1. Sean2112bd
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    Sean2112bd Member

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    I figured out my writing problem, but how do I fix it?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Sean2112bd, Feb 3, 2011.

    I finally realized the problem with my writing: it's too pretentious. In the process of writing I come up with really cool sentences, the problem is is that I have a hard time cutting them, and because of that the piece suffers. I like to write descriptive sentences, but when I write descriptively it tends to be overkill.

    So, my question is how do I fix this problem of pretentiousness. I have this fear of creating a lot of short sentences because even though the pacing is good, I feel that the story itself maybe moving too fast. It would be like this happened, and then this happened, and then later this happened and so forth which causes me to tell more than show. But if I try to slow down the pace by making descriptive sentences about scenery, for example, then I want to make it vivid with description which causes me to go overboard.

    I'm guessing the only cure for this is to keep writing until I 'get it', but has anyone ever had this problem? How do you fix it?
     
  2. Cornys
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    Cornys Member

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    Huh, I had this problem before, and the thing that solved it actually isn't allowed here... I don't suggest slipping into that kind of writing anyways.

    Try to describe the actions a little more and the settings less. X rated writing helped me with that more than anything ever did, but I repeat: Do not try that unless everything else has failed. I wish I could help you, but I'm sure somebody else from the community can help you with that.
     
  3. The Degenerate
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    The Degenerate Active Member

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    Stop trying to show off with your writing. If your prose isn't solid, and it was evident that you were just trying to show off, you'll be caught, and they'll stop reading. Instead, describe setting as it becomes essential for your characters. For example, don't spend a great deal of time talking about the "palpable allure of the coruscating rain drop on the tarnished window." Ask yourself if your protagonist is REALLY concerned about that rain drop when he has a gun to his head.

    Chances are he'll be more interested in that foreboding barrel of death pointed straight at his eye.
     
  4. Radhika
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    Radhika Member

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    The same thing is happening to me, and I guess all you have to do is stop trying to say you're a good writer. The classic writers have writing like what you said, but this isn't what sells now.
     
  5. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    You have crossed the first hurdle: identifying your problem. Many writers won't agree that their writings are pretentious, when it is obvious to the readers. So, congratulations.

    Descriptive writing and long sentences are not necessarily bad and pretentious, and short sentences don't necessarily means "telling". Variation in sentence structure is the way to go if you don't want your writing to sound monotonous. Ability to write long and short sentences are tools a writer should possess to have control over his/her writing. I feel like you know all these, and you just don't know when to go for descriptive writing. While watching movies you'll notice that the camera zooms in and show you details of things and people if it is a very important to the plot. Your writing should work just like that movie camera. Pick out important things, moments, scenes and go for detailed descriptions. For example, you can spare the descriptive details of the hotel lobby where your char came running in, but you can zoom in and show us every little details of the hotel room where his fiance lies in a pool of blood.

    One another problem, I assume, you have is your inability to cut and delete sentences once you have written it. You just have to learn to do that. Editing your work is as important as getting your story out on paper. There is nothing wrong in writing a descriptive first draft, in fact it is better to write a descriptive one than not. I say that because while editing you'll find that cutting and making your work concise is much easier than adding descriptive details.

    I hope this helps.
     
  6. E-REK
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    E-REK Member

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    Close your eyes, don't think, and just type your story as if you were speaking naturally.

    Type everything that way, all the way until you are finished with your story, essay, whatever. Then, you can go back and edit, refine, and don't be afraid to cut things out if it makes the piece as a whole better. It's all about cohesion, IMO.

    That's how I found my own voice and style.
     
  7. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    You can be concise without having a choppy feel (although that has its time and place, like if you want to create a hectic tone). Look at some news articles to see how it's done -- professional newspaper sources, mind you, not the ones where the journalist acts like a whiny blogger and inserts his/herself into the article all the time.

    One thing they pound you over the head with in journalism is that you shouldn't say something in three words if you can say it in one.

    First of all, any time you have a word like "very," "extremely" or any other synonym of the same meaning, there's a problem. It means the word you've chosen isn't powerful enough. What has more impact -- "devastating," or "very sad?" "Jarred," or "somewhat taken aback?" For the most part, having to use just one word to sum something up will force to you look for the most effective word possible.

    Also, be assertive in the way you're writing. Unless you're doing first-person narrative with an indecisive MC, don't fill up your writing with words like "probably," "somewhat," "perhaps," etc unless the scene actually contains uncertainty and needs said words. Otherwise it will annoy readers.

    One last thing: don't be archaic and don't use purple prose. I don't care if it's a historical romance novel taking place in 1700, no one wants to read over a description or a line of dialogue five times just to comprehend it. Do not use mideival diction to fit your mideival setting. It's not necessary.

    As for the purple prose thing, make sure you're not describing your character's "long auburn hair that rippled down her back like the golden leaves of the new autumn" or "sapphire blue eyes that held the clearness of a pure pond." No one wants to read that. Now, if you're writing in the first-person POV of an obsessed lover, you've got more liberties, but I'm speaking generally here.

    I'm not saying you do any of these things, but I haven't seen a sample of your writing, and "pretentious" could mean many things. :) Just some tips I'm throwin' out. Good luck!
     
  8. Heather Munn
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    Heather Munn Member

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    Some exercises/rules to practice by. I suggest taking these and writing a scene or two, a few pages, using them all and see how it goes. And then if it works doing it again. These rules are too rigid to be used consistently all the time in writing, but if you use them to practice with I believe they will help.


    1. Try writing description only in the same sentence with action. In other words, you don't write any description unless there's an action, big or small, in the same sentence. (Big: character screams. Small: character looks up. Either works.) If you want to describe a whole lot of stuff you just have to stick it in every other sentence as the scene's action progresses.

    2. Deliberately vary your sentence lengths. Don't do a one-two-one-two mechanical thing, where one is long and the next is short; pick three average lengths, long, medium, and short, and just make sure each sentence is a different length from the last one. Vary your paragraph lengths in the same way.

    3. When you want to emphasize something write a one-line paragraph.

    4. Every time you go to write a bit of description, ask yourself if this is how your character would see and describe it--whether this is really the type of thing he'd notice, whether this is really the type of language he'd use to describe it.

    5. Do not use any word more than two syllables long unless it is necessary for the reader's understanding of what's going on in the action. (Not the description.)
     
  9. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think i might have the opposite problem, i really have to force myself to come up with these long and beautiful descriptions, and sometimes i think my novel would benefit from at least some of those as it maybe would make it more ... complete?
     
  10. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    How about just writing, don't look back, don't edit, don't think, don't worry about punctuation, don't care about showing not telling - you can do all that later. Just think up a story and tell the story. If you focus on what the story needs its easier to forget your own needs.
     
  11. Fiona
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    Fiona Member

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    I couldn't agree with Elgaisma more ^

    Just write. Complete your story. Get out what you need to say.

    You can go back and change what feels wrong, what feels unnatural. That is the beauty of editing, deleting and re-writes. The great thing is you have identified something you don't like - you can always look for that when re-reading through your own work and change things when neccessary.

    Good luck :)
     
  12. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The best way to learn to write short is to pratice writing short.

    First, try writing poetry, as an exercise. It might be good way for you to learn how to find beauty, without nessucarrly do for long sentences.

    Then write some sort of flash fiction. Short stories with less then 300 words. It an exellent expercise that forsec you to press yourself to the extrem. My type of favorite flash fiction is creepy pasta. Sort of the urban legends teen use to tell each other, about evil mirror, hitchhikers etc and it fits the flash fiction genre just fine. Google, and you should find. Sadly lot of the creepy pasta published now a days can be pretty long, but if you go to the collection on encyclopedia dramatica you willa bunch of good exampels short creepy pasta.

    Once you getting a hand of writng short you will have a use it in your ordinary writing.
     
  13. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with all Manav says.


    I wrote a piece for a competition with a 1,500 word limit, I had almost 2,000 words, I cut it down to under 1,500 and my writing was far better and tighter for doing so.

    Look at what you need and what you can do without.
    Cut it down and compare the two, before and after, see which is best.
     
  14. Sean2112bd
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    Sean2112bd Member

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    Thanks for the responses guys. I know a couple of you have suggested that I just keep writing and don't look back. The problem is is that it's really hard for me to do that. I have perfectionist tendencies, and anytime I do a creative project, whether it's writing or music, it's always hard for me to move forward and not think about my previous work. However, I will take all your guys' advice and see how it works out. :)
     
  15. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think then it would be better to channel that perfectionism towards shortening rather than expanding? :p It'd still slow you up, but at least you'd be pleased with the writing quality that appears after your struggles.
     
  16. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I recognise my old 15-year old self in this, as I had such tendencies back then.

    Sometimes you just wanna 'impress', nothing wrong with that as such, but it can go too far if not kept in check.

    What really helped me was reading some of the best literature and short stories that were the complete opposite, i.e. direct and to the point. I picked up a lot doing that, and found it injected a freshness into my writing.

    Experiment a bit, write some short stories and see where it takes you.

    Try and find a happy medium, I don't necessarily agree with that 'no more than two syllables' stuff. It's too rigid. Use a range of words but work on pacing and propelling the story forward always.
     
  17. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If you've identified your problem as writing too pretentiously, try writing poetry. Not wussy ode-to-a-flower stuff, but narrative poetry. The kind of over-the-top sentence that is beautiful in itself but ridiculous in fiction works great in narrative poetry. Look at the longer works of poets like Robinson Jeffers for examples.

    In prose fiction, try making the paragraph instead of the sentence the most important thing. And READ YOUR WORK ALOUD. Reading it aloud will show up problems of rhythm, accidental rhyme, alliteration, and so on that can really trip a reader up. Read it aloud, and when it sounds beautiful paragraph by paragraph, then it's right.
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that those long beautiful descriptions are usually a bad idea, so I think that you're much better off being unable to create them, than being unable to break yourself of them.

    I'm reading _House Rules_ by Jodi Picoult (why, I don't know - Jodi Picoult is not my usual kind of reading at all) and two male characters (the book is in first person with several narrators) described the same woman's eyes:.

    First man:

    "...the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. They're pale, like a lioness's, nearly golden, but they also look like they've done their share of crying, and we all know that a sky with clouds in it is much more interesting than one that doesn't have any."

    Second man:

    "...but her eyes make her look younger. They're like caramel, or butterscotch, and why the hell am I looking at a potential client and channeling ice cream toppings?"

    My response to the first description? Bleah. It annoys me. I suspect that the author just couldn't steel herself to kill that beautiful cloud phrase, even though it doesn't work where it is.

    To me, the second one isn't just more fun to read, it actually communicates the beauty of her eyes better than the first description, which seems to be pounding me over the head with the message. And it's tucked into action, so it avoids the "Yeah, yeah, beautiful thing, yeah, yeah, can we move on now?" effect.

    Almost all of the descriptions that really strike me while reading books are like that - brief and unexpected and tucked into the action rather than wrapped in a gilt frame, and often with a bit of humor. I remember one from a Sharyn McCrumb novel in which a young man shakes an older man's hand and is afraid that it will break like a bundle of twigs - except the description was much, much better than that, with a less hackneyed image, both funny and a little painful; I really wish I could find the book right now to quote it.

    So working on descriptions is worthwhile, but don't work on finding all those multisyllabic vocabulary words, and figuring out how to say more and more directly and strongly, "Beautiful!" or "Ugly!" or "Scarey!" Sneak the information in there, don't shout it or write it in big clear letters on the blackboard like a primary school teacher. ("Now, class, what have we learned about the woman? Yes, Joey, we've learned that she's _be-au-ti-ful_. And what have we learned about the main character's feelings about beauitful women? Yes, Janey, he _likes_ them.")

    ChickenFreak
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    pompous pretentiousness is one of the most common problems i run across in working with beginning writers... they try so hard to sound 'smart' or 'literary' that they don't try hard enough to simply make sense...

    by printing out what you see below and taping it up where you can see it, while you write:

    Less is more.

    and its old army cuz:

    K.I.S.S.!
    those are still the best of all axioms for any writer to follow... do that, plus lock up your thesaurus till you don't need it any more, and you'll no longer be either pompous or pretentious...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  20. PapaSmurfberry
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    PapaSmurfberry Active Member

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    Being overly descriptive does not have to be a weakness if you remember in your revisions your goal is to drop words not add the them. When someone critiques your work and says "this sentence is confusing" or "these seems redundant" take them serious do not debate. Always remember no 1 sentence is more important than the story your telling. so if a sentence takes the reader out of the story take the sentence out of your story. Not all writers are Hemingway, remember Poe, Kafka, and Stephen King are extremely descriptive writers and are still popular.

    No story is perfect on its first draft just with each draft you write drop your percentage of words by 5 percent or so, until the "I'm confused" comments are acceptable for the reading level you hope to maintain. We remember events in small details it makes stories more believable if you include them, just don't put so many small ones in the story gets mudded down. First and foremost if being descriptive is your style or writing process do not change it to gain mass appeal. Write for yourself, if your honest you will be a harsh enough critic and not need to listen to others for approval. It is your talent no shame in showing it off, just be pretentious enough to remember sometimes smaller minds will not get it. lol I kid I kid
     
  21. JeffS65
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    JeffS65 Contributing Member

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    I second Elgaisma (again...) ;)

    Just freakin' write it. It's what I do. Get the idea out.

    I am definitely an 'over-writer'. Yet, when I posted an edited section of mine at this forum, one person posted that I have and ease to my writing. I did by they time the read it! I had edited it several times, wringing out the complex sentences and vocabulary.

    Likely you are coming through your writing but it is clouded by the pretentious stuff you mentioned. You don't want to change how you write but how you edit.

    Another thought, do not try to project what you want the reader to 'hear'. Do not be mindful of how your writing appears to others. In doing so, you are altering what is true to you and your writing. If you've noticed the pretentiousness, then you've noticed what is not true to you and how you think. Once you've reached the truest version of you in writing, you're likely to find that it is also very well accepted by readership.
     

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