by Chris Stern (reprinted from SSA newsletter)
Mark Twain was considered one of the greatest American writers of his time. He was often asked about the craft of writing and gave quite a bit of advice about putting words on paper. Here are a few of my favorites.
- Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please. Interestingly, this was quoted by Rudyard Kipling in From Sea to Sea (1899) with the attribution to Mark Twain.
- You need not expect to get your book right the first time. Go to work and revamp or rewrite it. God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God’s adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by. This was in a letter to his son Orion Clemens in March 1878.
- Use good grammar. Not exactly a bold insight, but one that he wrote regarding “Fennimore Cooper’s Literary Offences” in 1895. He wrote “18 Rules of Writing” in this article, the advice on good grammar was #14 . Here are a few more from this source:
- A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
- The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.
- The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.
- The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.
- Eschew surplusage. (aka Whack Wordiness)
- The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction.
By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.
- Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream. (Barbara’s favorite)
Which of these are your favorites, either from a “funny” or a “serious” point of view?