1. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Cadence vs. Brevity

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by waitingforzion, Jun 18, 2011.

    There is one thing among many things about writing that I do not understand. Modern day writers insist that we focus on content, clarity, and brevity. My question is, must we focus so much on directing and shortening our sentences that we sacrifice cadence? Isn’t it sometimes necessary, as even Strunk and White have written, to use parallelism and to place emphatic words at the end? How can words that need to be placed at the end for emphasis be placed there without slightly lengthening the sentence? If one wishes to use highly rhythmical and poetic language, not the kind that uses a regular meter, but the flexible kind that constitutes what I would think the best prose, would it not sometimes be necessary to sacrifice brevity in favor of euphony?
     
  2. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I do Parkour with quite large groups of people here in Brisbane. I train with instructors in class groups. We teach people how to do a technique properly; what hand placement will do for a vault, what body shape will do for climbing, and so on.

    One of the pieces of advice I've learned from that is that it's good (great, in fact) to learn how to do something properly, but at some point, you have to do what's comfortable for your body.

    Everybody's body (or writing, in this case) is different. Everybody's body (or writing) will be more comfortable with slight differences in technique. The idea is to get your body shape (grammar) and hand placement (spelling and punctuation) up to scratch, and then find what's comfortable for you.
     
  3. Suadade
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    Suadade Senior Member

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    There's no right or wrong in writing, only current trends.
     
  4. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with cruciFICTION. Everyone are different, and the important thing is to find your own style you are comfortable with and perfect it. Long or short sentences? Whatever works. ;)
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It is not necessary to sacrifice brevity for cadence. If you doubt this, study some good Haiku.

    Being concise does not mean simply hacking away unnecessary words. It's also making the best possible choices for the words you retain.

    No one with a lick of sense will tell you to never use a longer sentence in order to accomplish a specific effect. Writing concisely is about writing clearly and frugally.
     
  6. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Ultimately, evocation is the only goal of a writer, whether it's the production of a specific idea, or a feeling, or an image, and obviously different words and structures have different effects. Shortening for the sake of shortening is as bad as lengthening for the sake of lengthening. The writer needs to decide the best way to convey what s/he wants to convey, whether it's in two word fragments or page-long sentences, without regard for tastes and fashion.
     
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  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I generally see the advice regarding 'brevity' phrased as above - eliminate unnecessary words. Of course, the devil is in the details as usual. What is "unnecessary?" That is where you simply have to be comfortable in your own style. If you read someone like Peake, or Angela Carter - certainly both could have told their stories in far, far fewer words. But they wouldn't be the same artistic expressions, and they would lose a lot of the beauty of their writing.

    So my advice is when you see people cutting words out in a critique of your work, take it under consideration, but ultimately you need to decide, based on what you are trying to achieve stylistically, whether to follow the advice. A given word may not be technically necessary to relate the desired information to the reader, but it may very well be necessary for your style and your art. Any great book could be re-written in a soul-less, lifeless economy of words, but that doesn't necessarily make it better.

    EDIT: arron states the point better, above. I agree 100% :)
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with Steerpike and Arron. Use the words you need to use.

    Brevity is not, in itself, a virtue. Beauty is. If you can make a sentence more beautiful and evocative by making it a little longer, then the words you use to do so are not "unnecessary".

    Too many people take advice like "omit needless words" as some kind of absolute commandment. That kind of thinking quickly leads to the idea that writing is some kind of sin that we should do as little of as possible, so as to spare our audience the torture of reading our foul, hellish prose. Of course, this isn't true. Some of the most glorious literature ever written is extravagant and indulgent, with beautiful sentences arranged into beautiful paragraphs that are wonderful to read in and of themselves. Nabokov's Lolita, for example, could easily be condensed by at least a third, but why would anyone want to? I wouldn't want anyone to cut Steinbeck's East of Eden, bloated though it is. I wouldn't want to cut Moby Dick, though a lot of people do.

    Just write the best you can. If a longer draft is better than a shorter draft, don't opt for the shorter draft. Go with what's best.
     
  9. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Brevity doesn't mean that you have to keep every bit of your writing bare and skeletal. It's good to have dialogue, description (natural description, not infodumps), small scenes etc that just help add to a mood or characterization, even if not ultimately crucial to explaining the main plot.

    Brevity, I think, refers to not being overly long-winded in a way that seems clogged. Some writers -- especially people writing high fantasy and/or something that takes place in the middle ages -- like to use really archaic, wordy purple prose because they think it fits the setting...it's not a good idea. Also, don't say something in three words if you can say it in one. (This means that if you have to say "very ___," whatever adjective you've chosen isn't strong enough).

    Hope I helped! :)
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    for the answer to your question, read the excerpts in my post here:

    http://www.writingforums.org/showthread.php?t=42547&page=3

    the finest contemporary writers can toss brevity out the window at will and still write brilliantly... it's just not something a beginner should try, as only a rare few pros can do it well enough to pull it off...
     
  11. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Wonderful excerpts, those. It's prose to be savored, like a rich sauce or a fine wine.
     
  12. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    Excellent advice from you both, I agree! :) I don't think it's necessary, nor do I think everyone does it. Different writers have different styles and it's really about how they write and who you choose to read.
     

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