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Style of Writing: Best Thoughts Need Simplest Words

Unlike Mathematics and other related disciplines that deal with numbers, the field of Arts is concerned with human emotions, experiences, and observations. Probably for this reason, its effectiveness and quality cannot be measured on any numeric scale. Time and again, in the world of Literature, among myriad other things, writers, critics and readers have articulated their views and opinions about Style of Writing. And until now, nobody has come to any final and solid conclusion; the debate will continue as long as the moon and sun appear in the sky. However, readers, if not critics, agree that simple writing style is more attractive and consumable.

But then again, there is a question of how much simplicity there should be in writing. As mentioned above, style cannot be measured on any scale that is marked by numbers. For all budding writers, it is still an unresolved question with regard to the narrative style. Allow me to put my thoughts here.

Understanding Differing Styles

An eminent writer of Indian English literature was once accused of writing fiction (novels and short stories) with an overly simple style. Critics have used some adjectives to describe R K Narayan’s style: Charming, Unpretentious, Pedestrian, Harmless, and Benign. And most of those critics are from India; to name a few, Shashi Tharoor, Jhumpa Lahiri, Shashi Deshpande, and V S Naipaul.

On the contrary, literary stalwarts from the West were more interested in the subjects and themes Narayan dealt with in his fiction. Prominent among them were Graham Greene, William Somerset Maugham, and E M Forster. The three contemporaries had special liking and reverence for Narayan. This short detour in this piece is necessary so that students of literature do not get carried away by gentle criticism for Narayan’s simplicity and realism in his fiction.

Coming back to the style of writing, there is another writer of great repute, who was censured by one of his contemporaries for writing stories with simple diction. William Faulkner had launched a verbal attack on Ernest Hemingway for the latter’s unvarnished style. Faulkner once said, “Hemingway has never been known to use a word that might send the reader to the dictionary.”

To this, Hemingway retorted, “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

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Strike the Right Balance

In the absence of an ornate writing style, selecting a decorative style is more dangerous if handled without care. A popular case of Shashi Tharoor, Indian politician and writer, requires some attention. Here is a well-read, sophisticated, and stylish writer, who embellishes his writings with an extra amount of verbal garnish. And he was in limelight for his ostentation of verbose and bombast in articles and social media content. So much so that his writings are known (jokingly) as Tharoorian style in India. Although Mr Tharoor has mastered the art with great dexterity, readers frequently have to check the dictionary to find meanings of difficult and unfamiliar words.

From both episodes, there is a significant takeaway for writers: strike the right balance. Writing with effective style is like walking on a tightrope; balance is the keyword. The biggest challenge is to be judicious. Moreover, overly stylistic narration can take the readers for a fantasy ride for a few moments. They cannot stay there for long; flowery language has a limit. Hence, writers normally avoid extravagant writing style. At the same time, overly simplistic writing repels the readers; they might lose interest in your story. Therefore, keep your narration balanced – a simple writing style with some interesting paragraphs (especially while sketching characters or depicting events) works wonders.

Summing up, terse and simple language has a way far better effects on readers than long-winded sentences and paragraphs. Remember, the best of thoughts need the simplest of words.

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