not magnificent for their datedness or
foreignness, but for saying precisely what their authors meant them to
say. My teachers wished me to write accurately, always selecting the
most effective words, and relating the words to one another
unambiguously, rigidly, like parts of a machine. The teachers did not
want to turn me into an Englishman after all. They hoped that I would
become understandable — and therefore understood. And there went my
dream of doing with words what Pablo Picasso did with paint or what any
number of jazz idols did with music. If I broke all the rules of
punctuation, had words mean whatever I wanted them to mean, and strung
them together higgledy-piggledy, I would simply not be understood. So
you, too, had better avoid Picasso-style or jazz-style writing, if you
have something worth saying and wish to be understood.

want our pages to look very much like pages they have seen before. Why?
This is because they themselves have a tough job to do, and they need
all the help they can get from us.

7. Pity the readers

have to identify thousands of little marks on paper, and make sense of
them immediately. They have to read, an art so difficult that most
people don’t really master it even after having studied it all through
grade school and high school — twelve long years.

this discussion must finally acknowledge that our stylistic options as
writers are neither numerous nor glamorous, since our readers are bound
to be such imperfect artists. Our audience requires us to be
sympathetic and patient readers, ever willing to simplify and clarify
— whereas we would rather soar high above the crowd, singing like

is the bad news. The good news is that we Americans are governed under
a unique Constitution, which allows us to write whatever we please
without fear of punishment. So the most meaningful aspect of our
styles, which is what we choose to write about, is utterly unlimited.

8. For really detailed advice

a discussion of literary style in a narrower sense, in a more technical
sense, I recommend to your attention The Elements of Style, by William
Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. E.B. White is, of course, one of the most
admirable literary stylists this country has so far produced.

should realize, too, that no one would care how well or badly Mr. White
expressed himself, if he did not have perfectly enchanting things to

In Sum:

1. Find a subject you care about

2. Do not ramble, though

3. Keep it simple

4. Have guts to cut

5. Sound like yourself

6. Say what you mean

7. Pity the readers

6 antwoorde op Pity the readers !

  1. Catface het gesê op Maart 11, 2009

    I never pity my readers, I like them and take them into my confidence. I have written three novels and hope they will be published soon….good luck on the writing by the way.

  2. Vetjan het gesê op Maart 11, 2009

    Good luck Melodrama, maar gaan lees weer wat hy bedoel met pity the readers.

    Hy bedoel heelwaarskynlik iets anders as wat jy daarmee verstaan.

  3. ek wou eers nie lees nie en toe ek weer sien het ek die hele stuk gelees…

  4. Aproqueen het gesê op Maart 11, 2009

    dankie vir die wonderlike inligting… ek dink almal kan daarby baat vind…

  5. kookpunt het gesê op Maart 12, 2009

    Dankie baie waardevolle inligting

  6. Berwick het gesê op Maart 12, 2009

    Ek is mal oor Vonnegut.

    Dankie vir hierdie, Petrus.

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