What is this quote about writing?
May 23, 2014 3:45 PM   Subscribe

There was a quote I read once that said something like.... A good written work is where every sentence and every word must be there for it to be complete. Where there is no word that can be cut out and still salvage what is trying to be communicated- like no wasted words. .... It was a quote that said something along these lines. I can't remember it and I can't remember who said it either. I think a famous author said it, but not sure. Does anyone have any ideas?
posted by olivetree to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Was it this one from Antoine de Saint-Exupery?

"Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away."
posted by dorque at 3:49 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Was it Vonnegut's "Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action." ?
posted by General Malaise at 3:54 PM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Strunk and White, maybe?

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that he make every word tell."
posted by sunset in snow country at 3:54 PM on May 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

Sounds a bit like Orwell:

“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?”
posted by maximum sensing at 4:30 PM on May 23, 2014

Or also (Orwell):

“- 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.”
posted by maximum sensing at 4:31 PM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

"Politics and the English Language"?
On preview, beat me to it, maximum sensing! Oh well, here's a link to the essay itself.
posted by queseyo at 4:34 PM on May 23, 2014

Maybe from Mark Twain's Fenimoore Cooper's Literary Offenses.
posted by bq at 6:28 PM on May 23, 2014

I was taught that Aristotle said this. I cannot find the exact quote, but there's some similar stuff out there.
posted by ovvl at 9:42 PM on May 23, 2014

I agree it sounds like Strunk & White. Omit needless words.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:32 PM on May 23, 2014

One of the folks above has probably already identified the quote you're looking for, but in case it's helpful, see also some of Poe's thoughts on 'unity of effect'. For example, from his review of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales (emphasis mine):
A skilful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents--he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect. If his very initial sentence tend not to the outbringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step. In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design. And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction.
Poe explores these ideas further in some of his later essays, notably in The Philosophy of Composition, but it's this bit in the Hawthorne review that always sticks in my head.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 2:05 PM on May 24, 2014

Whoa, It looks like a lot of writers have said simular. I think I was probably thinking of the Strunk and White one. I wonder if Shakespeare ever said anything similar?
posted by olivetree at 11:02 AM on May 25, 2014

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