Learn how to write with honesty within the plain fashion

I know how to tell you the truth in a sentence so dense and complicated and full of technical jargon that you won’t understand it. I also know – with my clearest and most compelling prose – how to tell you a malicious lie.

This twofold reality – this seemingly virtuous clarity can be used for ill intent – is at the heart of the ethics and practice of public writing.

The author who most convincingly exposed this problem was a scholar named Hugh Kenner, and he most vividly presented it in an essay entitled “The Politics of the Plain Style.” Originally published in the New York Times Book Review in 1985, Kenner incorporated it, along with 63 other essays, into a book called “Mazes.”

When I started reading the essay, I thought it would confirm my longstanding bias that in a democracy, the simple style is most worthy, especially when used by public writers in the public interest.

The bourgeois virtues of simple style can well be argued, but connoisseur has made a nifty argument that convinced me that some fleas, large fleas, come with the dog.

A disappointing truth is that unadorned, no-nonsense writing style is a favorite of liars, including liars in high positions. Make that into liars, propagandists, and conspiracy theorists. We have enough of these in the 21st century to make citing examples superfluous. And the last thing I want to do is republish perishable texts, also to condemn them.

When ordinary citizens receive messages that are written in high style – full of abstractions, fancy effects, and abstractions – their BS detector intervenes. This beautiful term, often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, describes a form of skepticism that many of us feel when we are deceived or lied to. So warned, you can dismiss me as a flatterer or a mischievous intellectual who works at the Poynter Institute!

As soon as I tell you, you will look me in the eye and pat me on the shoulder, one of the people, one of you.

Literary styles and standards change over the centuries, including the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction. The so-called liars cited by Kenner include famous authors such as Daniel Defoe and George Orwell. Both, he argues, wrote fiction masquerading as non-fiction. The way they convinced us that Robinson Crusoe was actually alive, or that Orwell actually shot an elephant or witnessed a hanging was to write it directly. That is, to make it sound truthful.

If public writers are to honestly adopt a simple style, they need to understand what makes it work. Connoisseur argues:

  • That the simple style is a style, even if it reads as simple, undecorated.
  • That it is seldom mastered and expressed as literature except by the likes of Jonathan Swift, HL Mencken and Orwell.
  • That it is an invention, a device, something that was invented to achieve a certain effect.
  • That it exists in ambiguity, the perfect form of transmission for democratic practices, but also for fictions, inventions and false reports.
  • That it makes the author sound truthful even if he isn’t.

If you want an honest, simple style, what are its key components? Let us give the floor to connoisseurs:

Plain style is a populist style. … Homely diction (general language) is their trademark, also one-two-three-syntax (subject, verb, object), the openness and the skill to be grounded outside of the language in the so-called fact – the area in which a The convict can be watched silently avoiding a puddle, and your prose will report the observation and no one will doubt it.

Kenner is alluding to Orwell’s essay in which he observes a hanging and observes the weirdness of the convict who refuses to wet his feet as he prepares to climb the steps to the gallows. “Such prose simulates the words that anyone who was there and was awake could later have spontaneously spoken. As we have seen, the spontaneous on a written page can only be an invention. “

He adds:

The simple style feigns a sincere observer. That is his great advantage to convince. Behind his mask of calm openness, the writer with political intentions can address people with apparent disinterest who pride themselves on their factual knowledge of the facts. And the language is so complicated that he may have to fool it to clear it up. Whether or not Orwell ever witnessed a hanging, we are sure what he thinks of the custom.

Orwell has been a literary hero of mine since reading Animal Farm as a kid. I jumped from his overt novels like 1984 to his essays on politics and language, paying only occasional attention to his non-fiction and narrative essays. I’ve always assumed that Orwell shot an elephant and witnessed a hanging because, well, I wanted to believe it and accepted a social contract between writer and reader that if a non-fiction writer wrote a scene that would two brothers arguing about a restaurant, then it wasn’t two sisters laughing in a discotheque.

Whether Orwell wrote from experience in these cases I cannot say, but he always admitted that he wrote for a political motive by which he could justify what is sometimes referred to as poetic freedom.

Writing to reach a “higher truth” is, of course, part of a centuries-old literary and religious tradition. When Christian authors in the past wrote the life and death stories of saints – hagiography – they were less concerned with the literal truth of history than with some kind of allegorical truth: that the martyrdom of St. Agnes of Rome an echo of the suffering of Jesus on the cross and thus a way to eternal life.

I am writing this as a lifelong Catholic with no disrespect or irony. Such writing was a form of propaganda and is where we get the word: a spread of the faith.

Orwell’s belief was in democratic institutions threatened by tyrannies of the right and left in the twentieth century – fascism and communism. Seeing British imperialism as corruption, he felt a moral obligation to tell stories that made that system look bad, including one where as a member of the Imperial Police in Burma he had to kill an elephant, an act he did came repentance. With the simple style, Orwell makes his essay so real I believe it. In my professional life I have argued against this idea of ​​“higher truth”, disregarding the facts, knowing how slippery those facts can be. But Orwell knew whether or not he shot that elephant, so there is no ambiguity.

At the dawn of the digital age, a writer’s inventions – even those with good intentions – are often easily exposed, resulting in a loss of authority and credibility that can harm a good cause. In the face of so many Holocaust deniers, why invent a story about the Holocaust when there are still so many facts to tell?

There is an important lesson here for all public writers: If I can think of a strong plot and compelling characters, I don’t have to make up a story and sell it as a non-fiction book. I can write it as a novel and sell it as a script! I have not yet heard an argument that “Sophie’s Choice” is unworthy because it was invented rather than reported.

I say that all forms of writing and communication potentially fall under the heading of public writing. This includes fiction, poetry, film, even the music texts that are marked as such: “Say it as it is”, the song says, “Do not be afraid. Let your conscience be your guide. “

In the end, we need reports that we can trust, and even in the age of disinformation and fake news, it’s best delivered in a simple style – with honesty as the backbone. Writing in a simple style is a strategy; Civil clarity and credibility are the effects.

Here are the lessons:

  • When writing reports, when you want your audience to understand, write in the simple style – a kind of middle ground between an ornate high style and a low style that leans towards slang
  • The simple style requires demanding work. Simple doesn’t mean easy. Prefer the straightforward to the technical: shorter words, sentences, paragraphs in the places of greatest complexity.
  • Keep subjects and verbs together in the main clause. Put the main clause first.
  • More frequent words work better.
  • Simply on the literary effects; use only the most transparent metaphors, nothing to stop the reader and draw their attention.
  • Think of 1-2-3 syntax, subject / verb / object: “Public writers prefer the simple style.”

Danny Elfman Poisons “Poison” to Write Solo Album | Leisure

New York – When Danny Elfman started making music during quarantine, it came as a surprise even to him.

“I opened my mouth and sang more poison than I thought it was in me and it was poured out,” he said recently. “I really didn’t know what to do other than a lot of frustration and anger, and I think that’s what it takes to express myself.”

The result is a howling sound. Some are glam rock, some orchestras, some punk and include driving and industrial songs that tend to break down and tear in other directions.

The title of the ambitious 18-track double album is perfect: “Big Mess”. This is the first solo collection in over 30 years.

“I wrote something really heavy or really very lively, fast and a little crazy,” said Elfman. “I have personally written in a way that I have never seen before and that was a surprise to me.”

The former leader of the new wave band Oingo Boingo, the Grammy- and Emmy-winning Elfman has long been a film for “Batman”, “Beetlejuice”, “Big Fish”, “Edward Scissorhands” and “Milk”. I put my talent into music. , “Good Will Hunting”, “Men in Black”, “Silver Lining Playbook”, “The Simpsons” opening theme.

He says he found a balance in his racing spirit by switching between film projects and classical music until lockdown. After that, rocks appeared. “I think a lot of us have found something we weren’t expecting.”

“Big Meth” is clearly a pandemic diary exploring isolation and alienation. Elfman tries Donald Trump on “Choose Your Side” and works on quarantine on “Love in the Age of COVID”.

The album had a strange birth. Elfman was approached by the Dark Morpho Festival in Tasmania, Australia in 2019 and commissioned to create a crazy performance piece. He decided to combine strings and rock bands. He calls this “chamber punk”.

He created a 12-minute instrumental but didn’t have enough time to create a one-hour set. He returned during the blockade and became the first cut on the album “Sorry”. Then another song rolled out.

The album’s executive producer, Laura Engel, has worked with Elfman for over 40 years. He said he was always moving forward, exploring new areas of sound, and liked not being tied to a single genre.

“I learned early on that no matter what I do with Danny, it never goes right,” she said. “It will always surprise me, and it will be a little funnier, more entertaining, and more wonderful than most of the other things you can ever do.”

Elfman wrote many of the albums in a house on the outskirts of Los Angeles where he and his wife Bridget Fonda, a 16-year-old son Oliver, and their dog fled to survive the pandemic.

There was no recording studio at home, just a small writing room. Elfman had a computer, handheld microphone, electric guitar, and a couple of broken headphones, but it wasn’t the perfect device for making a double album. But he pushed.

He decided not to change the vocals when he went into the studio and invited musicians like drummer Josh Freese, bassist Stu Brooks, guitarists Niri Broche and Robin Finck, one for each COVID. I recorded the part. -19 minutes. “I kept most of the original guitar and vocals from the demo,” said Elfman.

Seventeen of the eighteen songs are original, but fans of Oingo Boingo will find that Elfman has recreated one of the band’s old songs, “Insects,” since 1982. Unsurprisingly, the new song is darker and more political. Did he want to be part of the Coachella set and wonder who could be an insect today? His answer: US Senator.

“These are my vampires today. They are like human insects, ”he said. So the new text is: “Old white men, they have regained power / they are sucking up all their power and all their pride.”

He laughs darkly that the dystopian America he wrote about in the 1980s became more recognizable in the 2020s. “1984 came a lot closer to me in 2020 than 1984.”

In the cover artwork, Elfman’s 3D scan was transformed into a disturbing digital sculpture by Sarah Sitkin. It’s an uncomfortable Elfman trio with one person painfully emerging from another’s head. The songwriter said that different parts of him recorded what he was “living together but not a good roommate”.

A prolific songwriter, Elfman has already completed the cello concerto and is working on a number of film scores. He will also return to the stage at Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas” live concert at the Bank of California Stadium on October 29th.

He hopes that one day he can somehow play “Big Meth” live and show what he has learned during the quarantine. One thing was to give up your usual writing for the character and just write from the bottom of your heart.

“I was scared because I liked it.” It’s just me There is no protection here, ”he said. When you write to a third party, you are protected – you are protecting yourself. And I felt very vulnerable to many of those records. Then at some point I had to choose not to care. “

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