Anton was studying Literature at the University of Essex when he decided to try his hand out at writing fiction - which he does to this day.
Less is more - it’s something that we’ve all heard that at some point in our lives. It is an utterance that is often heard throughout musical jam sessions and interior design manifestos; and more often than not, in the editorial dungeons of creative institutions.
The concept of quality over quantity has always been a popular standpoint when it comes to squeezing out fluids of invention - especially to those who would rather not spend more minutes than necessary bleeding themselves dry. Yet, if we look back at historical works of artistic genius, we shall nonetheless discover that many did not adhere to such minimalist conventions. From the Sistine Chapel, to War & Peace and ‘Stairway to Heaven’, creativity has often proven that once the blood starts flowing, it's hard to stop.
Yet there are many who don’t require a gargantuan canvas, mile-long tape, or an endless manuscript to get their ideas across - and those are often even considered to be the true masters of their craft. For sometimes it’s not about the demonstration of finesse, but about the passion of the act, and virtuosity can often lie within the simplest of strokes when it comes to laying down your soul; and in the world of literature, it is no different.
So with that in mind, we shall now look at five literary wordsmiths that belong to a special breed of minimalist writers who’ve managed to pave their way using as few stones as possible, and nonetheless carved a legacy worthy of grandeur.
More people are perhaps familiar with his cinematic calling card than his written work, but the 'Fight Club' author remains to be one of the most inventive writers of his generation - and possibly one of the most disturbing.
A true heavyweight of minimalist prose, Chuck Palahniuk’s brutal transgressive punches manage to inflict the most damage with the least amount of force. His simplistic style acts as a mind-boggling skeleton key that manages to unlock expansive imaginary worlds within the space of a few words and pages. Littered with social commentary and terse assaults of determined violation of norms, his reserved writing demonstrates the everyday-man’s approach to communication, and reflects the thought process of you, me, and anyone else who’s ever had a twisted thought that was ready to blossom into a panic.
From the hit ‘Fight Club’, to ‘Lullaby’, and to the ‘Damned’, Palahniuk forgoes the use of elaborate vocabulary and endless sentences in favour of employing simple language as building blocks for his vision. By focusing less on panache, he divulges all of his attention to the stories, which in turn grow around the reader like thorned vines, making them sweat in horror and excitement.
Bret Easton Ellis
If you haven’t read ‘American Psycho’, I won’t suggest that you do - for it is not for everyone. Though regardless of Ellis’ notoriety - courtesy of his infamous, killer stamp on the world of literature - his style very much resembles that of Palahniuk; in both it’s genius and aesthetic decrepitude.
Dry, blunt, and full of uncompromised critique and disenchantment, Ellis’ portrayal of jaded youth in such modern classics as ‘Less Than Zero’ and ‘Rules of Attraction’ benefits from his approach in displaying the vacuous personalities and interactions of his characters, and brings to the forefront the underlying laments of his work.
Ellis’ cold prose and sceptical literary demeanour is not unlike that of his most infamous character, ‘American Psycho’s’ Patrick Bateman. Slicing through pages with icy exposition and cast iron dialogue, the tales of his world have an unapologetic habit to make one uneasy through their familiarity and bleak existential palettes.
In all these ways, Bret Easton Ellis’ style is very much reflective of his generation; for as the progress wheels of the ever-developing world began to churn faster, the embellished and overwrought traits and personalities of its characters were sucked into the undertow, leaving only naked bones, souls, and clothing. Searching for morals in this new age of expert capitalism, Ellis grips onto reality with bare hands and a calloused attitude, giving his reader only what they need to know to hold on.
“Good prose should be transparent, like a window pane.”
There are no platitudes when it comes to the Orwellian canon - no bullshit either. George Orwell didn’t believe in shooting blanks, only rounds that were full of life and provocation. The author of the prophetic ‘1984’ believed that what he said was too important to be coated in misleading stylistics and ornaments of verbal masturbation, and thus when it came to writing down his thoughts and tales, he did so without pretence and restraint.
In his own words, the writer adhered to a set of somewhat rigid rules when it came to producing his work; they were:
“- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
– Never use a long word where a short one will do.
– If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
– Never use the passive where you can use the active.
– Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
– Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”
Perhaps one of the works that almost perfectly reflects his attitude towards the written words is the bare, deep cut ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’, where Orwell deliberately forgoes the use of academic language in order to best convey the tone and sentiments within the book. The derelict adventures and realism-laced dramedy of Orwell’s experiences living in poverty in Paris and London, showcase the true, almost journalistic honesty of prose that makes his writing so urgent and compelling.
Orwell used the bittersweet anecdotes of his life as genuine vehicles for poignant commentary upon society and its inhabitants. From the ‘Burmese Days’ to ‘Homage to Catalonia’, Orwell carried on his simple traditions to address complicated, and controversial issues, and to this day continues to be one of the most respected authors in modern literature.
Most great writers don’t play by the rules - well, Cormac McCarthy simply doesn’t acknowledge their existence. The author of such works as ‘Blood Meridian’ and ‘No Country for Old Men’, McCarthy doesn’t look to writing as an art form per se, but as a medium to bring the human condition to existence.
With a style that is famed for a lack of adherence to grammatical norms and regulations, McCarthy’s prose often features run-on sentences, sparse punctuation, and an overall disregard to standard literary structures. Taking cues from William Faulkner and other modernist writers who employed ‘stream-of-consciousness’ techniques, McCarthy’s approach transports the reader into the setting by letting the words seep into their mind like the sands and dust of the story’s setting without the damming constraints of syntax.
Unusual and academically bewildering, McCarthy makes this simple, albeit curious method work by simply letting his tales flow in an all-enveloping maelstrom of blistering realities - captivating the soul and delivering pure, unrestrained emotion. The simplicity turns into pathos, concision into candour, and at the end of a short burst of controlled anarchy, you are left with more words than there are in the pages of the book. Through sheer confidence in his voice McCarthy uses blunt instruments to carve out intense scenarios of heavy moral weight that cut deeper than many of his contemporaries.
Papa didn’t take no mess - and neither did the literary giant who gifted this world with such classics as ‘A Farewell to Arms’ and ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. Stern, stoic, and solid as an iceberg (more on that later) Hemingway remained faithful to his bare-bones writing style throughout his career, and has become the poster-boy - or man - for minimalism in modern literature.
An anomaly during his time and an influence for future generations of scribes, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many diversions into superfluous stylistic territories within the emotionally scorched battlefield that is Papa’s prose. Plain yet beautiful, Hemingway manages to convey all that needs to be felt through brutish realism and basic exposition.
Yet beneath it all, lies something that every writers tries to get across in the pages of their work, and that is ‘human nature’. Hemingway’s writing adhered to his own Iceberg Theory, which suggests that there’s much more depth to what appears on the surface of the page. Hemingway presented his characters and their settings in such a way that whilst the story only showcases the tip of the iceberg - a primary layer of the personage - the reader understand the heft of that individual’s personality under the water.
There is a reason why Ernest Hemingway is one of the most well-know names in literature, for his prose is where magic and metaphysical conundrums unfold in the most human, and conventional of ways; where an old fisherman can represent the perseverance of ordinary character, or a wounded a soldier a battle with existence in modernity. With simple words and relatable themes, Hemingway brings to life its essence, and its necessity.
As you can see, it is not always about flair and virtuosity - for sometimes the simplest words can say the biggest things. In the end, as long as that burning, fearless thought makes its way to the page and ignites the manuscript, we shall all be all the better for it.
© 2020 Anton Sanatov