Monday, April 5, 2010

Concise writing is usually clear writing (12) – Russell Banks

Here’s another good example of clear, concise writing. It’s from The Sweet Hereafter,* a novel by Russell Banks (pictured).

When you are writing back-story, one challenge is to concisely provide enough detail to help the reader understand the main narrative. Like Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks usually meets this challenge with elegance and grace.

In this brief piece of back-story, a small-town resident describes his father:

Looking back, it seems I spent most of my youth cleaning up my father’s mess and the rest of my life making sure that no one mistook me for him. He was an impractical man, not quite honest, a fellow of grand beginnings and no follow-through, one of those men who present their children and wives with dreams instead of skills, charm in place of discipline, and constant seduction for love and loyalty. When he took off to make a fortune in the oil fields, he left behind a huge hole in the yard that was going to be a swimming pool, a pile of cinder blocks that was going to be a restaurant, a hundred old casement windows that were going to be a greenhouse, a stack of IOUs written to half the people in town, and a promise to return by fall, which no one in town wanted him to keep.

The Takeaway:
To improve the clarity of your writing, spend at least ten minutes a day reading aloud from writers who write clearly. You will see, hear and feel the stark contrast between careful, grown-up diction and the careless, infantile diction that besets us every day. If you would like a list of recommended writers and works, please email me at the address shown in my profile. Ask for my “List of Writers to Absorb.” I will respond via email.

*Russell Banks. The Sweet Hereafter. Paperback. HarperPerennial, 1992, pages 63f.

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