Write better, say less. Writing tips from Ancient Greece

Want to be laconic? Easy.image Don’t say much and keep to the point.

I’m reading a book about Sparta at the moment (Plutarch’s On Sparta ) after I listened to the In Our Time broadcast about it.

I know I’m quite chatty and so I’m always impressed by laconic people. I remember asking a taciturn chap in a cowboy hat if he had lived in Texas his whole life. “Not yet,” was the answer. It turns out that the Spartans were, literally, the first laconic people.

My favourite example happened when Philip II of Macedon threatened them. He said, “If I invade your country, I will raze your city, destroy your farms and enslave your women.” The overseers of the state replied, simply, “If…”

They’re a good role model for writers today.

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6 Responses to Write better, say less. Writing tips from Ancient Greece

  1. Lorraine February 16, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

    Serendipitously, I’m reading Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, an historic novel chronicling the Battle of Thermopylae.

    Before the battle, The Persian King Xerxes commanded the far-outnumbered Spartans to lay down arms.

    I love the Spartan King Leonidas’ laconic response: Molon labe. “Come and get them.”

  2. Marisa Birns February 21, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    So laconic in use of dialogue, then, as your examples showed. :)

    Thanks for post.

  3. Lucy Coats February 21, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    I particularly like the Herodotus story about the warrior before Thermoplyae who was told that the Persian archers could blot out the sun with their arrows. His reply? “Excellent, then we shall have our battle in the shade.” Cool dudes, those Spartans. But if you think that you’ll get us mouthy writers to stop spouting by leading by Spartan example, I fear you will be waiting a long time!

    Lucy Coats @ http://www/scribblecitycentral.blogspot.com

  4. Andrew B. February 24, 2010 at 8:50 pm #

    One of my faves is Hemingway’s six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

    Amazing, no?

  5. Bridget March 3, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    So tell me, if we write like Spartans can we wear the helmets as well?
    I love being a writer!

    • Matthew Stibbe March 3, 2010 at 2:58 pm #

      @Bridget, Not only *can* we wear Spartan helmets at work, we *should* do. :)

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