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Old 02-02-2015   #1
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The Key to Good Writing is Simple Writing.

At least, according to this analysis by Shane Snow.

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The other day, a friend and I were talking about becoming better writers by looking at the “reading levels” of our work. Scholars have formulas for automatically estimating reading level using syllables, sentence length, and other proxies for vocabulary and concept complexity. After the chat, just for fun, I ran a chapter from my book through the most common one, the Flesch-Kincaid index:



I learned, to my dismay, that I’ve been writing for 8th graders.

Curiosity piqued, I decided to see how I compared to the first famous writer that popped in my head: Hemingway. So I ran a reading level calculation on The Old Man and the Sea. That’s when I was really surprised:



Apparently, my man Ernest, the Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning novelist whose work shaped 20th-century fiction, wrote for elementary-schoolers. <SNIP>
More at: This Surprising Reading Level Analysis Will Change the Way You Write | The Content Strategist, by Contently

Thoughts?
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Old 02-02-2015   #2
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Re: The Key to Good Writing is Simple Writing.

This is the kind of conclusion you come to if Hemingway is your idol in writing.

The key to good writing is having something to say. When you have something to say, it's easier to know how to say it. People who don't really have something to say, but still want to sell a story, tend to write in an obscurantist way that provides a negative contrast to those who do have something to say. I think it's false to assume the key here is simplicity, though simplicity can be a side-effect of knowing what you want to say.

Simplicity that says nothing, though, is no better than complexity that says nothing, and style should follow content, so some content demands complexity. (By content I don't just mean 'the moral of the story', but include what might be called 'the music of the piece'.)

That would be my take on the subject.

"人生夢幻耳" - 高井鴻山
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Old 02-02-2015   #3
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Re: The Key to Good Writing is Simple Writing.

Both scary and disgusting at the same time. God forbid.

I knew that someday I was gonna die / And I knew before I died Two things would happen to me / That number one I would regret my entire life / And number two I would want to live my life over again.
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Old 02-02-2015   #4
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Re: The Key to Good Writing is Simple Writing.

I think this is a good guideline for technical/academic writing (I study math - the writing generally stinks - it's designed not to communicate, but only to establish priority).

But yeah, I don't agree that this is a good rule for fiction.
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Old 02-02-2015   #5
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Re: The Key to Good Writing is Simple Writing.

I don't think one has to have something to say, but if you don't have anything to say, you better be damned clever at saying it. There are also many writers who have something to say, but that something is so boring and cliche' that I would much rather read someone like Dr. Johnson ramble on about nothing. In my opinion style is foremost and any sort of message or story should follow style. It is like hiring someone to put a door in your house. Do you want to hire someone who has great ideas about doors or someone who actually knows how to install one? I have read many, many stories and books where the premise is fine, but the execution regrettable. At the same time, there are numerous authors who don't seem to go anywhere, but reading them is an exciting experience. The very best authors have both qualities of course. As to a human's "reading level" - there is no such thing. Even a ten year old child should be reading difficult classics.
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Old 02-02-2015   #6
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Re: The Key to Good Writing is Simple Writing.

Is it the key to good writing or the key to communicating to the masses? Hemingway was a newspaper reporter also and they write to about a 4th grade reading level. Maybe its third grade by now.

To me, the key to successful writing is to be true to yourself and your own style. You start by imitating the authors you most admire and over time you develop your own voice. Its a process.

To me, the key to successful writing is more about discipline than about simplicity. But I can certainly see where you are coming from.

"The world is indeed comic, but the joke is on mankind." - H. P. Lovecraft
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Old 02-03-2015   #7
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Re: The Key to Good Writing is Simple Writing.

I still love weird, obscure, almost completely (sometimes) incomprehensible poetry because of the feeling of infinity it provides. Mallarme doesn't mean a ton to most people, but I love his work--he had something to say, though.

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Old 02-03-2015   #8
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Re: The Key to Good Writing is Simple Writing.

Quote Originally Posted by brendanconnell View Post
I don't think one has to have something to say, but if you don't have anything to say, you better be damned clever at saying it. There are also many writers who have something to say, but that something is so boring and cliche' that I would much rather read someone like Dr. Johnson ramble on about nothing. In my opinion style is foremost and any sort of message or story should follow style. It is like hiring someone to put a door in your house. Do you want to hire someone who has great ideas about doors or someone who actually knows how to install one? I have read many, many stories and books where the premise is fine, but the execution regrettable. At the same time, there are numerous authors who don't seem to go anywhere, but reading them is an exciting experience. The very best authors have both qualities of course. As to a human's "reading level" - there is no such thing. Even a ten year old child should be reading difficult classics.
I should emphasise that, when I say "something to say", I don't mean in an 'elevator pitch' kind of way. That kind of 'something to say' gets used up very quickly, and it's often debatable it was really something in the first place. I mean the kind of something that demands a story rather than an essay or a blog-post - the kind of something that ferments inside someone.

If a person really has a good understanding of style, this, to me, is the same as 'something to say', but a lot of people who are known as stylists, don't really seem to know what style is, either.

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Old 02-03-2015   #9
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Re: The Key to Good Writing is Simple Writing.

There's also an assumption in the inference made in the article that the author (Shane Snow?), has chosen a representative sample of literature, which he clearly hasn't. Most of it is, in fact, post-Hemingway.

The title of the article appears to be, 'Why History's Best Writers Wrote for Middle Schoolers'. The author obviously has an extremely limited view of what history is. The oldest writer on his list appears to be Tolstoy (who also appears to be an exception in being pre-twentieth century), whose first work, I think, was published in 1852. Presumably this is when history started?

"人生夢幻耳" - 高井鴻山
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Old 02-03-2015   #10
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Re: The Key to Good Writing is Simple Writing.

Oh, I didn't realize there was an article attached to this. I clicked on it and saw a bunch of graphs. Frankly, from what I looked at, Hemingway is certainly far better than almost anyone he mentions. He really is a good writer. But I don't think it is because he is "easy". Actually, on a lot of levels, he really is not easy. He also wrote many books. So, which one is 4th grade level? I really doubt most contemporary 4th graders would find him all that interesting since what he talks about are very adult things. But the whole debate still seems absurd. As I said, by this age in old China, a young scholar would already be expected not only to have read, but to have memorized Confucian classics and to understand their commentaries. Left out of virtually all Western thought also is Sanskrit writing. To say that Sanskrit writers were not great just isn't true, but the level of sophistication of these writers is truly amazing - where oftentimes every line has several meanings, where complex qualities such as rasa and dhvani are sought after. When the whole equation is just based on vocabulary or basic sentence structure, we totally lose all qualities of something like dhvani - and so someone like Hemingway is discussed in a totally wrong way, since the magic that makes his work good isn't looked at - only the seemingly straight forward quality of his writing.
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