1. biggergib
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    biggergib Member

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    Complaints about my "Prose" style

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by biggergib, Jan 19, 2009.

    Hey guys,

    I was just curious... I have posted a couple of stories in the general fiction section for review, and I tend to use a lot of adjectives and words that may not commonly be used (i.e. in one of my stories I say shadows are dancing on the walls in "hypnotic promenades") and people complain about it saying "less is more" and saying it is "prose" and what not. Is there something wrong with this? When I read the work of an author like Poe, my writing style seems quite simple.

    Maybe I should be posting in a different section, or maybe I really do need to tone it down a bit. I would just like to know what some of your opinions are on this matter.

    Thanks!
     
  2. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    Well, using such unusual words isn't always the best writing wise. I have no idea what "promendes" means and it would hurt the story for me if I was often coming across the words that I don't understand. I might be able to deduce a meaning out of it, but honestly, I can't really ever see a justification for such wording. The normal reader loses the magic with complex words, and those who will know what the word means won't necessarily gain anything from it. It breaks the immersion and I cant think to many folks would actually consider such a word in real life.

    There are times though were obscure or unknown words are useful, like characterization or to set a mood of some sort I suppose. V from V for Vendetta comes to mind, and his opening speech is imo brilliant characterization. Use complex or lesser known words sparingly I say and ask yourself if there isn't a better or clearer way to say what you mean.
     
  3. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't really understand the part about 'prose'. If it is a story, not a poem, then it's prose. The distinction is whether or not it's verse, as in poetry.

    Maybe someone meant flowery descriptions known as purple prose. This style really breaks the flow of your story imo. Matter of fact, I believe I started to read one of your stories for review and took a pass for that very reason.

    I've learned not to try to dissuade someone from that course because I never get anywhere. As evidenced by this thread, I can see I made the right decision.

    To be blunt, if I was reading anything other than a poem and saw the words 'hypnotic promenades' used to describe shadows, I would put it down.

    You can't control your reviewers responses. Everyone has different ideas and suggestions.

    I suggest you take what you want from your reviews and scrap what you don't like to hear. If you want to write stuff hardly no one wants to read, that's your right. But if you want to be publishable one day, then I would get that style of writing out of your system.

    To the best of my knowledge, purple prose went out of vogue quite a while back.

    Edit: I just realized that I did review one of your pieces and I'm probably one of the people you're referring to.
     
  4. Berserkr
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    Berserkr Member

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    You have to remember that Poe was born exactly 200 years ago today (freaky coincidence!). The way the English language is used, and the audience, has changed dramatically since then. Only highly educated people could read or write back then.
     
  5. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just to add on to what others just said. Poe was known for having a huge vocabulary, and for using obscure words. What worked back then won't work today because readers seem to prefer straight forward, non-complex prose. And you can use rich, meaty vocabulary in a way that isn't so flourished that it turns off the average reader. One writer who does this really well is Libba Bray.

    And I do like your phrase "hypnotic promenades" a lot. Wonderful, poetic description. A whole page of descriptions like this, however, ends up feeling like overkill.
     
  6. biggergib
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    biggergib Member

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    Hey guys,

    Thanks for the comments... I guess it's true that using fancy words is more of a risk than a benefit. It is something that I enjoy reading, but I really want to write stuff that I think other people will enjoy. I really want to get stuff published. I don't mind changing my style up. I'm pretty new to writing, so it should not be that hard. I was just wondering why people seem to have such a problem with it, and I think I understand a bit better now. Thanks for your input.
     
  7. Aristocrazy
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    Aristocrazy Member

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    honestly man, I've read plenty of stories that required a dictionary close at hand and they are never enjoyable. My pseudo-intelligence can only go so far.

    that being said I know what promenades are so I actually like that line but alas, if you write above the average level of your target audience you'll fail... imagine using "notorious" and "hypocrisy" in a leapfrog book... easy and common in our adult books but lost upon a child.

    same with using scholarly words in adult books... you can be studying to be a doctor and decide to throw a bunch of medical mumbo-jumbo in your story and all your going to do is lose the reader.

    besides, there is plenty of words to use instead of promenades~ hence why it's fallen into disuse.

    It's called lingo, and if you have a scholarly grasp on the english language and you try to show it off with your lingo you'll lose and even put off the reader.

    it shouldn't be that hard to understand "completely"
     
  8. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hypnotic promenades is not an overly difficult phrase to understand.

    The problem I have is what is fascinating about a style of square dancing, and what does it have to do with the quality of light and shadows?

    I know this can be translated to 'dancing' shadows. Why not just 'flickering' or something akin to it and move on with your story. Also, saying 'shadows dancing on the walls in hypnotic promenades' is redundant.

    Shadows danced across the wall by the light of the flickering fire..


    Not as poetic, maybe, but certainly concise. Gets the point across. And I don't get this image in my mind of someone watching a square dance in a trance.

    I rarely see a word I don't at least understand in the context it is used, but if I can't ken the relationship between the metaphor and its reference... buh-bye.
     
  9. Bob Magness
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    Bob Magness Senior Member

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    There are successful, modern writers who use extravagant adjectives who are successful. Cormac McCarthy comes to mind. Hell, if McCarthy can't think of an extravagant enough one he just makes one up. When I read The Road I kept a dictionary by me, but to my dismay many of the words weren't even in the dictionary. I would even google some of them to see if they were in any dictionary, but nope.

    I love McCarthy's writing, but to be honest, I would love it more if he toned down some of the descriptors a bit. But it is your style and only you can decide what risks you want to take. Sometimes the risks pay off.
     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Just remember that reviews are opinions. I've gotten completely contradictory reviews on pieces I have posted, to the point of having reviewers start to argue with each other, mods get involved, wrists get slapped for bad form...

    Reviews are opinions. One person may not care for an author who paints with a polysyllabic brush. Another person may think it manna from heaven.
     
  11. TheIllustratedMan
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    TheIllustratedMan Active Member

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    I would say that if every word is drawn from a thesaurus your writing will get very heavy, very quickly, and no one will want to read it, even if they understand every word on the page. Honestly, I groan internally at certain word choices, and probably would have for "hypnotic promenades", even though I know what you mean. If nothing even close to that was present in a story, I don't think that I would miss it too much.
    That said, cleverly positioned wording can be a real treat, as can clever word choice. Try to find the word that best fits what you're trying to say and use that one, rather than trying to find the word that's the most showy. Of course, if the word that fits and the word that's showy are the same, by all means use it man!
    Let's go back to the old adage: "Write like you speak." You may use million dollar words in everyday speech (I certainly do, and get the appropriate flak for it), but I would wager that you wouldn't say "hypnotic promenades" unless you were trying to recite or compose a poem.

    Meh, my two cents.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Prose has a couple different meanings. Thhe most common in current usage is writing structured in sentences and paragraphs - "not poetry". A more accurate dictionary definition is written like common speech, with a connotation of blan dness. However, the term purple prose refers to writing that is overly flowery or ostentatious, writing that comes across as trying too hard to be "literary."

    Adjectives and adverbs in excess really do tend to come across as pedantic or snooty. Careful verb choices are a bit less likely to give that air to a piece. Overdescriuption in general, whether you use ten-dollar words or not, will make the writing stiff.

    Another consideration is POV. If your POV is one of your characters, or a social peer, you should keep your vocabulary consistent with that POV. Sure, we all have probably known the high school dropout construction worker whose vocabulary puts a word-of-the-day calendar to shame - his friends refer to him as "Professor" - but most blue-collar protagonists will speak and narrate with very straightforward words. You need not mirror them to thej point of swearing like a sailor with hemorrhoids and including all the umms and ahs, but keep the overall vocabulary in te same ballpark.

    But if your POV character is a poet at heart, you may be adding color to the character by using some over the top descriptions. Just don't overdo it. An occasional description of that type is far more effective than trying to write te entire story that way. Use it to show a surge of passion, and let it underscore his inspiration of the moment. Don't make it tedious.
     
  13. Mesuno
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    Mesuno Member

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    Personally I would say that that type of description should be limited. I'd hate to get bogged down reading something where every few lines I hit something that sticks out like a sore thumb. If i have to mentally translate every line or so down to the level of "oh, 'hypnotic promenades'... hmmmm i guess he means flickering fire light?" that's going to seriously spoil first my immersion then my enjoyment of piece.

    That said an occasional, well placed and well chosen phrase can serve to deliberately break the readers flow - say you want to hit them with something particularly emotive, visual etc... then once in a while breaking their natural reading rhythm might be effective.

    But more generally, no. If I started reading something that was full of phrases like that I'd give up in short order.
     
  14. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    I will just add this:

    And this:

    And this:

     
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  15. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    The question is not whether the phrase is pretty, or even "purple". It's whether it adds to the story. For a phrase like "hypnotic promenades"(for example), standing alone as a useful description is iffy. It might work if it was part of an extended metaphor or image. As a standalone phrase, I don't see why it would be better than a simpler wording.
     
  16. Ice
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    Ice Member

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    Read R. Scott Bakker. Therapy. It'll make you feel a lot better. Longwindedness, or whatever you call it, can hypnotize if you know what you're doing.

    Meh. Revised below.
     
  17. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    Write naturally, avoid fancy words, and be clear. Why is that crap?
     
  18. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    I'm gonna have to disagree. I think the "crap" as you've put it is very good advice. We can write as creatively as we want sure but what's the point if no one has any clue what we're saying? There are times were big words or colorful prose may be useful or even very called for but you need to be careful. If you get too big and flowery your reader will be lost and all that creativity becomes a novel poem or short stories worth of wasted time.

    Now, that's if your aiming to have people get the point. If you don't care well go all out and do whatever. I write like I please because at the time I don't care about being published. If I did I'd probably put more effort into the writing than simply getting the ideas down.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there's a good reason why s&w is every serious writer's 'bible' and has been, ever since it was 'born'... part of that reason was well-excerpted above... to say it's 'crap' only shows a lack of seriousness about being a writer, as well as total ignorance of what good writing really is and how to go about creating any...

    that 'crap' comment proved once again, the wisdom of the classic quote:
     
  20. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    yuppers

    +1 in agreement
     
  21. Ice
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    Ice Member

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    I'm sorry, I wasn't referring to that post specifically, but maxims like "affect an active voice" and "show, don't tell" which are often promoted by authors like S&W don't necessarily hold true. There are some very popular, very intelligent books that have plenty of telling and passive voice in them. I critiqued an unpublished manuscript written by someone who firmly warns against worshipping S&W. It was extremely good, better than probably 90% of published fiction I've read, and I read a lot.

    Fancy words can certainly be used in proper context; that's not to say I advocate sprinkling them in whenever it tickles your fancy.

    I agree with sorites' specific points, as long as he's not suggesting that we abide by all of S&W's laws as though they are out of the Bible.

    No writer should be bound to a set of rules set in stone by someone else. Advice, yes. But not rules.

    Look here. I just stumbled across this on a Google search. Some elaboration on my point of view.

    Vaguely related ...

    http://sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=21414
    http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=13704
    http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=20515
     
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  22. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Knowing basic "rules" enables a writer to make powerful exceptions...those well thought out deviations that create a desired impact. Writers lacking such knowledge, more often stumble along with shallow prose, lacking the benefit provided by sound foundation. Therein lies the value of knowing all the so-called "rules".

    Music is the same...I have a friend who is a concert level classical violinist. When "nobody is looking", she lets her hair down and sits in with local foot-stomping bluegrass bands. Her mastery of the violin creates thrilling renditions of such great "fiddlin" solos as in Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went Down to Georgia". I get chills when she plays.

    In writing, just as in music, if you thoroughly KNOW the "rules", you become empowered to BREAK the "rules" to great effect.
     
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  23. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    As far as word selection a few notions that I follow as I write:

    Consider your audience.
    Use the correct word(s) where needed.
    Write such that the reader can use context to determine a word's meaning where possible.
    Avoid using fancy words in an attempt to prove something or sound more intelligent.

    Terry
     
  24. Leo
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    Leo Senior Member

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    I don't think you should discount any word just because other people think of it as 'fancy'. If it's the right word for the job then use it. If someone doesn't understand it, well, they can go get a dictionary and extend their vocabulary.

    I don't personally write in this 'fancy' style but I don't see anything wrong with it if that's your style. You shouldn't write something just because it's in fashion. Literature is supposed to be news that stays news. Fashion doesn't enter into it, what matters is if it is good writing.
     
  25. sorites
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    sorites Senior Member

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    To avoid ennui vis-à-vis erudite elucidation, adopt phraseology which is fathomable by the bibliophiles who elect your volume for consumption.

    Aw, screw it. Lionize the resplendent lexicon!
     

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