1. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Writing clearly AND poetically

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by waitingforzion, Apr 5, 2014.

    I often try to heighten the sound of my words in all things that I write, whether in letters, or in stories, or in poems, (which naturally in sound are elevated by means of meter), but am often told by others looking at the things written that my words are superfluous and incoherent. Yet it nonetheless remains that I desire to write in this elevated tone, (that is, not the tone of my present words, for against the tone in which I desire to write, it is basest of all). However, some you have told me before that only authors gifted from birth are able to write in such lofty forms, and that not in a mechanical way, but in a way that is automatic, not needing to weigh the sounds of their syllables against one another in a mechanical fashion, or to prearrange the sounds thereof, but having innate power to set down words inherently risen in sound. But I doubt that such ability came to these writers without practice. And so I have two questions for you: At what times is it appropriate to write in a lofty tone, and at what times is it not? And how can I work on keeping my thoughts clear in all my words, while elevating their sound to the highest poetic level?
     
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  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Clearly and poetically are possible. But headless redundancy is the killer of good poetry and and clarity - look at one of your sentences -
    Yet & nonetheless practically mean the same thing. it remains - a continuing action. All filler.
    What is lost by saying - I desire to write in an elevated tone. Nothing.
    Be careful with that word lofty it can mean grand, noble or arrogant.

    Don't try to sound grand - that's one of the most basic things you'll learn. If you want to be powerful be humble. The Bible is powerfully written and most of the words are short, succinct, not a lot of frills. And yet it has a majesty about it.
    The thing about writing is you're trying to communicate - clearly. If that's not working you've got to adjust.

    There's no way of forcing poetry - focus on how YOU want to say something. Not how you want to say something grandly.
     
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  3. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Thanks for the advice.

    I am well aware that good writing uses clear and simple words, which are elegant by reason of their sound, but how to arrange such words in a poetic way, when few options are available, is the thing I have most trouble with. Like, I have no trouble whatsoever writing clearly in iambic pentameter. In fact, the restrictions force me to be concise. But when I try to breathe a rhythm into my prose, I see that I only have so many ways of saying a particular thought, at least only so many ways I could think of at my current level of ability.

    Let's say I focused on what I wanted to say, and expressed it, but then I wanted to give it a weightier rhythm, (not a more difficult form, but one that is more poetic). Without introducing headless redundancy as you said, would I then be able to elevate its sound? And what strategy would you recommend for that?
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Can you give us some examples of writers who write in a "lofty tone" (because I'm not sure what that means)? Maybe post a few passages as well.
     
  5. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Let me just give you a basic description of what I mean by a lofty tone.

    A lofty tone, in my opinion, is a tone consisting of strong rhythms producing rising and falling sounds which gives the impression of power, majesty, depth, beauty, etc. Is it a tone characterized by patterns of accentuation more flexible than poetry but more brittle than prose.

    The King James Version of this Bible uses this tone to glorify God, and to add depth to the things which are talked about, in a fashion that is far superior to that of modern translations. For instance, when Christ referred to himself in the Book of Revelation, he said, "I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the first and the last, which was, and which is, and which is to come, saith the Lord, the Almighty." This is one type of such a tone, but not the only one found in the Bible. And there are probably others that can be made that are not found in the Bible.

    Suppose I had wanted to emulate the tone of the words I just quoted. I would take the syllabic pattern which is:

    da-DUM / da-DUM-da / da-da-DUM-da,
    da-da-DUM-da / da-da-DUM-da /
    da-DUM / da-da-DUM

    Upon the surface of the ocean, with the dolphin and the walrus, the shark and the fish...

    Obviously I don't intend to imitate the rhythms of the Bible verbatim. I simply want to internalize some of the qualities of it, and the qualities of other earlier authors, and modern day authors, and incorporate that into my own writing style, which would be suitable to a modern day audience, but would be nonetheless just as powerful as earlier writers.

    The only problem is I need to know how to express the thoughts I want in a way that has those kinds of rhythms. Do you have any suggestions?
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2014
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    What we consider to be great rhythm is subjective. Furthermore, consider the fact that different accents/dialects may not emphasize the same syllables. For example, your syllabic pattern is incorrect based on the way I (and probably you) speak, but I can't discount the possibility that someone somewhere actually does emphasize syllables like that.

    My advice would be to start by copying the rhythms you find appealing. Eventually you'll come to develop your own unique style and voice, and copying won't be a problem anymore. Take Cormac McCarthy for instance. He uses a biblical style when writing, yet everyone would still consider his style to be unique. The way his sentences read is different from the way the Bible reads even though he was inspired by the Bible.
     
  7. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Well, that appears to be the problem: You won't accept what others tell you about your writing. The tone you're talking about isn't "elevated." The term is "stilted." Instead of searching for ways to write stilted prose, search for a way to get over that desire.
     
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  8. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Hmm, if my syllable pattern is incorrect, which I think it probably is, would you mind helping me get a grip on a better way to scan passages, or point me to a good resource. It is pretty easy for me with poetry because it follows meter, and the feet usually only go up to 3 syllables long. I have a little trouble getting a pattern out of prose, probably because I don't have a good system of rules to determine which syllable are stressed. Like in the passage from Revelation where it says, "I am the Alpha and Omega", I see the AM as being stressed,and the ALPH as being stressed, etc. But maybe "and" and the "I" is also stressed? It might help me if you gave me your version of the pattern, and pointed me to an online resource that explained syllabic feet in prose rhythm. It's not really an ear problem as much as it is a classification problem, but I probably do need to strengthen my ear a bit more.

    And copying the rhythms I find appealing sounds like a good idea. I think I will do that, but before I can do that do the best of my ability, I will need to write down those rhythms with the highest possible accuracy. For that I need an answer to the above paragraph.

    Now here's a question: Are you saying that if I copy rhythms for a while, then my mind will develop its own rhythm based upon that, which I will be able to use without consciously imitating?

    I don't think you read the rest of my sentence. I explicitly said that the way I was writing was not the way I wanted to write, and that the way I wanted to write was of a much higher standard.
     
  9. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Let's see a sample, 150 words or so. Show something that comes up to this standard.

    EDIT: On second thought, don't. I'm not remotely interested in this drivel.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2014
  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Actually, you know what? Your syllable pattern looks correct. The first time I read it, I read the phrase as "the Alpha and the Omega," but there's no second "the" there. Sorry, that's my fault. But in case you ever have trouble deciding where the stress goes, consult a dictionary; each word is broken up into syllables, and a single quotation mark is placed either before or after (it depends on the dictionary) a stressed syllable.

    Yes.
     
  11. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Well, I think I actually added a "the" before Alpha. The King James reads, "I am Alpha and Omega.."

    Cool. In your estimation, how long does it usually take writers to master rhythm using that technique. Like, if you know of any biographies about authors who have done that, and I am sure there are many like John Milton who have, that talk about that particular thing, and how they got through it, which I can read online for free, I would like to see them.

    I was just practicing that for a little while and noticed that it was not so difficult as it was when I tried it a long time ago. Perhaps my ear for rhythm has developed since then, but probably not my own unique rhythm.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2014
  12. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It depends on the individual. Some writers develop their own styles right away, whereas others take a lot longer.

    I do think that you're placing too much importance on rhythm. No one is crazy enough to write an entire novel that follows a specific rhythmic pattern. That would take way too long, and it might even weaken the novel because you're adding constraints that aren't normally there. Instead of aiming for a specific rhythmic pattern, go by intuition. That's far more useful in my opinion.
     
  13. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    When you say to go by intuition, do you mean that I should imitate the voice in the rhythms by ear without trying to duplicate the exact patterns?
     
  14. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    When I say intuition I mean that you should write it based on how it sounds to you. If a particular sentence sounds good to you but doesn't follow the pattern you want, trust yourself and go with your gut feeling.
     
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  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But your writing in this thread is stilted because it is unnecessarily complex, in both phrasing and word choice. It sounds like your plan is to make your writing more complex in phrasing and word choice. This will result in it being more stilted.

    For example, this, from your first post in this thread:

    To me, this means:

    But I still want to write more poetically. My writing in this post isn't an example of that poetic writing--it's very plain.

    If you look at my rephrasing above, I'm guessing that you recoil. I'd suggest that you analyze why. Is it the words? Are "still" and "want" and "plain" too simple, so that you feel the urge to replace them with "nonetheless remains" and "desire" and "base"? If so, why? What makes you dislike plain, simple writing? Yes, I realize that "plain" and "base" may have different nuances, but "base" is not a word that is used very often in ordinary speech. So, again, I wonder what drives you to use that word, when it will reduce, rather than increase, the clarity of your writing in the context in which you are writing?

    The words and phrases here are simple. Your example is an example of the elegance that can be achieved with simplicity. So I would, again, urge you to try to master simplicity.
     
  16. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've heard and (I think) read that we all have a natural voice that, through writing, we attempt to sculpt out. Maybe your natural voice is very ,very simple, maybe its grandiloquent. You won't know till it develops, and you won't develop it till you stop forcing your words and just let them flow, revising them later with a focus only on clarity. I'm not saying I believe this for a certainty, it's just what I heard.
     
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  17. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    This sentence alone tells me you're trying too hard. This may not be representative of how you plan to write, but it shows me you are too focused on the minutiae of language... You confirmed this for me by breaking down the metrical patterns in the Bible... What one should understand about prose is that it will feel natural. It's not about counting beats but saying what you mean to say then balancing it out. The rhythm of prose comes from how words build on each other to form sentences, which build on each other to form paragraphs and so on.

    "Elevated" prose calls too much attention too itself. It's a very author-centric way of writing. Don't let me disparage you, but I'd say your best bet is to simply write, then read what you've written aloud. You'll be able to hear when a sentence is unbalanced. You'll know there is a problem if you stumble or feel awkward reading any passage. Say what you mean to say, and iron it out afterwards. "Lofty" prose is generally overrated. Beautiful, poetic prose works differently from poetry. :p
     
  18. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    I revised my original post to make it sound more natural. I didn't achieve the poetic sound, but I want to make sure that at least I can sound natural. I think I changed the meaning a little bit though. Please tell me if the following is an improvement over what I wrote before.

     
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  19. Smoke Z
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    Smoke Z Active Member

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    Your original post seemed to have a lot of Purple Prose. I think it is fine when you're trying to invoke a time when most literate people were also refined, but it can make your work less accessible for the common person. Your revised post is an improvement. There are some nice refined words, but also some words that are more to the point and it gives the brain a second to relax.

    As far as posting in purple, I don't think anyone should have to get out of the mindset that they are writing in as long as it produces a readable post. (I don't bother stepping back when I'm working with the refugees from Hamlet.)
     
  20. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    That's definitely an improvement over the original.
     
  21. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I see this as an improvement. It is more clear, and less of a drudge to read through. And be careful when you use the word poetic in prose. There's poetic (good) and "poetic" (bad). Often, when writers consciously try to write more poetically, they end up in the too "poetic" range. What they think is good is actually mimicking old writing conventions that probably don't hold as well today. The thing to remember is that you should never want to sacrifice clarity for style.

    Say it simply first, then think about style. Avoid redundancy, pretentious syntax, and extraneous interruptions and you should be fine. Hope that helps a bit.

    Best,

    Andrae
     
  22. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Much more readable, much more elegant. I would say that the long compound sentence starting with "However, some..." could still use some polishing; it should probably be two to four separate sentences.
     
  23. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Your rewrite here is MUCH better - I actually read the entire post and understood everything. The same cannot be said of your original post.

    You are able to write clearly. And truth is, what you've written in this simpler manner is better writing than your original, in my opinion.

    The thing is - if your reader doesn't get what you're saying, then your words are meaningless and therefore drivel, whether that was intended or not. And if your writing is too complex for readers to want to bother with, then your writing will never be read. These are the most important aims of writing - to be read, and to be understood. You have shown you can clearly do that - so keep doing it!

    To use myself as an example, last time I tried to write poetically and loftily like you are trying to here, I consistently got low marks for it. I tried to do this in my university essays. My tutor even personally told me the content of my essay deserves a first class honours, but she was forced to give me a low 2.1 instead (still respectable, but a first is much better) precisely because my writing didn't flow and lacking in structure. I was very confused. I thought I was writing well, throwing in words like "indeed" and "as such" and "therefore". Everything sounded perfect to my ear.

    Until I stopped trying and I just wrote. My writing has improved dramatically thanks to this. And trust me, it's far more poetic now than it used to be when I was actually trying so hard.
     
  24. James Joyce
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    James Joyce Member

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    F. Scott Fitzgerald writes in a very dreamy and abstract tone in This Side of Paradise.
    I say, you should always write using a personal, emotional or expressionist style.
    For most stories, those three'll work just fine; but you decide what's best for the circumstance.
    If you want to be poetic, be poetic, but don't be pretentious.
     
  25. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    What do you consider prententious?
     

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