George Orwell, Joe Moran, and the complexity of the problem of writing a good sentence 

Joe Moran, an English prof in Liverpool, whose book First You Write a Sentence: The Elements of Reading, Writing … and Life has been well received and reviewed, has written a marvelous essay on the sentence for The Guardian.

He begins it using the words and thoughts of George Orwell, who thought deeply about the use of the English language and who advocated its plain and straightforward use. Moran writes:

Orwell saw the plain English sentence as the sword of existential truth, a cure-all for the bad faith of modern life. But much of the time he didn’t even follow his own advice. “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out,” he ordered. Perhaps he should have written: “If you can cut a word, do.” How to write the perfect sentence | Books | The Guardian

Every writer who has taken the task of writing seriously has tested various ways of constructing a sentence well, has thought about what is best and what is not so good, and has attempted to learn from the successes and failure of others.

When I was a writing instructor, I would tell my students — many of whom were there because they thought they were weak at math — that the mathematician’s task in solving a calculus problem was child’s play compared to the complexity of the problem that a writer has in constructing a clear, readable sentence. Moran’s essay — well worth the time it takes to read it — reminded me of that belief.

It was a pleasant and timely reminder.

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Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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