Paragraph on Literature is not a mere science

Outline:

  • Meaning of literature.
  • Writing an art; its medium words.
  • Its object, communication; its method the handling of words.
  • The choice of words.
  • The arrangement of words.

The word “literature; means, literally, letters; and we use the word “letters” itself in the sense of “literature” in the phrase, “a man of letters”. Literature is written word. But all that is written or printed is not literature; for the name of “literature” is given only to memorable thought finely and nobly expressed in words. It is good style that makes a piece of writing literature. In the sentence quoted above as the title, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch uses the word “literature” in the sense of writing. He tells that good literature is to be studied, but also that is to be practiced as an art. That is, that we, if we have any gift of writing, should try to express our thoughts finely in words. We may, make literature.

Writing is an art; and just because it is an art, it has to be learnt. Every art has its own medium of expression, and its own rules. The sculptor works in stone and metal; the painter in line and colour; the musician in pure sound; and the writer in words. And, as those other artists must learn, and sedulously practice, their arts before they can adequately express themselves in statues, pictures and music, so must they would be maker of literature, the writer.
We want to communicate our thoughts to the minds of others; and we can do it only by means of words. So we have to learn how to use words in such a way as to convey our meaning to others clearly, simply, directly, briefly and vigorously. From this point of view, style in writing is nothing but the skilful handling of words. As Cardinal Newman said, “Style is thinking out into words”.

Good prose may be described as “the right words in the right order”, for the handling of words, in writing consists of the right choice of words, and the right arrangement of words. Choice implies thought and care something deliberate. A careful writer will choose his words, and will not be content till he finds the one word that will accurately and clearly express his thought. Once secret of clear writing is clear thinking; the other secret is the careful choice of the words that will best express the thought. For the formation of a direct, simple, brief, vigorous and lucid style, these rules should be followed; Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched; prefer the concrete word to the abstract; prefer the single word to the circumlocution; prefer the short word to the long.

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To arrange right words; we should prefer short sentence to the long; prefer the simple construction to the elaborate; prefer the direct construction to the roundabout. To follow these rules is not easy, and it calls for much practice; for “the apparently simplest form of construction is by far the most difficult”.

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