TUMBY BAY - One of the things I tell aspiring fiction writers is to keep their sentences short and simple and to avoid using big words.
The logic is simple. You have to allow room for a reader’s imagination to work. If you provide too much detail you take away one of the pleasures of reading - the contribution of the reader’s mind.
Secondly, if you use big words you can interrupt the flow of the reader’s thoughts, especially if the words are unfamiliar.
This last point is relevant if you include foreign words and phrases that are not easy to work out from the context of the sentence.
‘Literary’ writers who insist upon indulging the Victorian habit of including unexplained French and Latin words and phrases are smartarses trying to show they are sophisticated and well-read.
The same rules apply to non-fiction, especially essays and journalism. Here, however, including unfamiliar words is often unavoidable.
Sometimes acronyms are used instead of full titles. We all know how annoying it is to have to keep back-tracking to remind ourselves what an acronym stands for. Unless they are very common, like ‘PNG’ for Papua New Guinea, it’s best to avoid them.
This advice is fairly straightforward and sensible but there are more subtle writer’s habits worth noting, especially on blogs like PNG Attitude that cut across cultural barriers.
I’ve noticed, for instance, that many of the Australian writers are fond of filling their articles or comments with the names and references of authorities on a topic, often drawn from classical sources.
When you read some of these pieces it becomes apparent that the writers are often highly selective, cherry-picking sources to support their argument.
From the perspective of the Australian reader this probably isn’t significant but if you consider the perspective of many Papua New Guinean readers you have to realise that it is possible they have never had the advantage of exposure to such sources. For them the references and name-dropping are a turn-off.
I’ve noticed that when more esoteric topics appear on PNG Attitude, Papua New Guineans tend not to become engaged. Some do of course, but they are usually people who have had the privilege of a good education.
For other PNG readers, especially given the parlous state of the education system and the unavailability of libraries, it is likely that they have never been exposed to works that the more smartarse commentators insist on loading into their pieces.
This has nothing to do with the intellectual capacities of Papua New Guinean writers and readers and I’m not suggesting debates be dumbed down for their benefit. What I’m referring to is an un-level playing field.
Think about it – to be well-read in PNG you have to have access to material to read. Most people don’t have it. All they have is common sense, itself a highly subjective concept.
Some more regular readers might recall a debate a few years back regarding the kiap history in Simbu Province.
In that debate, all the Papua New Guinean side had was local memories and knowledge and sketchy access to a few resources on the web, whereas the opposing side had a wealth of archival and other sources to mine. I thought it was, as a result, a poorly balanced debate.
The Australian writers who engage in specialised sourcing are not really writing for a cross-cultural audience, they are writing for each other.
That is okay. PNG Attitude is a broad church and attracts readers from all sorts of backgrounds.
The point I’m trying to make is that PNG Attitude is also a very unique cross-cultural endeavour and we would do well to consider this when we put pen to paper.