1. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Minimalism?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by waitingforzion, Apr 8, 2014.

    I read in an article that the approach that most people take in writing today is that of minimalism. It seems to me, after reading what was written in that article, that there is a controversy among writers about the very thing that has been so firmly upheld in modern writing advice. Do you suppose, in agreement with this principle, that writing must contain only the words that convey an intended thought, in the barest fashion? Do you suppose, in agreement with this principle, that a word is necessary by virtue of its prevalence among readers, and by virtue of its unique meaning in a sentence, but not by the rhythm that it gives it?. Now as far as I can tell, I have used no extra words here, but suppose I did, and it sounded natural. Would I then be a maker of poor writing, because I have not adhered to this philosophy of minimalism? What if I gained perfect rhythm by severely altering the words, so that they were no longer conversational. Would not the rhythm of the words, being perfect, justify the change thereof, sounding in the ear no blemish? If so, what is the fault in my intent, to elevate the sound of my words?

    I ask for kind and honest opinions. No hostility was intended in my tone. Also, feel free to tell me what sounded bad in my paragraph, but in a kind way.

    Also, here is a question: How would you define the difference between ornate prose and purple prose?
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2014
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    > Do you suppose, in agreement with this principle, that writing must
    > contain only the words that convey an intended thought, in the barest
    > fashion?

    There's a lot of "it depends" in the answer to that question. I would say that it's often OK to add words that add texture and complexity and nuance to the meaning, but it's rarely OK to add words just to add complexity to the writing itself.

    We could say

    She ate dinner.

    Bare meaning, bare words.

    instead, we could say:

    She consumed the customary evening repast.

    Bare meaning, fancy words. The only information that the words might add is that the writer/speaker has a fairly ornate, archaic voice.

    She ate half a package of turkey loaf and six plastic-wrapped slices of cheese, all while standing in front of the refrigerator.

    Bare words, more complex meaning. We know more about the character than we did with "She ate dinner."

    > Do you suppose, in agreement with this principle, that a word is
    > necessary by virtue of its prevalence among readers, and by virtue of
    > its unique meaning in a sentence, but not by the rhythm that it gives
    > it?

    Meaning is more important than rhythm. A word with a less perfect meaning but a better rhythm should not, IMO, be substituted. Ideally, you find a word with a more perfect meaning and a better rhythm.

    > Now as far as I can tell, I have used no extra words here, but
    > suppose I did, and it sounded natural. Would I then be a maker of poor
    > writing, because I have not adhered to this philosophy of minimalism?

    It depends on just how "extra" they are. If they add no meaning at all, and there are a whole lot of them (say, you add one unnecessary word for every three necessary, as opposed to perhaps one unnecessary word for every twenty or forty necessary), then that's a problem.

    > What if I gained perfect rhythm by severely altering the words, so
    > that they were no longer conversational. Would not the rhythm of the
    > words, being perfect, justify the change thereof, sounding in the ear
    > no blemish?

    Not to me, not at all. Prose is communication. An improvement that hampers the communication is not an improvement. The rhythm in the quote from the King James Bible that you offered did not hamper what was being communicated; it enhanced it. That, IMO, is the final result to hope for. But if you can't achieve rhythm combined with elegant clarity, you're better off with elegant clarity than with incomprehensible rhythmic gingerbread.

    > If so, what is the fault in my intent, to elevate the
    > sound of my words?

    To me, the sound, and whether the writing sounds "elevated" or smart or impressive, is secondary to whether it communicates.

    > I ask for kind and honest opinions. No hostility was intended in my
    > tone. Also, feel free to tell me what sounded bad in my paragraph, but
    > in a kind way.

    I'm still feeling a somewhat archaic vibe in your voice, and I'm wondering about the reason for it. Some examples:

    in the barest fashion
    a maker of poor writing
    sounding in the ear no blemish
    what is the fault in my intent

    I'm curious--would you speak these phrases aloud? Do you find them clearer than their more conventional alternatives, or do you feel that the more conventional alternatives don't sound clever enough?

    I'm not trying to bait you here, or be mean, but I am getting the vibe that you feel an urgent need to sound smart. And that sort of need will get in the way of your writing. The urgent need should be to communicate, clearly, to communicate the nuances of what you want to say, without worrying about whether the person you're communicating to is also impressed with you.
     
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  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm not sure I can describe the difference between ornate prose and purple prose (some people might say it's the same thing), but I know it when I see it. Sometimes using the simplest words/phrases/sentences possible is not the best idea. Take Lolita for example. If that had been written using simple sentences, it would lose its impact.

    Regarding your post, it sometimes seems like you're trying way too hard when you write. For one, this is a message board, so there's no need to get fancy. Writing your post in a simple and clear way will most likely get you more helpful responses since people will actually understand what you're trying to say. Two, it seems like you're trying to emulate writers from the 19th century, which isn't a good idea in this day and age. I suspect you tend to read mostly classics. My advice is to read more contemporary writing.
     
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  4. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    But then, in the case of the King James Bible, how are the rhythms achieved, if not through the careful arrangement of words? Each voice has a rhythm to it, and to create the voice, you must create the rhythm. Isn't there a way of changing a sentence syntactically, while keeping it clear, through which you can create the tone you want?
     
  5. Smoke Z
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    Smoke Z Active Member

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    The difference between purple prose and ornate prose... I can call something purple without malice or true meaning. I can't call something ornate without being drawn to the word. I speak in tropes.

    I spent a decade loving Mnemeth even though I couldn't pronounce his name. I process the story with my eyes. I don't read aloud because I don't read aloud without difficulty... I don't remember if it involved stuttering since I can do everything else with more subtle verbal ticks.

    There is a huge gap between being bare, being simple, being elegant, and being gaudy.

    I dare you to write a story about rough-and-tumble people that would appeal to unrefined readers.

    (BTW, I'm typing in purple because I am drunk and refuse to stop thinking about the "refugees from Hamlet" fanfics that I'm working on. Each one has one character that's from the modern world and I'm struggling to make their dialogue be appropriately vulgar.)
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2014
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm saying that you need to start with the simplicity and clarity, and hope to eventually add the rhythm. You can't start with the rhythm and hope to eventually achieve clarity.
     
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  7. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    So you are just saying that the rhythm emerges from the revision of clearly expressed thoughts? If so, how do you make it sound like a particular voice?
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know. I believe that your own voice will eventually emerge. But my main point is that clarity and communication has to come first.

    Without it, it's as if (analogy time!) you opened a restaurant with wonderful dishes and glassware and silver and table linens and centerpieces...but you didn't actually serve any food, because the food disrupted the look of your decor. You figured that you'd open with the beautiful tables, and in time you'd figure out how to make the food fit into the plan.

    But patrons won't come without food. Readers won't read without meaning. You can eat food off a paper plate. You can get meaning with plain bare language. But the most beautiful plate without food, and the most beautiful rhythm without meaning, have no value.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    all i can do is ditto every word of CF's posts...

    thanks for doing all that writing for me, my fowl-feathered friend!
     
  10. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Here's a sample of purple writing from Amanda McKittrick Ros -
    What makes it purple? - it bloated, goofy, and loses it's point along the way. Exactly what was the splendor, the spectacles of wonder? It's being evasive and unclear and her throwing around a lot of fancy words aren't hiding the fact.

    This is from Nabokov's Lolita. Poetic in it's sense of rhythm, fancy & fanciful phrases - young memory & aging ape eyes, and old world words - immortal, but an absolute clear visual. He never loses sight on what he intends to convey.

    A good way to find voice and rhythm is to angle the way you think about something. You show people a red Delicious apple and most will start rattling off familiar ways to describe it -red, glossy, shiny. Keep going deeper. They've seen the glossy fruit. Notice the yellow speckles, the little nobby feet that hold the apple upright, the light that bounces off the skin and creates a shine-spot. Now when you put it into context with something you could get -

    Lisa loved Red Delicious apples, not because they were sweet, or as dark red as rubies, but because they had little nobby feet. She could set the apple down without fear it would roll. In a world with Zombies she was conscious of everything that could make noise and cost her her life, even something as simple as an apple rolling off a table.
     
  11. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    "Gladdening rays of bright futurity"? Hee hee hee hee hee ha ha chortle guffaw! :eek:o_O
     
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  12. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    I am trying to immitate the style of King James Epistles to help me learn. How does this sound? Is it clear?

     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2014
  13. James Joyce
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    James Joyce Member

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    It depends on what you're writing, and what mood or tone that piece is taking.
    If it's a more high-class novel, then you may want to be a little lavish with your words;
    If it's an earthy, down-to-earth tale, you may want to go for a bare-bones mentality.
    In my poetry, I try to go for a mix of bare and fancy.
     
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  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't find it clear.

    In example from King James, each individual clause was very simple. Each word was very simple. And the clauses took only two forms--the "I am" and the "which is". The reader doesn't have to adjust to a different structure for each clause. The passage can easily be understood in one reading. And each of the words meant exactly what they were intendd to mean.

    In the first sentence of your example, each individual clause is fairly complex, and each has a different form. It has to be read several times, with some back and forth to figure out what refers to who. Is it the student who is skilled in the ways of style or the members? Is it the student who wants to write books or the members who wrote the books?

    And there are issues with the nuances of your word choices:

    - "transparent" has an implication of failed deception. As in "She'd always been prone to transparent flattery." Why not "clear"?

    - "lovely" is, to me, an intensified version of "pretty". It doesn't really imply depth or intelligence or overall quality.

    - One of the definitions of "diction" does refer to word choice, but to me it strongly implies the spoken word, not the written word.

    - "shall" has an imperative or predictive nuance that doesn't work for me in the above--to me, "shall be able to" suggests that you're commanding us to make sure that we're able, not merely that we are or will be able. Why not "will"?

    - "to whom I now ask" feels... confusing. I'm struggling to decide whether it's actually grammatically incorrect, or just an unusual construction. I'm inclined to think that it's incorrect, because you don't "ask to" in the same way that you, say, "apply to". You "ask of".

    - "...strengthen...as to..." also seems grammatically incorrect--assuming that those words are supposed to be linked, and I can't tell for sure.

    - "lofty" has an unflattering nuance--it's more often used to mean false grandeur than to mean actual grandeur.

    - "deviate"--you usually deviate from what you're supposed to be doing. Saying that you're deviating from doing the wrong thing has a bit of a humorous feel, which might work in some cases, but I don't feel that you're going for humor here.

    I assume that these words were chosen because you liked their influence on the rhythm. But they hamper the meaning. I would, again, ever so strongly urge you to start with clarity and to let the rhythm go until you've achieved that goal.

    If I distilled your sample into plain writing, I would make it:

    From a student of writing, to those further along the path to mastery: With your help I hope to achieve both clarity and elegance in my own writing.

    Yes, that's shorter. It eliminates some things--the praise, the fact that those with a skill can teach it, the specific listing of skills, exactly what you want to write ("many...books"). So I guess one of my questions would be, which of those things are essential to your meaning, and which were there largely or entirely to make the passage long enough to support rhythm?
     
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  15. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Okay, how about this paragraph?

     
  16. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Nope :p I'm sorry to tell you but your paragraph is full of redundancies. If were to take a red pen (even if I had written this) it would come out something like this (bear in mind, this is just deletion, not including rewrites, and it's all just my perspective):

    The problem is that you are very over-wordy. I would know, I'm a master of verbosity (just ask @mammamaia :rolleyes:). Beyond that, you're writing in archaic constructions. What period are you trying to emulate?
    How many times did you use the word for? How many times did you say something twice? That is not the kind of clarification we need. Sure the King James Bible repeats in some places, but those writers knew exactly what they were doing as masters of the language in that early modern stage.

    @ChickenFreak has don a MARVELOUS job of breaking things down already, but something to consider is what you actually want to say, the core information you want to convey. I suggest starting with the kernel sentence, the bare minimum of what is being said, then grow your sentences to to add detail and further meaning or imagery. Then read your work out loud, playing with sentence length and syntactical order as you go on adding sentences. You'll find that sentences, once meaning is grounded and style is added, will naturally want to fall into a certain order, as will their parts. But you have to start by cutting out the needless words.

    You've also got to differentiate between "elevated" and archaic. Just saying. As CF said, clarity should never be sacrificed for supposed rhythm. Rhythm should augment meaning by ensuring that sentences flow in their best order. The thing about poetry is it's been called "the best words in their best order." That is what we should be aiming for even in our prose. The best word is the one that balances the sentence while retaining meaning. If the word doesn't fit, perhaps one should reconsider the purpose and construction of a particular sentence.

    As an aside... is it just me or have the floodgates started to (re)open for questions about what makes good prose? Not that it's a bad thing, but that's 4 threads now that seem to be going (or have gone) in that direction. It's a good movement. ;)
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2014
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  17. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    @Andrae Smith, I disagree with pretty much every edit you made. Haha. I do agree that it's a bit archaic though. To me, that's waitingforzion's biggest problem right now. My advice about reading more contemporary fiction still stands.
     
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  18. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Fair enough, we all read/edit differently. I'm no authority on (creative) writing, but I wouldn't let those lines pass as they are. There has to be a way to create the same affect without the blatant repetition.

    I didn't say that's how I would leave it in revision, I just cut the things I would delete or change. As they are they are redundant because they are either implied or explicitly stated already. The biggest problem as you said is that it's archaic, pigeonholing him into certain gaudy (imo) technique. I'm sugesting start from the kernel and build out. I agree he should read more contemporary fiction, and even plenty of Shakespeare.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's still not clear. It's still less poetic than a plain, simple paragraph would be.

    It appears to me that you're trying to achieve rhythm by multiple repetitions of the same word or phrase--in this case, multiple repetitions of "you", and "friend" and "near".

    But that doesn't seem to reflect the King James Bible that you're using as your model. The quote that you gave in another thread, if rewritten in a style similar to the above, would probably be:

    I am Alpha, and I am Omega, and I am the First, and I am the Last...

    Or if we substitute a fancy word for the simple word "am":

    I abide as Alpha, and I abide as Omega, and I abide as the First, and I abide as the Last...

    Do you see that this takes the poetry out of the original, making it cluttered and harder to read? Poetry and rhythm aren't about complexity. They aren't about finding fancy words and phrases to repeat several times.

    I just don't know how to persuade you to just write--clearly and plainly and so that it can be understood. But I am, once again, going to rewrite your paragraph as clear and plain:

    I was never trying to take advantage of you, and I never would. I wasn't trying to approach you romantically, but if I got too close all the same, I'm sorry. I was attracted to you, but I was satisfied with friendship.

    Again, I've removed nuances, but which of those nuances were actually necessary to what you were communicating, and which were just there for the rhythm?

    (As a side note, my repeated uses of "I was" in the rewrite need to be edited out; they're not a feature, they're a bug.)

    You're producing a lot of sample paragraphs. Can you try writing one that really is just clear and plain? Sometimes your later posts in a thread are fairly clear and plain, but I get the impression that that's when you're off your guard, and that you usually try to ensure that you don't write in that way.
     
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  20. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Since you want me to write a clear and plain paragraph, I will write one about the subject at hand. You're telling me to cut out repetitions, and to remove words that convey unnecessary meaning. I understand you are trying to help. So I want to ask you, is there a way of creating the same effect, as one of you said, without using repetitions? I would leave out the extra meaning too, except that most of it was necessary. You wouldn't know why unless you understood the situation.

    I don't want my words to sound plain all the time. Most times that may be best, but some times being poetic is too appealing to me, even in my prose. And by poetic I mean beautifully rhythmical.

    And what was that thing you were talking about with the skeleton sentence and adding to it? I would like to know more about that.
     
  21. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @waitingforzion, I sympathize with your desire to write poetic prose. I love to do that myself. I think, though, that trying to model your work on parts of the King James Bible is pretty much a non-starter. You won't get far with that. Sure, the King James Bible is very beautiful in parts, and there's a lot there to be admired, but it's pretty ancient. It's possible to write poetically without copying those rhythms.

    I suggest you explore more modern poetry. Poetry written since, say, 1850. Check out people like Gerard Manley Hopkins, Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Philip Larkin ... oh, hell, just go buy a big volume with a title like "Favorite Poems of the Twentieth Century." Find someone in there you like and get a sense of more modern rhythm and structure.

    Do you have any musical training? My guess is no. I've been playing musical instruments since I was a child, and I sometimes don't understand your questions as a result. I hear rhythms all the time, everywhere, some terrible and some beautiful. You have to train your ear. You have to read your work aloud in order to know if the stresses are where they should be, if the vowels sound right, if the consonants don't clash. I read prose all the time by writers who are clearly aware of rhythm, but who do not keep a metronome going in their heads. It isn't necessary for them. They just know what the work supposed to sound like, and they know it because they have a built-in sense of rhythm. You can tell they're reading their stuff aloud. Listen to good actors performing Shakespeare. Heck, listen to good actors performing anything - if you have an ear, you'll recognize that they have an ear and are continuously adjusting the cadence of their speech for maximum effect.

    If you can't get the prose to sound good in your own ears, you're not going to fix it by simply changing a one-syllable word for a two-syllable one. It's better to totally recast the whole sentence - the whole paragraph - using a different structure. And frankly, if you're having to plan out the rhythmic structure before you start, and then find words to fit into it, you're way behind where you need to be. Sorry to put it that bluntly, but that's the way I see it.

    Good luck. :)
     
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  22. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    rhythmical is not bad if you can pull it off...

    thanks @minstrel for the breakdown. Sometimes I lose what I'm trying to say and say something less effective. That is exactly what I meant.

    What you have, @waitingforzion, isn't working and it has something to with the construction. It's very limiting and repeats information. You might have to make a distinction between poetic/elevated and inflated/grandiloquent.

    I suggest you try reading more widely and trying more voices and styles. Sorry if I've come off a bit strong or in a way that seems condescending or over-assertive. I am still learning to control my tone ha ha. ;)

    Good luck and all the best,

    Andrae
     
  23. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Does this paragraph have unnecessary or repetitive information?

    Edit: removed redundancy
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2014
  24. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I agree with Minstrel but you can continue to study the Bible as a model but mix it up a bit - pick up more modern poets, add something of your self to the mix. Don't get hung up on one style.

    It seems to me you're trying to find your voice. But you're going about it as if there is some decipherable way of finding it and there isn't. Voice only happens with word choices, you're own opinions, the way you feel about things, you're own descriptions, the way you angle things. You can't formulate a voice by cracking the code on the Bible's amazing prose or some other text you admire. Or you'll forever be an imitator. And the outcome will be hollow as you'll be backward writing - beauty before message. That's breaking a link - the message, the showing, the telling is the power and the beauty. I love you are simple words but given the proper context can have amazing transformable, lifechanging power. And in another context can be unwanted, hollow words. You need to first find out what you want to say and then angle it to discover how only YOU can say it.
     
  25. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    It's good & clear but I feel like you've latched onto the wordy languid side of poetry but not it's swiftness. You could ditch some words and make some of it swifter - Now when I wrote you before, my attempts at poetry, they were not for my ego's sake, but for your enjoyment, to stir your emotions. - Example only
    Word choice can also change things around. My poetic writings to you were not to stoke my ego but to fire up your emotions. - example only
    Don't let yourself be held back by certain rhythms or locked into one rhythm- make your own.

    You're most powerful part in the message is in this line - , being a poet, not in ability, but in heart, It's a great powerful line - but the surrounding parts seem a little too much to really make this line shine. It gets lost in the shuffle because it's another poetic line and the cadence is the same.
     

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