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A Discussion on the Art of Writing

The rec.arts.books newsgroup is devoted to serious discussions of literature and associated topics. The profundity of these discussions may be judged by the following dialog on the art of writing.

Jim Hartley: Hah! I don’t think you could attain Harterian prolixity if you tried. [Whether that is a compliment of an insult is a matter left to the judgement of the reader.]

Richard Harter: Neither. Tis a matter of poignant regret and no more.

William Grosso: Marry, fair sirs, ’tis neither. God’s truth, it is a matter of ambition. Can I so overstuff myself with the fruits of a good life that my natural reticence is by nature defeated ? Would that my verbiage swell so uncheck’d that when I attain good Richard’s antiquity, his skilled palaver seems pale placed cheek to jowl aside the magnificence of mine own rodomontade ?

Richard Harter: A touch, sir, you have a touch of the talent. Verily, I say unto you, you are touched. I fear to give you advice for your native talent shines through so brightly but if I may be so bold I have a few small suggestions.

Always read second rate authors. A master writer will choose each word with care; a second rate author will let them flow in great abundance.

Remember that the adjective is your friend but do not rely on them as a universal simple. The art depends on stronger measures than the color of purple.

Do not fail to record each tangential thought as it occurs. It is imperative that you acquire the art of writing long sentences. In this regard it is not necessary to attempt to write convoluted sentences as an objective; you will find that they come naturally to you with time. It suffices that you master the conjunction, the comma, the dash, and the semicolon. Remember always that the thought inserted into the sentence – as in this example – improves the sentence.

Read the 18’th and 19’th century authors. You may discard the classical allusions – no one will understand them anyway. Concentrate instead on the piquant turns of phrase. Stockpile them. Use them liberally. The effect will be greatly improved if you cultivate a universal style composed of the cliches of the ages.

Cultivate a taste for irony. Your object should be to leave the reader with the impression that they have been insulted without quite understanding how.

Study various dialects and foreign languages with the object of learning different ways to place verbs. It were well if you strew your compositions with various affectations and archaisms. There is no need to confine yourself to consistency.

My apologies if I offend your sensibilities by offering these small suggestions. No doubt you have already mastered them for I see the effect already.

This page was last updated September 13, 1997.