Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Keep it simple.

In his latest book, “The Greatest Show on Earth”, Richard Dawkins comments on Darwin’s understated writing style:
“Darwin’s treatment of human evolution in his most famous work, 'On the Origin of Species', is limited to twelve portentous words: “Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history’. That is the wording of the first edition. By the sixth (and last) edition, Darwin allowed himself to stretch a point and the sentence became “Much light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history’. I like to think of his pen, poised over the fifth edition, while the great man judiciously pondered whether to indulge himself in the luxury of “Much’. Even with it, the sentence is a calculated understatement.”

Kurt Vonnegut, in a famous essay called “How to write with style” also dwelt on the need to keep things as simple as possible.

“As 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.

Simplicity 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 earth”

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