Monday, September 17, 2012

Straight talk: an example (13) – F. Scott Fitzgerald

For educational purposes, we writers should occasionally read, listen to, or view an example of straight talk. It doesn’t matter whether we agree or disagree with the statements – what matters is the way the statements are expressed. This exercise can, by contrast, make us more aware of the evasive diction that besets us every day, so we won’t unconsciously imitate it. 

An example of straight talk

The American author F. Scott Fitzgerald (pictured) received a letter from Frances Turnbull, an eager young writer, seeking his opinion of her work. Mr. Fitzgerald, who was a friend of Miss Turnbull’s family, replied with a “somewhat harsh but admirably honest” letter. It begins: 
November 9, 1938

Dear Frances:

I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner.
It continues in the same tone. But in the P.S., Mr. Fitzgerald encourages her:
I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent – which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.
Read the full letter and more background here. You may want to keep some Kleenex handy.

The Takeaway: We are often startled by straight talk. We react this way because we have been habituated to euphemistical, effete, evasive diction. I advise you to occasionally read, listen to, or view some straight talk. By contrast, it will help you remain consciously aware of evasiveness – and therefore less likely to unconsciously absorb and imitate evasive diction.

See disclaimer.

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