As a teenager, one of the reasons I was interested in writing was George Orwell.
I think I read Nineteen Eighty-Four when I was around 12 years old and later I read his essays and books like Animal Farm and his highly-under-rated Homage to Catalonia.
I wanted to be able to write as clearly as Orwell did.
He is not a great novelist (he can’t really do fictional characters very well) but he is a great writer, as his wonderful short essays show. I am particularly thinking of A Hanging and Down The Mine, details of which have stayed in my mind a lifetime later. There is one description in A Hanging (about the puddle) which I don’t think anyone who has read it can ever possibly forget.
Likewise, I think the most terrifying thing in Nineteen Eighty-Four is not the torture scene in Room 101 but the explanation by O’Brien to Winston of WHY he is being tortured.
Nineteen Eighty-Four also has possibly the bleakest final line – the bleakest final four words – of any book I ever read. No point looking it up – the emotional effect only comes after you have read the whole novel.
Orwell also explained why he wrote in – no surprise – his essay Why I Write and, in Politics and the English Language, he suggests six rules for good writing:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.