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How to write like Jane Austen: try her "ing" rule for Austen-like style and dignity and authority; examples

Updated on December 28, 2012

Instinct and style gave dignity and authority to the works of Jane Austen. But what rules did Austen apply as a writer?

Jane Austen, like Patrick White (see below) wrote in long hand, with a pen. No computer for them. No spell checker, no grammar checker.
Jane Austen, like Patrick White (see below) wrote in long hand, with a pen. No computer for them. No spell checker, no grammar checker.

How to write with authority

Successful writers use rules; instinctive, or, deliberate methods.

  • If we unpick the writer's knitting, sometimes we can learn the rules of success.
  • On investigation, I found a valuable-3-part writers' rule. This idea helped me.
  • Apply this new three-part technique; you'll gain new authority.

Examples: To explain, see below, examples from successful authors; Jane Austen and Australian author, Patrick White. Both tend to apply the three rules, below.

Three simple writer's rules:

  1. Write without use of the word "is";
  2. write without use of the word "was"; and
  3. use no words with "ing", on the end.

Style clean-up: Work to apply those three rules, above, and I believe you'll sense a sudden transformation in the quality of your work. You'll feel a new active, simple, quality.

Jane Austen sparse with "ing": To to that, follow the three simple writer's rules, above. In this example, below, from Price and Predjudice, I found small use of "was", no use of "ing". No use of "is".

Austen paints in past and present tense, and, you'll hear Austen's recurrent "they"; used to register collective mood. Austen's "shared mood' technique sounds with a regular beat. For example; "Elizabeth felt Jane's pleasure". The shared mood quality feels so marked, I felt the need to bold those bits. She records the experience of a group.

"The evening altogether passed off pleasantly to the whole family. Mrs. Bennet had seen her eldest daughter much admired by the Netherfield party. Mr. Bingley had danced with her twice, and she had been distinguished by his sisters. Jane was as much gratified by this as her mother could be, though in a quieter way. Elizabeth felt Jane's pleasure.

Mary had heard herself mentioned to Miss Bingley as the most accomplished girl in the neighbourhood; and Catherine and Lydia had been fortunate enough never to be without partners, which was all that they had yet learnt to care for at a ball. They returned, therefore, in good spirits to Longbourn, the village where they lived, and of which they were the principal inhabitants.

They found Mr. Bennet still up. With a book he was regardless of time; and on the present occasion he had a good deal of curiosity as to the event of an evening which had raised such splendid expectations. He had rather hoped that his wife's views on the stranger would be disappointed; but he soon found out that he had a different story to hear".

Austen did NOT write: "Mr. Bennet was still up. He was reading a book..."

Austen writes with few "ings": "They found Mr. Bennet still up. With a book he was regardless of time;..."
Austen's writers' instinct avoided present continuous tense - words with "ing" on the end; like going, singing, and reading.

Patrick White wrote in long hand at on a 1950's desk

Australian writer Patrick White applied a Faulkner-like style:

In this example; we see White - like Austen - use a mix of past and present tense; no "was", two "ings" and no "is".

Excerpt from Voss, pp.336-337:

"In the lyrical grasslands through which they had lately ridden, they had sung away what was left of their youth. Now, in their silence, they had even left off counting their sores. They had almost renounced their old, wicker bodies. They were very tired at sunset. Only the spirit was flickering in the skull. Whether it would leap up in a blaze of revelation, remained to be seen".

A nice battered collectors' edition of William Faulkner's "Go Down Moses"

I like old books. My father told me in libraries and old books shops; "chose the book that shows the most wear. It's most-liked book". In short, judge a book by its battered cover...
I like old books. My father told me in libraries and old books shops; "chose the book that shows the most wear. It's most-liked book". In short, judge a book by its battered cover...

William Faulkner example

In this example; from Go Down Moses,1940, Faulkner applied no "ing", no "was" and just one "is". See also, two "he thoughts". (A journalistic way to hold things together, she thought).

"This delta, he thought: This Delta. This land which man has deswamped and denuded and derivered in two generations so that white men can own plantations and commute every night to Memphis and black men own plantations and ride in jim crow cars to Chicago to live in millionaires’ mansions on Lakeshore Drive, where white men rent farms and live like niggers and niggers crop on shares and live like animals, where cotton is planted and grows man-tall in the very cracks of the sidewalks, and ursury and mortgage and bankcruptcy and measureless wealth, Chinese and African and Aryan and Jew, all breed and spawn together until no man has time to say which is which nor cares…. No wonder the ruined woods I used to know don’t cry for retribution! He thought: The people who have destroyed it will accomplish its revenge".

This is the first day of the rest of your life; start now

'I don't know much about creative writing programs. But they're not telling the truth if they don't teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer.'  Doris Lessing
'I don't know much about creative writing programs. But they're not telling the truth if they don't teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer.' Doris Lessing | Source

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    • claudiafox profile image
      Author

      claudiafox 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Yes, good work. I find I must try hard to avoid the use of the 'verb to b'e. When I do make the effort, I find my words sound wiser!

    • Lisas-thoughts101 profile image

      Lisas-thoughts101 5 years ago from Northeast Texas

      Thank you for these writer's techniques. I will to try to utilize them and see how it goes. I just eliminated three "ing" words in the last two sentences. It is possible. This should be fun. Thanks. I voted up, useful and interesting.

      Lisa

    • claudiafox profile image
      Author

      claudiafox 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Hello htodd;

      Thanks for your comment.

      I agree with you on the need to develop a personal style.

      I would argue a choice - for example - to avoid the use of the 'verb to be' - works, as technique; a form of grammar.

      Some successful writers apply that method, or may use other methods.

      A writer learns from others - mixes methods - and bingo; a personal style.

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 5 years ago from United States

      I think we should develop our own writing style ..better nt to copy others writing style ..Thanks a lot

    • claudiafox profile image
      Author

      claudiafox 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks for positive feedback. When I avoid the verb-to-be and continued present tense (the ing rule), the things I write, seem to radiate a curious wisdom..!

      (A secret known to the few).

    • Anthea Carson profile image

      Anthea Carson 5 years ago from Colorado Springs

      Thank you for writing a very well researched, well thought out and useful hub.

    • claudiafox profile image
      Author

      claudiafox 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Thanks Enlydia Listener;

      I wonder if Jane Austen worked from rules when she wrote her novels?

      Or did she write from pure genius and forge the rules, we use today?

    • Enlydia Listener profile image

      Enlydia Listener 5 years ago from trailer in the country

      This was interesting to me...you are analytical to the utmost. I appreciate this information.

    • claudiafox profile image
      Author

      claudiafox 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Aah. The nature of geekness.

      Fellow travellers know - without "is", "was" and "ing" - language grows mellow and guru-like.

      Deep, wise, spaces rise, in an is-less world.

      A form of forced consciousness for those who abandon the verb to be, and don't tell the other party?

      When two do it, in full knowledge, it leads to lots of wild laughter.

    • scentualhealing profile image

      scentualhealing 5 years ago from Georgia

      Geeks are us, this is particularly very good, and very to the point. Polishing up writing technique is always a good thing. I think I read recently that google filters do not like those small words either. interesting, very interesting. Have a nice evening