1. KingSolomon007
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    KingSolomon007 New Member

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    Style Does "meter" matter when you are not writing poetry (aka writing a regular book)?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by KingSolomon007, Jul 2, 2014.

    I often find myself discontent with anything I write unless it meets an "aesthetic" standard of sort.

    For instance, here are the first two paragraphs that I just revised to make them "self" appealing. Notice that is subdivides into regular patterns of iambic feet, also notice that small bursts of alliteration.

    "The ruby cardinal soared twixt among the scattered clouds, as it darted towards the crimson sun; while scarlet colored flakes descended about its regal shape, calmly falling upon the emerald groves below. Gathering herds of wildlife adorned the mountainous valleys to the west, bespangling the freshly fallen snow with specks of beige and brown; as many a flock of fugels were gingerly gliding aloft a gentle but bitter eastward breeze.

    As the cardinal dived towards the nearest stream, it flew over and into the gusts of glistening rosy powder, fleeting among the zephyrs that braided and wove upon the meadows, amalgamating into shallow dunes at the forest’s edge. The cardinal delighted in the bluster of the winds; playfully entwining and weaving itself among the brawling currents. "

    Now read the next two paragraphs, of which I have not yet revised into an iambic form (and thus they dissatify me greatly):

    "From high in air the meadow and stream were small compared to their surroundings, but as the cardinal came level with the ground, the meadow stretched across the visible horizon. Near the sea of snow dunes to the east flowed the stream that the cardinal sought. The sands of the narrow shore were frozen together, as were the shallow boundaries of the stream itself. Although the stream was flowing, it was evident that its slow flow would not be able to overcome the enveloping frost by nightfall.

    Yvonne restored her natural form through cessation, and the cardinal was no more. Yvonne knew that it was unlikely she’d be able to find fresh water once the sun had set, as it would all be frozen. She would have to drink her appropriate fill now, as the the petite cardinal would not have been able to consume and store a sufficient supply of water for a human later on. The least magic she used, the better. Afterall, her first survival experience without magic had also occurred upon that frigid island on Ur. She was well prepared and knew how to adapt to this environment … fish should be plentiful under the ice, and branches and twine were abundant to the south."
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The second example is much more readable and graceful than the first. I think that it's still too elaborate in places, but it's better.

    I realize that you were hoping for the opposite; maybe someone will disagree with me.
     
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  3. KingSolomon007
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    KingSolomon007 New Member

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    That's fine Chicken Freak, I was hoping it was the latter.

    Interestingly the "dreamy" and "hazy" effect of that first example is the desired feeling since it's already well known that at that point in the book that changing into an animal severely affects perception.

    So I would be happy to leave both the way they are.

    I'm glad that most people don't OCD on iambic poetry like I do. I won't revise the rest.
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I also like the second example better. The first example seems old-fashioned at places. Some may even call it purple prose.
     
  5. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't write poetry so "iambic" and "meter" are meaningless to me. That said, I preferred the second, but found both a bit too flowery for my tastes.
     
  6. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    No ones disagreeing with you on this one
     
  7. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    The first paragraph reads more like a prose poem to me while the second was a lot more readable and approachable. Personally, I see the issue as being one of sustainability. As a reader, I don't want to read an entire novel where I have to constantly reread descriptions and decipher flowery prose. The 'fancification' can effect the pace of the story and force the reader to spend time immersing themselves in one particular scene or description rather than the story itself.

    Having said that, I don't think you have to omit all of the 'aesthetic' qualities you like. You can still include these descriptions and elements like alliteration but you should break them up with action, dialogue, something to propel the story forward. I haven't a lot of experience with the technicality of poetry so I'm just offering my thoughts as a reader. Obviously I've just read a little excerpt so I'm making some assumptions but in my opinion, the second read much better.
     
  8. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @KingSolomon007 What you have in 1) is absolutely terrible, so terrible I can't even be gentle about it without directly lying to you. There is nothing old fashioned about that prose. If you take a closer look at classics, you'll see it's different. I would suggest rooting out this style entirely from all yours works.
     
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  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I love beautiful prose but um... this just isn't working.

    I'll try to be polite and helpful as I explain why for me it doesn't work.

    First sentence - cardinal's are red no need to add ruby it's redundant. It would only work if your mc was ignorant and could only say A ruby bird soared. Twixt in the context doesn't work - feels thrown in to give it a poetic feel. Soared and darted are competing visually. Notice if you get rid of these things the sentence runs a bit smoother - The cardinal soared among scattered clouds towards the crimson sun ( I kept crimson sun - nothing wrong with that detail when you clear up the others. And that's the thing if you keep jamming in modifers and zappy verbs, an interesting one will get lost among the other doozies like one diamond on a rhinestone dress. )

    Unsure what you mean by scarlet flakes - red tinged snow? better to clarify than muddle the visual I'd rework that entire sentence.

    Emerald groves. Emerald is too often used with grass that it becomes cliche and uninteresting. One cliche in a passage is okay but what's happening here is the prose is so overwrought that the cliche is revealing all the other cliched pair-ups - crimson sun/emerald groves/blustering winds/regal shape.

    I'm not sure why you would associate wildlife as adorning and bespangling - adorning means to embellish, bespangling - hints of glitter. It feels like a reaction apart from nature not really noticing nature on its own level. The snow would glitter, not the wildlife. Better to note something more natural - like how the wildlife cut paths through the fresh snow or something. Often times when description falls flat it's because it's trying to hard. Better to be plain but clear than showy and miss the mark completely.

    Gingerly gliding - again feels competing visually.
    The cardinal is doing a lot of active things - soared, darted, dived, flew. I love a good action verb but these hyper verbs are distracting. Dipped might be better than dived.
    Braided and wove mean basically the same thing. fleeting among the zephyrs doesn't make much sense but zephyr is a good word and could be moved to improve the sentence -
    The cardinal dipped towards a stream catching the gust of zephyr, and was pulled high into the swirl of glistening powder, already amalgamating into shallow dunes at the forest's edge - example. I pulled elements from the sentence that I thought were quite good but toned them down a bit and tried to keep the visual absolutely clear.

    There's nothing wrong with wanting to be poetic. But high falutin words - Twixt, or a modifier for every noun, they're going to backfire. True poetry's magic is in clear visual and fresh detail and plain words to let an interesting concept shine for itself.

    You don't have to do away with being poetic just don't force it.
    Learn to keep a balance; clear visual, tone and meaning.
     
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  10. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^^^
    This.

    To answer your question as presented in the title, yes, I think meter is important in good prose, fiction or nonfiction. You want the writing to flow well, to carry the readers along so they're not distracted by clunkers. But that doesn't mean sticking to any one poetic meter; in fact, you want to change it up so it doesn't lapse into doggerel. This will also mean varying the length of your sentences, how many clauses to include, and so on.

    So no, I don't think that
    is what one should aspire to. Let the words you choose dictate their own rhythm.

    But the words have to be chosen well. As Mark Twain said, pick the right word, not its first cousin. Forgive me, but in both these samples a lot of the modifiers are the right words' 8th cousins 4 times removed, thrown in merely to glitter up the picture. They don't give the reader a graphic image of what's going on.

    Now, I understand this is a piece out of a fantasy story, and only a piece. So I'm not going to quibble about the redness of the snow or terms like "fugels" or "cessation." But. But. Please make it clear to me when referring to the flakes you are talking about snow (or are you?) and remind me that in this world the fields would now be red with it.

    And make sure that the words you choose mean what you need them to.

    Some examples: "Appropriate fill." Don't you mean "sufficient"? How can the question of appropriateness come up in regard to water, unless in times of rationing?

    "Gathering herds." Only animals like cows, goats, sheep, deer, bison, etc., gather in herds. If you mean bison or wild sheep, say so. Don't obfuscate with a term like "wildlife." And if the ground is covered with snow, why are they gathering in the first place? Are they actively gathering as the cardinal flies overhead, or are they just there as part of the landscape?

    "Mountainous valleys" is an oxymoron. "Mountain valleys" will do.

    A zephyr is a gentle west wind that blows in the warm months. Find the word for a winter wind and use it instead. Moreover, a wind can't be both gentle and bitter/blustering at the same time.

    Only male cardinals are bright red. The females are reddish brown. Or does Yvonne change her sex along with her shape?

    The biggest problem I see with this piece is that you're using the scene as an excuse to use the language, like a kid playing dress-up, and not using language to serve the scene. It look me several readings to grasp that your character is in a tight place. She has to find water, food, and shelter before night and the encroaching cold cut off her means of survival. I lose that urgency among all the soaring, diving, delighting, and adornment.

    Meter, rhythm, word choice, etc., are all tools the writer uses to craft his or her story. Study your tools, use them well, and your writing will communicate your ideas as it should.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2014
  11. Chad Lutzke
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    Chad Lutzke Member

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    Sometimes less is more. The first paragraph was extremely distracting and had zero flow to it. It sounded like you were trying way too hard and read like your thesaurus just vomited on your paper. @peachalulu pretty much summed everything up nicely. If you're writing for the reader then write for the reader. The first paragraph sounded like you were writing to try and impress which usually comes out pretentious and leaves you standing alone. Thank you for sharing though. It's a brave thing to do because sometimes people can be cruel and sometimes text just sounds cruel with no voice behind it, so here's a smiley face to lighten my tone :)

    ~Chad Lutzke
     
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  12. Mike Kobernus
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    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

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    Elegant prose is nice. But it should vary according to context. As the tension mounts, I like to create shorter, choppier sentences. If there is some action, then I do not get all prosaic and stop to smell the flowers. I say what happened, then what happened next.
    However, if the pacing allows for it, some scenes might be a bit more prosaic. And at all times, I pay careful attention to rhythm and word order.

    There are many problems with both the examples above. Someone already noted the tautology (ruby/cardinal) but there is also contradictions such as twixt/among.

    If I were to write the first paragraph, I might do it more like this.

    "The cardinal soared amongst the scattered clouds, gliding towards the crimson sun. Herds of animals adorned the valleys to the west, speckling the freshly fallen snow with beige and brown, as flocks of birds rose aloft the gentle eastward breeze."
     
  13. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Good catches! You know I never would've thought of that but yes when you tag the bird as female and then mention her bright hue it doesn't work. Love the Twain quote too.
     
  14. Chad Lutzke
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    Chad Lutzke Member

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  15. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I make a concentrated effort to read without subvocalizing. I often use rapid serial visual presentation to prevent myself from subvocalizing (and to prevent myself from backtracking, among other things that slow me down when reading).

    Without vocalization or subvocalization, meter has no effect.
     
  16. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What's wrong with subvocalizing? Or vocalizing, for that matter? I love to read aloud - if the prose is good, it enhances the pleasure of reading exponentially!

    Forcing myself to read without subvocalizing is basically just speed-reading. I took a speed-reading course when I was in high school and blazed through hundreds of books. I eventually realized I wasn't enjoying reading anywhere near as much as when I slowed down and appreciated the scenery, so to speak. I don't speed-read any more. Doing so just turns everything into some kind of undifferentiated pap. Ugh. The unique flavors and textures of a work come when you slow down.

    In my opinion, of course. ;)
     
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  17. Mike Kobernus
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    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

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    I agree with Minstrel. One should savour a good book. When I read some passages in Tolkein, for example, I love the balance in his sentence construction. The use of antonyms. The rhythm. I appreciate his art as much as the story.

    That is a worthy goal as a writer, and it makes me happy if I write something that is elegant, yet still has a punch.
     
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  18. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, yes, yes! I can't read prose or poetry without subvocalizing (I guess that means hearing the words in your head?), nor would I want to. I wish I could sightread music the same way I can words and hear the harmonies as I read along the staves.

    Speed is overrated; savor what the author is serving up.
     
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  19. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    @minstrel @Mike Kobernus @Catrin Lewis

    Whenever I read a fictional book, I assume that I will read it again. The best fictional stories are better on the second reading than on the first reading.

    If I am reading it for the first time and I know I will read it again, then there is no need to savor every little detail because I know I will have another chance to notice them. I focus on getting the big picture.

    If I am reading it for the second time, then my reading comprehension increases dramatically because I already know where it is going. Slowing down would not help very much.

    Here are some made-up numbers to illustrate the point:
    • subvocally reading once = 70% comprehension, 3 time
    • subvocally reading twice = 99% comprehension, 6 time
    • speed-reading once = 60% comprehension, 2 time
    • speed-reading twice = 97% comprehension, 4 time -- most economic use of my time
    Preventing myself from subvocalizing is also a matter of discipline for me personally. I have what might be a subtle speech impediment or other neurological problem. I noticed it when I competed in debate. With a little practice, most people can easily read out loud faster than 250 words per minute. (Conversational speed for most people is 120-170 WPM.) I spent years practicing and I still struggled to exceed 200 WPM -- I stuttered, mispronounced words, skipped words, and sometimes lost my place entirely. In casual conversation, I sometimes stutter, "freeze up", or lose my train of thought. When I am reading and the thing that pushes me forward is my own subvocalization, I frequently lose my place or get stuck in a loop re-reading a particular sentence or phrase. I sometimes experience semantic satiation when I subvocalize. I think these are all symptoms of the same neurological problem.

    Since the part of my brain that turns words into speech is apparently faulty, I try to bypass it altogether. If I feel like I missed something, then I close my eyes or look away from the page, pause the RSVP reader (if applicable), and try to remember what I just read. If I cannot remember it, then I glance at the previous sentence(s) as briefly as possible, then close my eyes, then mentally fill in the blanks. That is my technique for resisting the temptation to rest my eyes on a sentence.

    My technique is also a manifestation of my philosophy that language is merely a crude way to transfer thoughts from one mind to another (with the exception of poetry, lyrics, puns, spoken word, etc). I do spend (probably "waste") a lot of time digesting what I read. I simply prefer to do it when I am not looking at text because:
    • I do not want the linguistic skill (or lack thereof) of the author to influence unduly my appreciation of the substance of the thoughts communicated. "Undifferentiated pap" is actually the exact goal. Language is black velvet and ideas are jewels that rest on it. If that sucks the enjoyment out of reading, then that is merely a sign that I am wasting my time on a book that is not worth reading, and no amount of clever word arrangement could make up for the lack of interesting substance. Maybe this is coming from my experience reading fan fiction and my frustration and disillusionment with people who try to filter "good" fan fiction from "bad" fan fiction and consequently punish amateurly written fanfics that are worth reading because inspiration happened to strike the amateurs instead of the veterans.
    • I want to give the thoughts the best chance possible to grow in my mind and to mutate in a direction that I find interesting. My thought process feels so much freer when I read something to plant the seed of an idea, then let the idea grow independently of text, than when I try to read and think simultaneously.
    Have you tried RSVP (e.g. spreeder)? You can never know for sure what you want until you try it. ;)
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2014
  20. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    To each his own.

    Just tried the Spreeder. Took an excerpt from a friend's house blog post and read it at 300 and 450. Fine, got it (still subvocalizing both times), though I noticed a lot of the article adjectives buzzed by without me seeing them. Took another excerpt from the same blog at 600 wpm. Yeah, got that too (still hearing it in my head.)

    Tried another houseblogger's latest post at 1,000 and 800 wpm. I think I got the gist of it, the second time at least.

    But what was the point? I couldn't take time to laugh at their jokes about the planning commission lady and the tendency to equate "cleaning" with shoving things in random cupboards, or sympathize with one's annoyance over paperwork or the other's acknowledgement of how work and home renovation can replace your social life (unless you count talking to the chickens), or contemplate what it will be like to build a front porch in the hot sun of a Missouri August. I got the intellectual meaning, but not the heart.

    Now if I get what the Spreeder site is saying, you're supposed to overwhelm yourself with the text at a rate way higher than your base rate, then pull back to a speed in between the two. At this point, if I've interpreted right, your brain will be so grateful for the reprieve it'll pick up all sorts of things you never imagined it could with you reading that fast.

    Interesting. But thinking back to what the original poster @KingSolomon007 was getting at, there are times when an author wants the reader to slow down, to savor; even, in shock and astonishment, to come to a dead stop. Mental comprehension isn't everything. A good author wants the reader to hear the music of his words, running now faster, now slower. Something like Spreeder would have been brilliant when I was at Princeton and the object of the game was to ingest as many books as you could as quickly as you could and regurgitate their matter as efficiently as you could in a term paper or test. But when I'm reading for pleasure, not so much.

    But again, to each his own.
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2014

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