1. aspidistra
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    aspidistra Member

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    Reading well on paper vs. sounding nice read aloud

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by aspidistra, Apr 6, 2013.

    Just wanted to ask what the general consensus is with this. I tend to write in intentionally long and verbose sentences, not unlike this one but rather nothing like it given the staggeringly variable circumstances which give rise to such instances, yielding each string a unique and well formed splatter of icy precipitate which together coalesce in the end to form a familiar and frosty blanket otherwise known as amateur fiction.

    Ok, so that example is not my best work but you probably get my point. Some of these sentences sound really nice when I read them aloud as I can give them the inflection and rhythm they need to sound good. When I read them in my head, some of them come across as clumsy or have the wrong meter.

    I have a few 'pets' like these which I keep because I know they sound good when I read them. What should I do? Grammar seems unable to solve all my woes. Do I make everything simple to read on paper or can I rely on the inner professional narrator in the reader to make these sentences fun?
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I tend to use sentences of all lengths, and of varying degrees of complexity. Also sentence fragments. And I always read all of my stuff aloud, because to me it has to sound good before it is good. I sometimes think the ideal medium for fiction is the audiobook, or, even better, a live storytelling performance. I've experimented with composing music to go along with these narrations, inspired a little by what Rick Wakeman did back in the 70s with his album Journey to the Center of the Earth, as well as Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds. Someday, when I get time, I'll record some of that stuff and see if I can make it work ...

    So I'm with you. Write glorious sentences. (Try to avoid verbosity for verbosity's sake, though - I think your example above pushes things too far! "Unique and well formed splatter of icy precipitate"? Snowflake will do in every instance (except maybe comedy).)
     
  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is purple prose. That's why it reads so badly. That whole sentence is much better without the flowery and pointless, not saying much at all, middle.
    Long sentences need to be meaningful, and too much description and verbosity ruins them. I'd recommend you use long sentences when you have a lot to say about something, not just to pump metaphors and similes into the narrative. And vary sentence length to make the whole thing more readable.
    I hope this helps :)
     
  4. aspidistra
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    aspidistra Member

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    minstrel, you were reading my mind. I can't help but think an audiobook is where I will end up with this. Douglas Adams is one of my inspirations, and all his stuff was meant to be read aloud. He's also great at writing comically long sentences.

    jazzabel, I don't usually add metaphor to such sentences. However I do sometimes write really long sentences just to say very little, as I like how absurd it is in the flow of things. I tend to do this to exaggerate the character or society's preoccupation with something trivial, then put it right next to a sentence that neatly summarises the issue in a few words.

    Thanks for the help guys.

    Can I surmise then that there is no magic secret to having it both ways? Glorious long sentences which appear bad on paper but sound awesome when read aloud?
     
  5. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is important in "good" writing, to vary sentence length and style. It is a bad idea in ANY writing, to become so enamoured of one's words that we fail to communicate.

    Long, drawn-out, compound sentences that require the reader to re-read them to figure out what they read? You are not communicating. Fiction writing is most especially tied to the import of communicating and, thus, "keeping it simple". That does not mean you need to "dumb down" your writing but, for God's sake, don't get so wrapped up in the lovely words that you forget to say anything!
     
  6. aspidistra
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    aspidistra Member

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    wordsmith, thanks for your response and I totally agree.

    I'd like to pose the argument here for a second though on the analogues between writing and music. I kind of feel that long somewhat flowery sentences are like complex or dissonant passages in a song. They may be challenging or even over the top but they add something to the words before and after them. In a way then, this IS communicating.

    I'm currently reading James Joyce's Ulysses, which although widely regarded as a triumph in fiction is filled with confounding passages. Not just long sentences but strange stream of consciousness bits, disembodied voices, uncommon words and the like.

    It's hard to know who to listen to in regards to how best to write. I came across this gem last week and was surprised at the contradictions in advice. Then when I read stuff like Joyce or Kafka or Douglas Adams, it's like they broke all the rules and got away with it.

    Don't take this as a rejection of your advice. It's all a process of finding the balance that works for you personally I guess. Unless of course you are doing "marketing-led" writing, in which case it's usually aiming for the lowest common denominator that works. [/philosophising]
     
  7. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think long, complex sentences have their uses (e.g. to calm down the tempo of a scene or to create a certain mood) just like short, abrupt sentences (e.g. to make an action scene feel "faster" and more violent).

    When it comes to dialog, I always read it aloud just to ensure it sounds natural. If it doesn't, it has to be edited until it does. It's odd if a story strives for, say, realism, but the characters don't even sound human.
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The main problem here is that there is no one way to write. Each writer has a different goal. I read Elmore Leonard's list and disagreed with most of it, because I really don't want to write like Elmore Leonard. I'd rather write like Joseph Conrad or Anthony Burgess or even Martin Amis (without the snark). I don't want to write taut, fast-paced thrillers. I want to write deep, thought-provoking, powerful fiction. Leonard's rules steer me away from that. If I'm seeking my truth in, say, the mountains of Tibet, then Leonard's map to Las Vegas is of no use to me. And while Las Vegas attracts more tourists than Tibet does, I bet those few who do visit Tibet remember their trip longer.
     
  9. blackstar21595
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    blackstar21595 Contributing Member

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    Funny, reminds me of the old maxim "Write like your favorite author." I think all sentences have to sound good verbally as well. If it doesn't, then you know something is wrong with the sentence. I like to write like Raymond Carver who uses both simple and long sentences for different things.
     
  10. aspidistra
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    aspidistra Member

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    See now that's where my issue lies - the sentences I'm referring to sound great (IMO) when read aloud but may require a double-take when read on paper. That might sound strange but there are different processes going on when you verbalise something to when you read it in your head.

    This is what I'm not sure how to conquer; those few sentences that are good one way and not the other - what do I do with them? (and don't say scrap them :p)
     
  11. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Scrap them.

    All seriousness aside, how about trying to edit them until they work both ways? Simplify the structure a bit? Or exchange a longer, cumbersome word for something simpler? Trial and error.
     
  12. John Eff
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    John Eff Member

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    As a fellow sufferer of this affliction I can only add my sympathies. Long sentences may be grammatically perfect, but can provide too many hurdles for a reader trying to make sense of them. (Or in the worst cases bore the reader's backside off.) In this respect, how these sentences sound when read aloud is totally immaterial - if they're difficult to navigate on the page then they shouldn't be on it. Audiobooks are the exact reverse.

    My first drafts are full of long sentences which are addressed on revision. Some are split up, some pruned, some removed and some left as they are, depending on the mood I want to convey.
     
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think there is any one 'rule' to apply here. Many of you cited authors (published, successful authors) who use various kinds of sentences in their books. All these strategies work, in a good author's skillful hands.

    Mind you, there are readers and readers. Some are skimmers. Some have the attention span of a gnat. Some enjoy reading every word. Some enjoy reading every word slowly. (My husband is one of those.) Some even take notes! So, again, it's horses for courses.

    I'd say just write what you want to read yourself. Write it to the highest standard you can achieve. Make your meanings clear, so your readers don't have to page backwards, or re-read sentences. Find your target audience. Then realise that NO author ever pleases everybody!
     
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  14. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    "If it sounds like writing, rewrite it." -Elmore Leonard
     
  15. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Good advice if you want to be Elmore Leonard. If not, not.
     
  16. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    That is where applying the hard-boiled technique of condensing a sentence down to the essence of its meaning can help. These types of sentence don't happen every other sentence so you don't need to crack your head over them: just make them concise in meaning and move to the next sentence. Remember the first rule in writing: first you must be understood.
     
  17. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    The idea I take from it is that you want your writers to be immersed in the story. The more purple prose they encounter, the more they will be pulled out from the story to notice the purple prose. The less noticeable writing, the less distracted the reader is.
     
  18. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm having trouble separating the two things here... when I'm reading something on paper then it's like I'm hearing the words in my head. I don't really understand how something can read well on paper and not sound good when read aloud.

    But maybe that's just me >_>
     
  19. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    I know. It is impossible to read without sounding the words out in your head. But, I have noticed that you do actually catch more errors by reading it out loud that you do just by reading it in your head so, there is something to it--though what that may be I am unsure.
     
  20. Lost72
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    Lost72 Member

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    The former is excellent advice, regardless.
     
  21. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I always try to ask myself what am I trying to do by writing a long sentence that can't be accomplished in
    a shorter one. Plus as long as the intension of a long sentence is clear - there's nothing wrong with it.
    Take a look at your own. It's not clear what is exactly being said. There's room in the reader for doubt. Long sentences
    that are thought-provoking have their place just don't descend into confusion
     

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