Friday, June 5, 2009

Take it from Twain

Sage writing advice from a master:

1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.

3. 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...both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

4. When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

5. When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a minstrel at the end of it.

6. Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale.

7. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

8. The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

9. The characters in tale be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

The author should:

Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
Use the right word, not its second cousin.
Eschew surplusage [excess of words].

Not omit necessary details.
Avoid slovenliness of form.
Use good grammar.
Employ a simple, straightforward style.

Picture: Joseph F. Keppler, artist.'"Mark Twain," America's best humorist.' Keppler & Schwarzmann, 1885. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.


Lori Tiron-Pandit said...

Well, yeah, easy to say when you're Mark Twain. I like it when he says that a tale should accomplish something. That's such a good barometer.

Vodka Mom said...

I love it.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Good morning, Lori. Sometimes it's great just to review the very basics, hunh?

VM, howdy. Glad ya liked Mr. Twain's advice.

kimmi said...

Hats off to Twain! Lovely weekend to you, (((Angie))).

Red Bird said...

HA! Loved no. 3- that's always good advice! ;)
This was great, Angie!

Lori said...

Well I don't know about you, but I want to meet this illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship's Offering.

Great tips from one of my favorites. :)

Michelle H. said...

Writerly advice to live by. I need to read more Twain. Thanks Angie!

Angie Ledbetter said...

Kimmi, hope you have a great one yourself!

Loved that one too, Red Bird. Perhaps a poem or line?

LOL, Lori. Sounds sorta stuffy to me. :)

Michelle, you're welcome. How's the writing coming along?

Jill Kemerer said...

Love this!

Kathryn Magendie said...


Sharla said...

Gotta agree with Lori on number 5! LOL! Too funny.

Sandra Leigh said...

To think of all the books that have been written on the subject of writing - and Twain said it all in a page. Brilliant.

Jim said...

My favorite writer, by far. Not that I always follow his advice. He'd probably kick my ass for citing him as an influence :-)

jinksy said...

Guess that wraps up writing...

Anonymous said...

To have someone speak the clear truth, very refreshing. He is one to the all time best.

Angie Ledbetter said...

I's glad you enjoyed, Jill, Kat & Sharla. :)

Sandra, I agree. Concise!

LOL, Jim (Suldog). Mine too (one of my favs, plus the bahonkus kicking I'd get).


Sure is, Oren. You're a plain speaker too. Love that about ya.

Char said...

And, no one could do it better...than THE
MARK TWAIN. I love #5!

Amie said...

I embrace surplusage, but eschew obfuscation.

Terri Tiffany said...

Wow--good advice even today:)) Have a great weekend!

Holly Kennedy said...

Wonderful post!
Thanks for sharing.

Kasie West said...

LOL I love it! Number 3 is funny. It is very important to be able to distinguish the living from the dead in your novel. Might be a little harder for those writing about zombies or vampires. Thanks for the tips.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Not only sage, but completely worth reviewing every time we sit down to edit. Thanks, Angie.

Makita Jazzqueen said...

Wow! I loved it! I just adore his way of writing, it is something that you don't see that much nowadays... And what he says is so true, and some writers forget about the basics...
Thanks for the post! = )

Cool blog, check on mine! = )

Angie Ledbetter said...

Char, he's a master for sure.

LOL, Amie! Two points for you!

Great weekend to you also, Terri.

Holly & Kasie, my pleasure. :)

You're welcome, and ditto, Midlife.

Makita Jazzqueen, thanks so much for coming by. Will check your place out!

Deb Shucka said...

Great timeless advice from a brilliant man.

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