1. sailor_venus
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    sailor_venus Member

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    Can a simple writer be a good writer?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by sailor_venus, Oct 23, 2008.

    What I mean: A straight to the point plot, no detailed and often poetic descriptions of places and people. Using simple language?
     
  2. flashgordon
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    flashgordon Contributing Member

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    Sure, just read some of the American classics from the 20th century. The type of writing you are talking about was in vogue then: Steinbeck used fairly "simple" language. So did Hemingway.
     
  3. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    Why not? Genre fiction generally falls outside literary fiction, which tends to be more character based, as opposed to plot oriented. Plot-based fiction, though often being 'wham, bam' in its nature; flying from one plot point to the other, is hugely popular, in all its varied representations. So no, I see nothing wrong with writing being to the point, or with pithy description, as long as all is specific. The same goes for dialogue. Nothing worse, in my opinion, than meandaring dialogue, flitting in and out of focus, inbetween the reader's snores. Keep it tight and to the point. Write on!:D
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Very true. The starkness of their writing style was itself a tool to impart feeling and tone to their stories. I'm not a fan of either author due to the subject matter, but I can appreciate the use of their given styles as a means to a particular literary end.

    Edit~ Here's an example from the other side of the spectrum: Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany. This ponderous piece of Sci-Fi is now one of my favorites, but my first read of the piece was torture. It is written in a bizarre style filled with ridiculously detailed seeming non sequiturs and 'side streets.' Never mind the author's use of the most unusual syntax and stretching every sentence to its near logical limit for length. It almost put me off this book completely and it wasn't until I did a bit of research on the author himself that I gained a better appreciation for the style and for the why of his style.
     
  5. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    A good writer YES, but I don't believe that it will be very popular.
     
  6. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I don’t know what simple language is. Does it mean without metaphors, similes, and personifications. Does it mean to use the words that derived from barbarians instead of Roman and Greek derivatives? Or is it simple grammar, with short sentences and little variation?
     
  7. sailor_venus
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    sailor_venus Member

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    The bolded part, by my personal definition that is. Also, I just mean generally. Not very descriptive etc.
     
  8. Acglaphotis
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    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

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    Well, J.K Rowling used a simpler type of prose than say, Wilde, and she's still insanely popular.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    In that sense, I would say that simplifying is a good thing, with one exception. Some variation is important to keep the writing from being monotonous.

    I usually push writers to use more simple declarative sentences. Too many writers are enamoured of the rambling, multiclause, compound sentence that begins in the barnyard, then winds across the countryside, into the city, and eventually comes to rest in the sewers.

    There's also a strategy for deciding between the simple sentence and the more complicated one. Pace. Is the tempo of that part of the story is brisk, like a fight scene or other high action, take extra care to simplify teh sentences. But where the flow of the story is more leisurely, and you want to convey the passage of time, lengthen the sentences and add more description. While sitting in the hospital waiting room, while an injured or sick copmrade is under the knife, your charav=cters will pay attention to the trail of coffee stain across the floor, the tattered magazines thrown carelessly on a low table, and the water stains on three of the one hundred and thirty six ceiling tiles.

    When they are dodging bullets, they are barely aware of whether everyone is still together running for cover.

    With or without simplicity, though, building a solid vocabulary is important. The words need not be esoteric and obfuscated. Better they be well-known words that are just underused. With a good vocabulary, you can use the surgically precise word or phrase.

    Most of the time your characters may run, but sometimes they may be better off sprinting, other times they might charge forward. Still simple, but more vivid.

    All of this comes under the heading of style, and of finding your voice.
     
  10. Farseer
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    "Simple" is a style which is very effective in action-oriented plots. As an example, think of your typical Schwarzenegger action film. Its novelization would be unlikely to contain descriptions of the scenery, or of much at all.

    It can, of course, go too far in that direction and end up reading more like a textbook than a story. This is one of the many balances one must find.
     
  11. Only Sissies Write
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    Only Sissies Write Member

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    I think a simple style is fine as long as there is enough variation for the story to be interesting and just enough description so that the reader isn't confused. Some writers think they need everything to be described in as many ways as possible. I find that reading something where too much effort is put into description just distracts me from the story and the characters. Some things should be left to the imagination, but it would be best to have some variation and description in whatever you are writing.

    As for vocabulary, simple language is a good tool, because you can tell a writer is trying too hard if every other word is fifteen letters long and that distracts you from the story as well.
     
  12. Mercury
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    Mercury Active Member

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    Here's what 19th century American literary giant Nathaniel Hawthorne had to say about it:

    I am glad you think my style plain. I never, in any one page or paragraph, aimed at making it anything else...The greatest possible merit of style is, of course, to make the words absolutely disappear into thought.

    The most effective writing is that which conveys its message in as few words as possible. When it achieves this then simple does not mean basic, but effective. Even when writing literary fiction it's necessary to avoid 'purple prose' otherwise the writing becomes pretentious and self-indulgent, and any message that it's carrying will be buried beneath that.

    It's usually a beginner mistake to stick in whole paragraphs of flowery description in an effort to impress (especially at the start of a piece), and it can really grind a story down and stop readers from bothering to read on. Especially publishers. We need to impress with our stories as a whole: the plot, characters, symbolism etc. The narrative needs to be as unburdened as possbile to carry those more effectively.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A good vocabulary is not one laden with mindcracking words that won't fit on a Scrabble board. A good vocabulary is one that contains a variety of readily understood words with shades of meaning.

    For example, if it's cold outside, can you immediately consider a range of alternatives like bracing, brisk, chilly, frigid, arctic, subzero, biting, or frosty? If you resort to a thesaurus to choose a synonym, do you understand the subtleties of the choices well enough not to sound ridiculous?

    A broad but nimble vocabulary can actually simplify your writing, by eliminating (for example) the crushing weight of surplus adjectives and adverbs when a single well-chosen verb will deliver your meaning with crystal clarity.
     
  14. Trevor
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    Of course, I've always thought of Robert Frost as having this type of style. Simple yet meaningful.
     
  15. sailor_venus
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    Wow, great stuff there Cogito. Thank you very much. I think I now dwell in clear understanding and y question has been answered.
     
  16. DragonGrim
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    Now, effective writing makes more sense. But terse writing can look plain and be complex and multifarious. Sometimes figurative language fades into the background. Sentences vary and smooth the flow of the story. It makes me think of the old book “I Robot,” which is a quick, easy read, but the ideas are powerful. The writing is far from simple; it is organized and deeply thought out.
     
  17. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I couldn't agree more. I hate reading. If I pick up a book and feel like I'm looking at words, I put that book right back down. When I see that same problem in my own writing, the delete key gets put through its paces. A good book should play out like a movie in my head. That's what it means to be pulled into the story, and not just analyzing words on a page.

    As far as description is concerned, I choose show over tell. If I already mentioned that the character is wearing a coat and mittens, or there's frost on his breath, I don't have to tell readers it's cold out. And I certainly won't give a paragraph about just how cold it is. As Cog said, language should be targeted to achieve a specific effect; that's the art of finding the right word for the job. More importantly, a writer should know not to carpet bomb a target; it's not funny, cute, or sophisticated... it's just annoying.
     
  18. ieuan
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    ieuan Senior Member

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    My own thought.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...that doesn't sound like good writing to me... but then, neither is overly unsimple writing! ... too-detailed, too-'poetic' skirts close to or runs over into 'purple prose'...

    ...the best writers can hit a happy medium...
     
  20. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    Speaking of her does any one else think that her idea well is completly dried up. I know its off topic just asking though
     
  21. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    Never. At least, not until we finally come to a concensus on what actually constitutes a good writer. ;)

    Nope.
     
  22. Mercury
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    Mercury Active Member

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    We seem to have some assumption on this thread that 'simple' means 'basic'. It could be that the OP has seen lots of flowery prose in stories and thinks that that's how they should be writing. Personally I despise that even in lit-fic. It always smacks of 'ego-writing': writing to impress with the writing itself rather than with the story. Often you just leave the reader struggling with the overburdened prose.

    You don't tend to see it from even experienced lit-fic writers. Take Phillip Roth, for example. His books aren't all short, snappy, simple sentences but you'd be hard pressed to find flowery, purple prose. And wasn't he nominated for the Nobel prize for literature?

    Economy is always the key. Strip every sentence down to the barest possible elements that will convey your message and descriptions fully. I remember some writer (can't remember who) once saying: 'When you finish your story, re-read it. If you find any paragraphs that you are particulary proud of, rip them out of your story.'
     
  23. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I like simple writing with the occasional metaphor and what not.

    As far as description, I say be as simple as you want. Just be sure to give enough description that the reader can imagine the scene. If you don't give enough description for the reader to imagine the scene then what is the point in reading it?

    I read to get a movie playing in my mind. If the author does not get that movie playing, I stop reading. Also too much description can stop me from playing my movie, because they are bombarding me, and not giving me the chance to use my imagination.

    That is what I think. So to answer the question, I would say no. A too simple writer cannot be a good writer, for in my opinion a too simple writer is one who does not give enough details for me to play a movie in my mind. As long as my movie plays, the writing is not too simple. At least when it comes to description.

    When it comes to sentences, it is too simple when I feel like I am reading a shut gun. If at anytime I become aware that I am reading sentences, I think something is wrong. It could be too simple, too complex, or just disjointed.

    John spotted a man across the street. The man dressed in black. John followed the man from a distance. The man in black walked with a limp. He limped into a book store. John entered behind him.

    Although this plays a movie in my mind, I think this is too simple for other obvious reasons.
     
  24. Rumpole40k
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    Rumpole40k Banned

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    Definitely, look at Elmore Leonard. He is a successful writer, yet he largely lets the reader's mind and imagination deal with descriptions of places and people.
     
  25. Ennui
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    This writer would perceive that his writings are idyllic,with simple language people would not need to comprehend them with some labour.It is all right to write sublimely simple ones,that is the writer's disposition.

    But now we hanker for more knowledge,which must supplant easy writings.We read literature,and all of those literary works have some obscure words,aren't they? Ergo,a reader mimic the intelligent writter from his/her unique language.If the writer writes too simple,it is apparently worthless to study.
     

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