Whenever I’m challenged to convey difficult concepts in a story, I imagine how George Orwell might’ve talked to his agent about Animal Farm.
I imagine them meeting in a restaurant, probably in Bloomsbury somewhere. Wooden panelled walls, cushioned worn leather seats, solid oak table, and an overhead light. I imagine George in a three-piece tweed suit—ever the nervous gentleman. His agent, a hard-working guy, sits across from him.
Their conversation might’ve gone something like:
Agent: “So George, what’s your book about?”
George wipes his mouth with the corner of his napkin and clears his throat. “Talking animals on a farm.”
“Say again? I didn’t hear you.”
George inhales and boosts his voice. “Talking animals. Farm.” He shovels a forkful of peas into his mouth, several fall back onto his plate.
Agent freezes. “It’s a children’s book? I thought you said you were writing a book for adults.”
Excitement bubbles in George’s belly. “It is for adults.”
Agent puts his fork down. “Marketing is going to have a fit. How am I going to sell talking animals, to adults? How many pages is this thing?”
George’s nerves iron out. “About a hundred, I reckon.”
Agent leans back. “Cut it down to twenty-five pages, and we’ll sell it to the comics.”
A fortress rises within George, and it encapsulates his baby book. He puts his fork down and spreads his arms across the table. “The animals are having adult conversations about power and greed and hierarchy. It is very much a book for adults, I assure you.”
“We’re in the throes of a war, George. My life is tough enough as it is.” Agent picks up his fork and sighs. “At least try to keep it to seventy-five pages, would you?”
George sits up straight. “We will win the war.”
Agent rubs his belly. “I better prep marketing.”
In an early draft of my first book, The Truth Effect, inspired by 1984, a beta reader commented, “But having Truth Laws is a good thing, right?”
I shift in my chair. “Not exactly,” I say to the beta reader. “But it’s good to know you think so!”
Back to the drawing board.
I looked to George Orwell, again. How did he convey his concepts of newspeak and doublethink and Big Brother that helped people understand what he meant? The answer: simple, clean words.
Simple, clean words were the hallmark of the modernist writing period. Change overtook the world during Orwell’s time, and I can imagine people had a need for uncomplicated language. Of course, there’s much more to the modernist writing age that just uncomplicated language, but that’s another blog post.
Orwell was a man of his time. He embodied the prevailing style and became a foremost modernist writer. I appreciate his many contributions to literature, but above all else, for being a masterful conceptual author.
PS. My readers now understand the Truth Laws, I’m pleased to say.