1. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Style Straight forward writing vs. 'flowery' writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Lewdog, Aug 8, 2015.

    I've had some people tell me that I'm a straight forward writer. I don't use big words and I don't overdo the descriptions of characters and scenery. I say what needs to be said and depend on the writer to do a little bit of work understanding what is going on.

    Can a person with the type of style as mine be successful or does it take 'flowery' writing? When I saw 'flowery' writing I mean the type with strong words and descriptions that draw the reader into the story and leave little to the imagination.

    Thoughts?
     
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  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Purple prose: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple_prose

    Probably not what you want. Maybe they meant you need more description?
     
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  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel that there are three parts of your question:

    - Avoiding big words and, I assume, also avoiding fairly baroque and fancy phrasing--that's how I think of flowery writing.
    - Avoiding substantial descriptions of characters and scenery.
    - Letting the reader do some of the work figuring things out.

    I approve of the first and the third. For the second, I feel the need for more explanation. Certainly, a book that goes on about limpid eyes and silken hair makes me want to throw it at something. But I do like enough description to allow me to build a mental picture. There's a bit from Robert Barnard's Death of a Mystery Writer that I've used before as an example of handling thought. It's also an example of a minimalist description that nevertheless, IMO, produces a pretty clear picture:

    "Bella!" said her mother, and folded her in her arms. Bella was in travelling gear, but managed to show no signs of travel; how could anyone contrive to look like an ice lettuce on a hot summer's day, her mother wondered? Her makeup was bright and unsmudged, her blouse looked as if it were straight from the shop hanger, there was not a bulge in her slacks. It was almost inhuman. "You look so lovely, my dear. I don't know how you do it."

    I don't know if you read the above as flower or not-flowery? I read it as not-flowery and I like it.

    Edited because I realize that I didn't actually answer your question. I think that non-flowery writing can certainly be successful, but I do think that there may be a limit on just how minimalist you can be with things like descriptions.
     
  4. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    When I say not being descriptive to the point of 'flowery,' I don't mean to leave it all for the reader to figure out. Your example above is just about right to me even though it has a semicolon! :supercheeky::supercheeky:
     
  5. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not saying the writer shouldn't be descriptive. The 'flowery' works come out as though the writer is arrogant.
     
  6. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    You certainly can be successful with "workhorse" vs "flowery" prose, and many authors are. I'm mostly considering the first of @ChickenFreak 's points, and will preface with the usual disclaimer that these are only my subjective thoughts. Everyone has different preferences (around which the issue largely revolves).

    Sesquipedalian loquaciousness often distracts from the idea expressed - I wonder whether the author wants to connect with me, or win some literary award. There's nothing wrong with appreciating the wrapping paper (and there are genres dedicated to that), but I think general audiences are more interested in the story than the writer's command of language. So if you can cover the same idea at the necessary level of detail with few simple words vs many complex ones, do the former.

    Language is complex, so sometimes you need the intimidating words to get the exact connotation you're after. But even with simple words, you can still be masterful in arranging them. I think true eloquence is something that goes under the radar until someone specifically stops to consider it; if your language demands attention independent of what it's conveying, you devalue your ideas. On that note, leaving enough space between your ideas that the reader has to put some thought into connecting the dots: I think that makes them actually engage with the piece, rather than lie back and be spoon fed.

    Having said all this, as a pretentious wanker with a semicolon addiction, I'm envious of you @Lewdog .
     
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  7. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not o sure why you are envious of me... but thanks!
     
  8. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    Because it sounds like you've nailed the style I admire, while I'm stuck here not even able to give a clear compliment ;)
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If you look at what's on the shelves, you'll find a wide variety, from lean, sparse prose to more dense, flowery writing. Either will work. Go with your preference and what you are good at.
     
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  10. AspiringNovelist
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    AspiringNovelist Contributing Member

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    I love them both, the trick is to combine the two and not include unnecessary words (which is what you're asking about). Cormac McCarthy is the master in this. With a few words he can paint a picture that blows you away. When McCarthy describes the darkened world (the sun is blocked out from radioactive dust (I guess)) in his novel The Road, he simply writes this one line: "By the day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp." <-- That is amazing writing. Doesn't get any better. I can envision the sun as a mother looking for her earth.

    As an example, a piece from my own work: This is flowery and to the point:

    As you get older, you start to realize people are easy to figure out and the easiest is yourself. It’s an old simplicity that survives from generation to generation and reveals itself through practice. You start to learn that we’re all pimps and johns of our whorish wants and we all end up on a path to true self: unhinged degenerates who skip down the path, as happy as you please, to the point of self destruction. Once there, we know we’re screwed because true self doesn’t change in an alleyway, it’s in the alleyway where truth finds you. <-- that's flowery, but it is point driven, as a writer I'm trying to engage and convey a strong feeling. But that isn't McCarthy -- he would say the same thing in one sentence :(...

    So, do both, then edit to make it as succinct as possible.
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2015
  11. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I told you your writing (in the sample you gave me) was straightforward not just because you didn't use big words or overdo descriptions, but because the story lacked variation in pace and structure, in other words, it was just A happened, then B happened, then C happened, etc.. Don't confuse yourself with Bukowski.
     
  12. AspiringNovelist
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    AspiringNovelist Contributing Member

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    Oh, there was a previous piece? What is the link? BTW - love me some Bukowski... :)
     
  13. General Daedalus
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    If you mention straight-forward writing, the first person I think of is Bukowski. His work is amazingly straightforward but very thought-provoking in it's allegories when you read deeper. I'd liken my own writing style to a mix between simple and complex; somewhere right in the middle. I try to write for an audience to be able to read it easily, but I do pepper it with more difficult vocabulary, and every so often I write a very deep paragraph which gives a more complex insight into the mind of the protagonist. I also hide messages all throughout- my novel, on the surface, is a drug-fuelled globetrotting LOL adventure (or something along those lines), but underneath that I tackle the issues of chauvinism/misogyny, racism, alcoholism, drug/gambling addiction, among other things. I think it's important to be 'deep' and insightful, but at the same time, you don't want to make it so complex that only a very small number of people will be able to comprehend it, otherwise you'll have a very hard time marketing your book.
     
  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The terms "straight forward" and "flowery" are both fairly pointless, really, since it's extremely vague and quite subjective. What comes off flowery to one reader may be perfectly acceptable to another, and same goes with straight forward. You can say it's clear and to the point, or call it boring. What makes a piece of text one way or another? I don't really think there's a line through which you pass and then suddenly your writing is either "straight forward" or "flowery". The nuances of what makes your writing one way or another are complex and hard to define, so the terms themselves, I find, to be fairly meaningless, since few of us write in either extreme.

    The terms themselves are fairly misleading too, to be honest, since people often mistake description, esp rich description, for "flowery" or the lack of description as "straight forward", which leads to an awful lot of confusion over whether description/descriptive writing is a "good" thing (since the trend these days is to go for simplicity).

    But as with anything, you gotta include all the right ingredients in their appropriate amount. It's like baking a cake - sugar or no sugar? Well, put just the right amount, of course. No salt or a bucket-full? Well, you need just a pinch.

    Basically, if experienced writers/readers you respect enjoy your writing, you're probably good to go. Keep learning, keep improving, and keep writing. If people are reading, enjoying and hopefully buying your books, just who the hell cares about the rest of it anyway? :p
     
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  15. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like straight-forward writing, especially when it's made it into print and is heaped in praise, as it gives me encouragement and makes me truly believe I can do it to, if I just put my mind to it.

    However, I don't necessarily think straight-forward writing has to mean skimping on descriptions. You can still describe a scene, at length, and keep the writing simple.
     
  16. ladybird
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    ladybird Contributing Member

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    You make some valid points, Lewdog. My 2cents :)

    The overuse of complex vocabulary is a pain in the butt and can be annoying for the reader. By complex I think some writers believe that by swallowing, and then regurgitating the Oxford Dictionary as a novel shows what a great writer they are. As for 'flowery' writing, it has a place but should not be the measure of a good writer. When I'm presented with more than a couple of sentences of flowery description I usually skip as I want to move on with the story line. I don't give a rat's arse what colour a 'thundery sky' is and I know what the desert looks like. Some things are best left to the imagination of the reader. :)
     
  17. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Oddly I'm going to leave the world of fiction for a moment and talk about philosophy! Well actually about writing styles in philosophy.

    Only today I had the chance to once more go through some of Kant's opus - The Critique of Pure Reason - the why doesn't matter. And once more I found myself utterly blown away by his over the top prose, including endless sentences and flowery prose. Take this paragraph as an example:

    "For these reasons it would be utterly hopeless to attempt to rob this argument of the authority it has always enjoyed. The mind, unceasingly elevated by these considerations, which, although empirical, are so remarkably powerful, and continually adding to their force, will not suffer itself to be depressed by the doubts suggested by subtle speculation; it tears itself out of this state of uncertainty, the moment it casts a look upon the wondrous forms of nature and the majesty of the universe, and rises from height to height, from condition to condition, till it has elevated itself to the supreme and unconditioned author of all."

    Kant, Critique of Pure Reason: 1781

    To me this is overblown prose at its worst, and the fact that it is in a book of philosophy is doubly damning. It robs it of clarity. Though to be fair the era ofpublication plays a role. At the same time Kant's work is considered seminal, and so despite the prose, this work matters. The only thing I can conclude is that it works. It doesn't work for me as I have to read and reread every damned passage three or four times to make sense of it, but it clearly does for many.

    So to return to the OP, my thought is that the prose being too straight forwards or too flowery is subjective to the reader, and in any case it will be overlooked by said reader if the content is compelling enough.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  18. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    Essentially, you should include what needs including, and everything else, to an extent, is just padding.

    A lot of the time when writing it's pretty obvious were descriptive writing does and doesn't work, but other times it might seem unnecessarily descriptive or so plain and direct that it seems dry and bland. Saying this, it comes down to judgement.

    However, writers tend to differ in styles and that could play a factor. As with 95% of writing mysteries, you just need to get a number of opinions and form correlations between them.
     
  19. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    A very dark grey, usually :p

    Not altogether sure I agree with this. Yes, padding is padding, but when does 'fleshing' become padding - it's a very fine line.

    Pick up any novel, even the classics, and you'll see descriptions and excess fat that could have been removed. It's impossible to stretch a simple plot to 100,000+ words without padding and fleshing.

    And if you wanted to take this to its extreme, you could say that a detailed outline would tell a reader all they need to know in terms of the story. What you add to stretch this to 100,ooo words is padding and flesh.
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2015
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  20. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Style wise I don't think everything can be boiled down to economic prose or flowery.
    Especially under those labels. Economic sounds unspecial but read Vonnegut and you'll find that sparse language can be as wild as anything Nabokov wrote.
    And flowery gets a bad rep because so many people that attempt it don't feel the language as something that is the story but something you add to story. It remains an obvious frill that readers see ( and rightly so ) as unessential.

    I think anyone can make it in any style as long it works. But that's not say you must be one or the other. A lot of writers are coming to acknowledge you can straddle the two quite effectively - Chuck Palahniuk, Craig Clevenger, Francesca Lia Block.
     
  21. John Calligan
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    I've been thinking about this a lot. I'm reading V.E. Schawb's "A Darker Shade of Magic," and she gets deep with some of the descriptions of the characters, including the MCs. There is some traveling in the novel as well and she goes out of her way to paint and repaint some of the places the characters go.

    If she had taken the advice I've been reading online and applied it to the novel, I wouldn't have even a fraction of the clarity I have when thinking about it. She painted it so well that when I think of her story it is like remembering things that really happened.

    "The Sword of Shannara" goes even further than her, and "Lord of the Rings" a step beyond that. People love those books.
     
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  22. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    A good example of unnecessary padding is Dan Browns books. It's OK to elaborate on things to give you an idea of character's personalities or a scene of atmospheric scenery, but when you start going on about things that really don't reflect on a character, the scenery, or the story, then it becomes clutter.

    One thing I dislike in novels is when the author starts going into details about cars and stuff; that is just pointless.
     
  23. AspiringNovelist
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    AspiringNovelist Contributing Member

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    Side note: Who can forget The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo -- that novel drove me insane with the level of detail. To this day, I'm surprised it even made onto a publishers desk. But, after reading it, that style of writing worked for Larsson. Point being, do what works for you.
     
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  24. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Padding is generally understood, or used anyway, to mean unnecessary detail. Lengthening something for the sake of length, pure author's indulgence where the detail adds nothing to character, plot, atmosphere, emotional impact, depth etc.

    Fleshing is generally understood/used to mean aspects of your story/character that should be expanded upon, in order to add depth.

    One's negative and the other's positive. Much like the terms "exposition" and "info dump".

    Just pointing that out cus a word's implications are, obviously, important.
     
  25. RevGeo
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    Why must it be either/or? Can't one write something using big-ass words and extremely detailed descriptions, and something else using succinct phrasing? Perhaps not in the same work, but maybe...

    Dialogue can easily be a mixture of complex and simple because different folks speak, well, differently.
    I should think that an accomplished writer would be able to adapt different styles as needed. After all, aren't we supposed to be word-smiths?
     
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