Thursday, July 14, 2016

Writing with the Ear

A lot of English style guides encourage shortening your writing whenever possible. “Don’t use ten words to say something you could have said in four,” etc.

I think it’s true that we need to avoid being unnecessarily verbose. But at the same time, the meaning of what we say is not limited to the individual denotations of the words that we use. Meaning is also contained in the way that we communicate something. C.S. Lewis said, “Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You should hear every sentence you write as if it was being read aloud or spoken. If it does not sound nice, try again.”

Sometimes you need to use more words in order to achieve a particular tenor or rhythm. So cutting out “unnecessary” words might achieve brevity, but then your writing won’t sound the same way, and that’s something you should also care about. By shortening, you might be sacrificing tone, personality, or passion, all of which contribute to the overall effect that your writing will have on readers. Which is another way of saying they contribute to the meaning of what you’re saying.

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