The Art Of Writing & Speaking The English Language : Chapter XIII - Imagination and Reality. by@sherwincody

The Art Of Writing & Speaking The English Language : Chapter XIII - Imagination and Reality.

So far we have given our attention to style, the effective use of words.
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Sherwin Cody

American writer and entrepreneur who developed a long-running home-study course in speaking and writing

The Art Of Writing & Speaking The English Language Word-Study, by Sherwin Cody is part of HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here.


So far we have given our attention to style, the effective use of words.

We will now consider some of those general principles of thought end expression which are essential to distinctively literary composition; and first the relation between imagination and reality, or actuality.

In real life a thousand currents cross each other, and counter cross, and cross again. Life is a maze of endless continuity, to which, nevertheless, we desire to find some key. Literature offers us a picture of life to which there is a key, and by some analogy it suggests explanations of real life. It is of far more value to be true to the principles of life than to the outer facts. The outer facts are fragmentary and uncertain, mere passing suggestions, signs in the darkness. The principles of life are a clew of thread which may guide the human judgment through many dark and difficult places. It is to these that the artistic writer must be true.

In the real incident the writer sees an idea which he thinks may illustrate a principle he knows of. The observed fact must illustrate the principle, but he must shape it to that end. A carver takes a block of wood and sets out to make a vase. First he cuts away all the useless parts: The writer should reject all the useless facts connected with his story and reserve only what illustrates his idea. Often, however, the carver finds his block of wood too small, or imperfect. Perfect blocks of wood are rare, and so are perfect stories in real life. The carver cuts out the imperfect part and fits in a new piece of wood. Perhaps the whole base of his vase must be made of another piece and screwed on.

It is quite usual that the whole setting of a story must come from another source. One has observed life in a thousand different phases, just as a carver has accumulated about him scores of different pieces of wood varying in shape and size to suit almost any possible need. When a carver makes a vase he takes one block for the main portion, the starting point in his work, and builds up the rest from that. The writer takes one real incident as the chief one, and perfects it artistically by adding dozens of other incidents that he has observed. The writer creates only in the sense that the wood carver creates his vase. He does not create ideas cut of nothing, any more than the carver creates the separate blocks of wood. The writer may coin his own soul into substance for his stories, but creating out of one's mind and creating out of nothing are two very different things. The writer observes himself, notices how his mind works, how it behaves under given circumstances, and that gives him material exactly the same in kind as that which he gains from observing the working of other people's mind.

But the carver in fashioning a vase thinks of the effect it will produce when it is finished, on the mind of his customer or on the mind of any person who appreciates beauty; and his whole end and aim is for this result. He cuts out what he thinks will hinder, and puts in what he thinks will help. He certainly does a great deal more than present polished specimens of the various kinds of woods he has collected. The creative writer―who intends to do something more than present polished specimens of real life―must work on the same plan. He must write for his realer, for his audience.

But just what is it to write for an audience? The essential element in it is some message a somebody. A message is of no value unless it is to somebody in particular. Shouting messages into the air when you do not know whether any one is at hand to hear would be equally foolish whether a writer gave forth his message of inspiration in that way, or a telegraph boy shouted his message in front of the telegraph off{i}ce in the hope that the man to whom the message was addressed might be passing, or that some of him friends might overhear it.

The newspaper reporter goes to see a fire, finds out all about it, writes it up, and sends it to his paper. The paper prints it for the readers, who are anxious to know what the fire was and the damage it did. The reporter does not write it up in the spirit of doing it for the pleasure there is in nor does he allow himself to do it in the manner his mood dictates. He writes so that certain people will get certain facts and ideas. The facts he had nothing to do with creating, nor did he make the desire of the people. He was simply a messenger, a purveyor.

The producer of literature, we have said, must write for an audience; but he does not go and hunt up his audience, find out its needs, and then tell to it his story. He simple writes for the audience that he knows, which others have prepared for him. To know human life, to know what people really need, is work for a genius. It resembles the building up of a daily paper, with its patronage and its study of the public pulse. But the reporter has little or nothing to do with that. Likewise the ordinary writer should not trouble himself about so large a problem, at least until he has mastered the simpler ones. Writing for an audience if one wants to get printed in a certain magazine is writing those things which one finds by experience the readers of that magazine, as represented in the editor, want to read. Or one may write with his mind on those readers of the magazine whom he knows personally. The essential point is that the effective writer must cease to think of himself when he begins to write, and turn his mental vision steadily upon the likes or needs of his possible readers, selecting some definite reader in particular if need be. At any rate, he must not write vaguely for people he does not know. If he please these he does know, he may also please many he does not know. The best he can do is to take the audience he thoroughly understands, though it be an audience of one, and write for that audience something that will be of value, in the way of amusement or information or inspiration.

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Cody, Sherwin, 2007. The Art Of Writing & Speaking The English Language Word-Study. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved April 2022 from

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by Sherwin Cody @sherwincody.American writer and entrepreneur who developed a long-running home-study course in speaking and writing
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