vonnegut on style

vonnegut on style - ,uage Matters zarning 623 ;ter had KURT...

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Unformatted text preview: ,uage Matters zarning 623 ;ter had KURT VONNEGUT arisons are HOW to Write and using so on. iDemo— Before reading think ab t C O N SID E R T H l S: lawless. advice about '. . 0“ your own best adwce o :1 much advice? As YotjvrregtdgKWlth Style would YOU give a frie:ds\:)/Irlye' What e'ght Pieces of does“,t advice. Consider as urt Vonnegut s essay see if you have ifcame to you for such fthe lit- KUrt VonnegUt Vll’:sl-Jbread Whether he seems to follow h: ered any of the same _ . - Own adv 1t events of Chicago He’s b om in Indianapolis and earned ice . _ a t, not to FElations for Genérfg a newspaper editor and a Ioumanstn MA. from the Unwem oil sup- lowa, Harvard Univegsiectnc for a time Vonnegut has also gain?! he worked in pubhc and Bill as the iconoclastic authth/Ira’rf“: 3‘9 City College of New york Se Lat lge University of - 0 novels (inc ' W' el)’ Celebrated d eliminate ever and g as time t go. But 5 able to :h 22. He did but I n able to ament of 1d didn’t ge had taken place. ” adly, is that it enables :larity of the a more con- eight not qon with 5 beyond through my aware— odus, the my own man is of- Vdence, 01' g and re— virling its Chapter 9 Language Matters 624 The 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 empty-headed writer for his or her mastery of the lan- guage? No. 1. FIND A SUBJECT YOU CARE ABOUT Find 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. I 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 peti— tion 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. 1 3. KEEP IT SIMPLE As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, 1 William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost t] childlike when their subjects were most profound. "To be or not to be?” asks V Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he 13 was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a neck— a lace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story “Eveline” is this 0 one: “She was tired.” At that point in the story, no other words could break the n heart of a reader as those three words do. 0 Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The (1‘ Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively fourteen- ja year-old: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” m pi P. 4. HAVE THE GUTS TO CUT m: It may be that you, too, are capable of making necklaces for Cleopatra, so t0 '— speak. But your eloquence should be the servant of the ideas in your head. Your f0 rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate HG your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out. $7 5. SOUND LIKE YOURSELF Th tural for you is bound to echo the speech you tilt t 1 The writing style which is most na heard when a child. English was t 5 third language/ he novelist Joseph Conrad’ lge Matters It you do or dislike )out? Did E the lan- -rs should ge, which uld not be 3g. A peti- :tter to the F language, ere almost 3 be?” asks e, when he g as a neck— line” is this ,d break the sacred. The ly fourteen— )patra, so to r head. Your. »t illuminat.e V onnegut How to Write with Style 1‘ :Mmfifilzflwfiifiufl: « Picasso—st - I yle or jazz-st 1e- - - . , too h . Wlsh to be understood Y writing, Lg you have something 1W C:Ctihbsetter aV01d ‘ " aylng and /0"’° 626 V‘ 0 W uChapter 9 Language Matters 80 this discussion must fi ally acknowledge that ourpstylistic options as writers are neither numerous or glamorous, since our readers are bound to be such imperfect artists. Our audience reguires us to be sympathetic and patient teachers, even willing to simplify and clarify—whereas we would rather soar high above the Crowd, singing like nightingales. That 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. V 8. FOR REALLY DETAILED ADVICE For a discussion of literary style in a narrower sense, in a more technical sense, I commend to your attention The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, In, and E. B. White (Macmillan, 1979). E. B. White is, of course, one of the most admirable literary stylists this country has so far produced. You 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 say. . PICO IYER (b. 1957) In Praise of the Humble Comma CONSIDER THIS: Pico lyer was borri in Oxford, England, son to two profesSors from India. lyer was raised in England and California. He has been a writer for Time magazine since 1982. In an Insight & Outlook radio interview, lyer explained his early writing days as such: "i was a travel writer in the sense that many of us are: just writing about my holidays. Then, when I went to college in England, l suddenly realized that living in California was exotic and that I could just write about California—my home, sort of—and be counted as a travel writer in England.” "People are traveling even if they’ve never left their home town,” lyer said in an interview for Powells.com. "All of us, whether we move or not, are having to deal with this crossing of cultures.” lyer sees writing as a major part of this globalization. "These writers from four corners of the universe who are working within English Literature are flooding it With alien smells and curious words, different customs, and utterly unprecedented rhythms.” You may not have expected that any writer would care to write an essay on a single mark of punctuation. But, for fun, before you begin reading, decide what mark of punctuation you use the most, think is the most crucial, which might be at the center of your essay of the same type. Can you list 10 reasons why you think that punctuation matters? As you read Iyer’s work, consider the tone of the essay. lyer In 1 To wl a serir The god said~cc of a sud. wish or 1 gets no r of our C( beautiful so rarely Punc tion mar. tions—to period he light that us to ease ing the re. the peopl and lover: hurt each his girlfrie clinching ~ Punch 0n sentenr piled high the first p: ernists thr Joyce’s Mc dled, almo was surely lower case. Punctu Spaniard sc mation poi] sive Chine: directions f given voice Glo italics o: the State is a Ministries, 5 Yet punt music in on Punctuation ...
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