I see a friend of mine posted about Mark Twain. We had talked about Twain’s work awhile back and I recommended he give Twain’s writing a shot. He did and posted about it, praising what he calls Twain’s “linear style.” That’s an interesting description of Twain’s writing style. I’ve read a lot of Twain’s work and I don’t recall him ever giving any particular name to his style. I know he was worried about “surplusage.” Twain once quipped: “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” I’ve been trying to master that advice all of my writing life.
The closest we come to Twain giving a real byline to his style comes at the beginning of a critical essay Twain wrote about James Fenimoore Cooper. Just before Twain launches into a couple of pages of his trademark skewering, he gives us 18 rules for writing. The first 11 rules cover the rules for writing romantic fiction. Rules 12 through 18 are Twain’s general rules for writing:
12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
14. Eschew surplusage.
15. Not omit necessary details.
16. Avoid slovenliness of form.
17. Use good grammar.
18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.
In his last rule Twain exhorts us to “Employ a simple, straightforward style.” I can tell you that if you spend any time reading Twain’s work you’ll “hear” this simple, straightforward style in your head. Having read more than a few biographies of Twain, much of his works, and a number of his letters, I hear that simple, straightforward style through a distinctive southern accent.
My favorite book of Twain’s is Life on the Mississippi. I really can’t say enough about this book. It will always be a book that I tell people they must read. It’s a memoir about Twain’s adventures on the Mississippi River while learning to be a river boat pilot before the Civil War. It’s a book that stays with you. It’s full of humor and pathos and nostalgia. It’s Twain at his very best. It’s the crest of this superb storytellers talent and the embodiment of that very unique and memorable style.