1. U.G. Ridley
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    U.G. Ridley I'm a wizard, Hagrid Supporter

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    Style When does "fancy" writing go too far?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by U.G. Ridley, Jun 23, 2016.

    We've all read stories where the writing is extremely captivating, simply because the flow and choise of words are exquisite. But then when we have finished reading and reflect on what we've read, we realize that the story it self was rather forgettable. I've realized that many writers almost seem to lure their readers in simply by using fancy words and writing methods that grip you, despite the words not meaning much in context to the story, and despite the story and characters being bland and flat-out poorly written sometimes.

    I've found myself trying desperatly hard to make my work sound cool and "smart", often by using fancy, long, and complicated words and sentences that often don't have any importance to the story at hand, and if anything just make a story that should be pretty short way longer than it should be. I've found that despite the fact that it is pleasing to read, it also ruins the flow of a scene, making it drag on when it should have already been over, and making the reader feel lost in the actual events that take place.

    After having a friend read some of my work, I've also found out that I often don't realize that I am doing this, so my main question is: What are some signs that point to me going too far for the sake of having a "fancy" writing style?
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Reader feedback. You'll have to decide what level of approval you're comfortable with, because different readers have different preferences. Some love simple language, some love purple prose, most lie somewhere in between.
     
  3. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    * Slurp *

    In my experience, the higher the level of approval I get; the more I suffer for my art (not many would call it that). It's compensated in a way by the intensity of the approval that comes from the 'few'. Using that word I guess there are a few calls you can make. If you story's plot driven and complicated then the 'tell it like it is'* I'd say should win out. If it's 'Daisy's Summer's Day out Philosophising in the Daisy Field' then you'll be forgiven for being florid I figure.

    *Maybe indulge yourself a few chapters in when peeps are invested.

    Tell me one of those lies, in lengthy and vivid detail.
     
  4. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I agree with Tenderiser about reader feedback.

    I love beautiful prose but I grew up reading genre so I often find myself merging the two. Genre is practical and smart it gets you to read on. Literature on the other hand can often let the reader put down their book and risk them not picking it back up. As a writer who could write pretty dense prose - on and on and impossible to edit - I had to make a change. I was no Nabokov. I read Francesca Lia Block a few years ago and that really changed my opinion on beautiful prose. Its impact could be made in a single sentence, in a nifty observation. It didn't need to go on and on. It could be like a line of poetry. So I started to make rules for myself - the sentence must do double duty - if I describe a sunset it's to show time not just to let me describe something beautiful. In fact it should do triple duty. It should set the scene, reflect a mood, and reveal character. The mc's observing the sunset is more important than the sunset. Once I came to the revelation that the sentences have to a valid reason to be there - I cut my prose in half. I still have a ways to go but I'm more likely to admit when something is overdone and cut out the offending sentence - with out even shedding a tear - :rolleyes:

    Find you're own level of tolerance. If you're boring yourself ( which I've done ) that's a sure sign you've gone too far.
     
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  5. U.G. Ridley
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    U.G. Ridley I'm a wizard, Hagrid Supporter

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    That seems like a really good rule to have. I'll try that! :agreed:
     
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  6. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    One of the most successful writers on the planet is Stephen King. He uses simple common place language that everyone can understand and manages to convey every facet of life imaginable.

    One of the most literary writers writing today is Will Self. Great fun but you need a dictionary, or I do anyway, to read his books.

    I wish I was clever enough to write cleverly like Will Self or simply like Stephen King.
     
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  7. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Beauty lies in the ability to convey emotion or energy through writing. This is, in some instances, accomplished through soaring byzantine sentences and, in other instances, tight, efficient wording. These can coexist, even. Different characters will have different manners of speaking. Different settings will evoke different word choices, as will different themes. Be true to your story. Be true to your conflict. Be true to your stakes. Find your voice. Write the story that feels correct with the words that most effectively communicate the emotional experience you are attempting to convey to your readers.

    Often, beautiful prose is accomplished through the unique combination of commonplace words moreso than a thesaurus-explosion of multisyllabic monstrosities. Think of unique ways to say things. Invent new colloquialisms. Compare, contrast, parallel and relate the ideas and elements of the story. Thoughtful presentation of ideas that transcend the typical modes of writing will make even the most ordinary words glow with new energy.

    Whatever you do, don't set out to use big words because of the misconception that this will necessarily make your language beautiful. More likely, it will make it unwieldy and thick. Reading such sentences is like swimming through pudding. You actually already alluded to this. In reading your work, you have noticed that embellishing in the vocabulary department breaks up the scene.

    You should aspire to a smooth literary flow that exhibits a natural and compelling rhythm. It's hard to say what this is, but when you see it, you know it. It's the type of writing that transports you from page one to page one hundred without the sense of passing time. It is a smooth road for your mind to travel along the path of the tale. This is what you want. Not big words. Big words, unless carefully placed, are speed bumps. Nobody likes speed bumps.

    Best of luck!
     
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  8. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    When the writing becomes about the words and not the story, I guess.
     
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  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    This absolutely.
     
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  10. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    I think it goes too far when the reader has to stop multiple times in quick secession to either think about context or literally look up a word. I would assume writers would make the worst beta readers, considering that their vocabulary tends to be more extensive than the average person's. If it takes me out of the story, then the story is simply that much less gripping. Writing artistically and being a great story teller are completely different skill-sets. Stephen King is a great story teller.

    I'm curious, what do real writers think of Carl Sagan's writing style? In the scientific community, he was considered to be a master of words.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2016
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  11. Malisky
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    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    I think that this mostly has to do with the character of the writer. Some people are awesome at expressing their opinions and ideas or P.O.V.'s with long fancy sentences and the ones that I've met, write as they talk. It's their original way of thinking in a sense. To tell you the truth, I don't find it fancy in methodology but it's quite entertaining when what is expressed is beautifully written. I value the context and meaning mostly than the "fanciness". Some do well with long paragraphs and incomprehensible vocabulary (that even puts you into trance, to look up the words you don't know), while others are more laconic and to the point; they don't express their thinking too much as to connect with the reader in that sense. It depends on what you want to say and what comes easier to you.
     
  12. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    CONTACT was spellbinding. It boggled my mind that Sagan had within him the ability to be an eminent scientist and create a such an engrossing piece of fiction. I remember his style being smooth and easy to read. There were compelling characters and the way he ended it kept me up at night. I wish he had written more. I wish I could have met him.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2016
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  13. taariya
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    taariya Member

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    If you want to see a perfect example of fancy prose that completely ruined a book and get an idea of what writing elegantly/beautifully is NOT, check out the book "Wild Animus" by Rich Sharpero. Even as a tween I perfectly understood from the first page that the author had been digging through his thesaurus to find fancy alternatives to common words and designed his sentences to be as opaque as possible in an attempt to simulate profundity and complexity. I can't find my copy (might've thrown it out) but I'm sure there are excepts online.

    In general, I should not be motivated to roll my eyes, release a bewildered "what?!" or skim sections of the novel more than once or twice while reading it (as a result of the style alone, not plot). If it doesn't make sense, if I get the sense that the author dug through their thesaurus to construct a sentence, if it's just so weirdly done (with no conceivable purpose) that I suspect the author isn't earthly, if I just stop reading attentively because I can't be bothered, it's gone too far.

    When you step back from your writing as much as you can or just get other people to read through it it should give you a pretty good sense of how most people will think of it. Reading aloud also helps--it's always somewhat embarrassing(for me) but when the cringe meter reaches a certain level you'll know it's too much.
     
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  14. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    I just read 3 pages of chapter 1. It didn't seem too far out to me @taariya . Okay once when he likened spinning helicopter blades to aureola but it was at least memorable. Does the book fall apart later on? As there were no obvious oblique (thesaurus) substitutions in the pages I've just examined.
     
  15. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Agreed. I saw nothing egregious. He used a bit of technical language regarding volcanic activity, but it seemed appropriate.
     
  16. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    At some point, you'll be able to see this for yourself without the aid of beta readers. But here are a few tips that might help in the meantime:
    • clarity above all: If a more common word (or phrase) will make your meaning easier to comprehend, use it,
    • meaning even more so: If something you've written needs to be interpreted in a specific way and a double meaning isn't your intention, rewrite until there's no way it can be misunderstood,
    • next is consistency of narrative voice: Pick a vocabulary, style of address and an attitude, then stick to it unless it interferes with clarity or meaning. No matter who you imagine your narrator to be (prude, soldier, lawyer, or child) that should come through in how s/he describes things and people and places as well as how s/he views what's going on within a scene.
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2016
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  17. taariya
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    taariya Member

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    I'm remembering this after reading it some years ago, so it's entirely possible the thesaurus substitutions only consisted of a few glaring examples are were not ubiquitous as I made it seem. But overall I remember reading it and believing it could not have been written by a human because the phrasing gets so awkward and clumsy for no good reason and the metaphors when he tries to describe things vividly (like when he's describing the girl's appearance in the first chapter) just made me laugh because he was trying so hard to make it sound deep and pretty or something and it was just ridiculous.

    Yeah, it falls apart. Mostly because you understand what the plot is pretty early on (at least I did) and you go on thinking "this can't be all...is Shapero making a commentary by setting things up this way?" and my answer after reading it twice is no, no commentary or deep meaning included. It really is that facile.
     
  18. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    Yeah, I read a few reviews after—avoid the prologue was the consensus, it gives the game away before it's begun. More generally, I was concerned, for I feel I share the same genes you described in that writer. I wanted to gauge his efforts against mine. I'll *cough* brazenly profess though that there's err, lots of deep meaning in my texts.
     
  19. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    To answer the title, I'd say when readers are losing track of what's happening.
     
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