Writing cleanly.

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Apr 19, 2018
James Baldwin wrote this in a Paris review interview:

"You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal."

I love the advice and note that this sets itself is clean is a bone. But is it really possible? Hemingway did it in his story, Hills like White Elephants. But can you really do it in a longer piece? Perhaps. What about exposition, transitions, etc. Can all this be clean is a bone?
I really love Hills Like White Elephants while also disliking Hemingway. That particular story is very good. I love how they're talking about everything but what they're thinking about.

I know someone who writes cleanly and often over 100k. I try to copy him but still end up being more purple prosy than he is. Also, I don't even want to write 100k novels. His style is very noir. But I don't think that addresses what you've said.

The good 'down to the bone' stuff I've read is in first person. The protagonists are intelligent and pragmatic. Often they're cynical. They are extremely reliable narrators. Exposition is done much as a reporter would do it and it doesn't interrupt the flow or sound as though it's coming from someone else because it's in keeping with the protagonist's voice. This would be different if the character was flighty. You'd have to keep the exposition flighty. Flightiness would automatically lead to different word choices.

Also, and I think this is important. There is variety in sentence structure and rhythm. This keeps it from sounding monotonish.

And ... while the advice certainly sounds good ... it's good for people writing a certain type of story... isn't it? It's good for some characters, not all. Certain points of view...
One of my favourite pieces of advice I've had on clean writing came from Terry Bisson: "The more extraordinary the idea, the more ordinary the language." Perhaps it is not so much about writing concisely, but clearly?
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