1. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Brevity or Copia

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by waitingforzion, Jun 30, 2016.

    Today many writing experts tells us to practice brevity and shun verbosity. Do they mean that all expressions, when expanded are verbose? Are they all to be rejected? Are they all unclear?

    I have read a book written by Erasmus called De Copia. He encourages the abundant style. In his book, he explains how to state the same propositions in a multitude of ways. When a sentence is reworded, sometimes it is longer. But he explains that after trying these methods on numerous expressions, writers will be no longer be at a loss for words, and but will have much greater richness and variety.

    But is this acceptable? Certainly, we may want to say something differently, to make it sound more poetic. And De Copia provides us with the methods to do so. But is this acceptable?

    If I take the simple sentence: "The boy loves the girl", it appears that there is nearly no way to word this differently without increasing the word count. Not in complete faithfulness to the strategies in De Copia, but in what I think to be additional ways, though these ways may in fact be in it, myself not knowing, I thought to express the sentence in the following ways:

    1. In the boy is love, love for the girl.
    2. The boy has a feeling, a feeling of love, which he feels for the girl.
    3. The boy has love for the girl.
    4. The boy is the source of a beam of love that beams upon the girl.
    5. Dwelling in the boy is love for the girl.

    Now I did not in these examples faithfully use the methods that are given in De Copia. He provides examples that are much more acceptable for a different sentence altogether. But the point should be clear that using synonyms and various figures we can vary an expression.

    But is this acceptable? In this time so many writers encourage us to be a brief as possible. But it is evident that if we are always brief, we cannot achieve a certain poetic feel in our words that require abundance. If we strive for brevity always, we will not be able to write in iambic pentameter, nor will we be able to achieve many rhythmic effects. If we state something in the most obvious and direct way possible, we will certainly not achieve rhythmic effects.

    But is copia the answer? There are many works of prose that sound beautiful, and yet they seem concise? Are they truly concise? By what means were the propositions worded, that they appeared brief, and yet rhythmical.

    Considering the King James Bible, some have deemed it concise, other have deemed it inflated. How do we explain its lyrical phrasing? Certainly the advice that we should try as hard as we can to phrase things in different ways is not the best. It is better to give advice on how to phrase things. De Copia provides rhetorical methods for rephrasing sentences. But copia seems to be the expansion of words.

    And how shall we practice copia, without becoming unclear? When a sentence is expanded, it is often made unclear or wordy. And how do we define wordiness? Do we call something wordy simply because it uses more words?
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2016
  2. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    You can start by not using the passive voice like a few of your examples. I tend to lean towards brevity, but that's just me. Others I'm sure feel different. I choose to be concise because I think that is how my writing is strongest. Which doesn't mean that I never add some extra words, certainly I do. There's a time and a place. Like in all good writing, there needs to be a balance between wordiness and concise writing. We have to find that line and straddle it.

    If wiring is too wordy, and I define wordy by necessary words throughout, then I will be disinterested in finishing the work. If there is no poetry in prose, I will feel a lack of depth in certain scenes.

    The answer to your questions is not black and white, as with most things craft related. It's up to the writer to find a good balance. Also, there have been successful writers in both camps. You could say both work, if done properly.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There are two things to consider. One is context, and the other is style. While the same idea can be represented by sentences of different lengths, only a few (or maybe only one) of those will read well within context. I'm a big proponent of seeing how a particular sentence fits in with the sentences around it. After you've determined how many sentences fit well within context, it's then a matter of style. Some writers prefer longer sentences, while others like to keep it short and to the point.

    The most important thing to keep in mind, however, is readability. If your readers can't understand your writing, then the issue of sentence length is irrelevant.
     
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  4. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure it's a good idea to take writing advice from a book first published over 500 years ago. It may not reflect contemporary tastes. ;)

    And I'm truly sorry this post isn't more helpful.
     
  5. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's really good to write long, complex sentences, especially if you juggle words around in a way that makes it really hard for people to understand what you're talking about. Rhythm is everything, meaning is nothing. The point of writing isn't to communicate ideas; rather, we must strive to follow the beat, only the beat, always the beat, even when turnip.
     
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  6. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    You seem to have ignored most of what I said.
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that you may have missed some sarcasm there.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My problem with these is that the additional words add no additional meaning. "Abundant style" implies that there is added meaning, not just more more more more more more words.

    For example, I could expand the "in love" concept and (I think) give it a more complex meaning. A really quick needs-some-work example:

    He was in love. It wasn't the painful longing striving kind of love, but a sense that the had already known her all his life and that he could count on her always being at his side, a source of warm comfort, for the rest of that life. Like the feeling when you come home after a long trip from place to place, everything familiar, everything just right, all the little joys planned and experienced over the years right there ready for him to pick up again.

    He was prepared to defend his love, his home, his warmth and comfort, his place in the world, with everything he had.
     
  9. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    No, I understand the sarcasm. But the point of De Copia is not to make your writing hard to read. There are forms of expression, in which words are more abundant, and yet do not make the meaning obscure.

    I was simply asking if you believe Copia was in fact able to do this, in addition to asking other things. It seems that BayView completely ignored the possibility that an expression can be a little longer than it normally would be, for the sake of rhythm, and yet not be hard to understand.

    But maybe that is because in many of the examples I posted my words were unclear. But my writing does not reflect the writing of many who use abundant wording. If there is a case to be made against abundance, it should be based on the flaws in their writing, not mine.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your posts usually argue for rhythm, at the expense of meaning, sometimes at the complete expense of meaning. "Abundance" is not the same thing as rhythm.
     
  11. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    My examples were not proper examples of copia. But copia of words differs from copia of thoughts. It is not about using unnecessary words however.
     
  12. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    I know the abundance is not the same as rhythm. But rhythm can be achieved by saying things in different ways. And the most concise way of saying something is often only one way, and there is often no rhythm in it.

    I never argued for rhythm at the expense of meaning. My examples simply happened to lose their intended sense.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that I've quoted The Wind in the Willows in the context of your threads before. I'll quote some again:

    “All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.”

    “But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, but can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty in it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties.”

    “Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, Those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way.”

    “When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb. The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one's ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender, of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.”

    There's abundance in these. And there's some repetition of phrasing or forms of phrasing. But every one of them has meaning, lots of it. Meaning is not treated as some unpleastant utiitarian requirement to be given short shrift; it's what's served by every single word and phrase.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But they "simply happened to lose" the most important thing, by far. Imagine that you make a meal, and you get so excited with the garnishes that you end up putting a lot of strange things in. Could you say, "My meal simply happened to lose edibility."? A meal is intended to be edible. Writing is intended to be understood.

    If you want to abandon meaning altogether for rhythm and sound, maybe you should look at art forms that do just that. For example, scat singing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scat_singing) uses some of the elements of language, but it consciously has no meaning.
     
  15. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    But I do not by any means want to abandon meaning for rhythm. I simply want to convey what I intend in the kind of rhythm I intend, not a specific rhythm, but a rhythm of a certain kind. But I feel like putting things in the most concise manner possible prevents me from doing so.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    You've latched on to "concise" as something to argue against, but it isn't the main argument that people have been making with you. I know that I've primarily argued "clarity". Clarity and meaning. You can express clarity and meaning with lots of words.

    Did you see the post with the Wind in the Willows quotes? Those are lots of words. But the words are there to serve the meaning, not the rhythm. The rhythm, when it appears, is there to serve the meaning.
     
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  17. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Okay. Then I agree with you. But many of the style guides I have read equate clarity with brevity. I need a better style guide, something that tells me how to be clear, but doesn't force me to use certain grammatical patterns at all times. We are told to only ever use verbs for action, and to avoid all forms of the verb "to be". This is not followed in many works. A lot of times they nominalize to great effect. Consider this phrase: "for the rising and falling of many in Isreal"
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    You need different style guides. That business of avoiding the verb "to be" is sheer, utter, absolute, nonsense. Brevity for clarity isn't sheer nonsense, but it's also just one style choice. It's a style choice that is very popular right now, and therefore you'll have some trouble getting published with a different choice, but plenty of people do get published with un-concise prose.

    What guides are you using?

    And what books are you reading? Do you read many? I would recommend reading some books that do use lavish, abundant prose, but still have meaning. I would obviously include The Wind in the Willows in that list. Go get a copy--seriously, get one. Or, come to think of it, just read it online--it's out of copyright, and Project Gutenberg has made it available.

    I could recommend many other books, and I'm sure that others could, too. Even though those authors don't write precisely the way that you want to, try to learn from them and use what you've learned to improve your prose. You've trapped yourself into a tiny tiny room, insisting on rhythm first and then, maybe, someday, eventually, some meaning. And that is not a path that will get you there. Stop worrying about whether other paths are guaranteed to get you there, and just start following some.
     
  19. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    I was using the Elements of Style and Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. They don't teach to avoid the verb "to be". I read that somewhere else. But they teach you to avoid nominalizations at all times, except when referring to something previously mentioned, or using an action as an object. If the phrase "for the rising and falling of many in Israel" had the nominalizations removed, depending on the meaning, it would read either, "because many in Israel rose and fell" or "in order that many in Israel will rise and fall"

    I don't read a lot of books because I don't have enough money. I will read those books you mentioned though.
     
  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    For the books, is there a public library?

    Re the nominalization, there is a very large cost in clarity. That should be paid back with stronger meaning. If it isn't, I would agree with avoiding them. I can see that they will inevitably be a part of your style, but for now I would minimize their use until the practice of making meaning a priority is well established.
     

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