1. aClem
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    aClem Active Member

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    Style Writing for writers and writing for readers

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by aClem, Jan 31, 2014.

    I'll begin with an analogy of sorts.

    I used to be a professional musician for a living, and I know more musicians than I can count. There were musicians who weren't really able to play well and I never enjoyed playing in a bad band, but I also knew quite a few who had the "chops" to play almost anything, but who felt compelled to show off their chops at every opportunity, no matter the context. It's as if they were playing to some imaginary audience who were there to be impressed by their "chops." And strangely enough, or not strangely enough, only the bad musicians were impressed.

    When it comes to writing, I think some fall into the trap of writing to show off skill level rather than to produce a worthwhile work. Just what a worthwhile work might be isn't easy for me to define, but it isn't ONLY descriptive flourishes and magnificent metaphors.

    I think we may be encouraged here towards trying to impress due to the nature of the "audience." I don't want to dismiss those with talent for verbal flourishes, but I think one can err by doing the literary equivalent of "overplaying. "

    Of course, I may just be rationalizing my own shortcomings. Thoughts?
     
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  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I think you've positioned a digit squarely on one of the biggest mistakes made by new writers - overwriting. I've seen many stories that tried too hard to be impressive in form and language. Instead of being a thing of dazzling literary beauty. It looks stilted and rather clumsy.

    First, communicate with simple clarity.
     
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  3. Passero
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    Passero Member

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    I'm a new writer and I can see where this is going to.
    When I edit my work I sometimes think how I can improve the form. Find better metaphors or how to make a description better. Maybe I am over-thinking this and I should keep it simple.

    Can a bad idea or story be seen as a good piece of work if the wording is exceptionally?
    What about the other way around? Can a good story or idea be seen as a bad piece of work just because the writer used to simple wordings and straight forward metaphors?

    As a new writer, I might fall into the trap of "overplaying" because I get the impression that that's the way it should be done.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Of course. If your writing looks like a page out of Fun With Dick and Jane, and is not a first grade reader, your writing needs to upgraded. But in my time on this site, I've very rarely seen writing that was too simple. In contrast, I have seen plenty that was overcomplicated, or that tried too hard to use "high language." Worse yet is when the ten dollar words are just a wee bit off target because the writer used words he or she only partially understood.

    Never underestimate the punch of a simple declarative sentence.
     
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  5. Macaberz
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    Macaberz Pay it forward Contributor

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    You can have a terrible story idea, and still make it work if you're a skilled writer. It helps to have a good idea of course, but in general, ideas are cheap and easy to come by. So yes, a bad idea that is skillfully written can still be a satisfying read. Regardin your second point, like @Cogito said, writing is rarely too simple. Purple prose and flowery writing are much more of a problem than having sentences that are too simple. I have yet to read a piece in the Workshop here that is "underwritten"

    @aClem I can't really speak for others but personally, I have never had the desire to impress others. Whenever I post something in the workshop I am hoping that the readers will like it of course, but my main question is always, "how can I make this better?" So speaking for myself, I am not trying to impress, nor do I think I have the skill to be able to at this moment.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes, some new writers do tend to write prose that is flowery and/or old-fashioned. My theory is that they're trying to emulate the classics they read in school. But audience definitely needs to be considered. Cormac McCarthy, who some might say is over-descriptive at times, is writing for a different audience than Dan Brown. However, a good writer like McCarthy is very conscious of the language he uses, and I can guarantee that he isn't using uncommon words or complex sentence structures to show off his writing skills.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    one of the things i most often have to cure my mentees of is trying to sound smart or literary, instead of just writing clearly and coherently, so folks can enjoy reading what they've written and can easily understand what it all means...

    somehow, they've gotten the idea that 'fancy' = 'literary' and that using big words and complicated sentences will make readers think the writer is 'smart'... and, until i point it out, with detailed explanations of why/how, they don't notice that the result is only grammatical gobbledygook and gratuitous gibberish...
     
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  8. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    This clever bit of phrasing made me smile. :D

    I have to second the point that simple sentences convey the story better than complex ones. More common words carry more weight that fancy ones.

    Ten prime examples from literature? Okay:

    "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

    “It was a pleasure to burn.”

    “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

    “Mama died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.”

    “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

    “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

    “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”

    "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

    “You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by a Mr Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”

    "Are there any questions?"
     
  9. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    One thing that helps me stay away from useless complexity is concentrating on the story I want to tell, what I want to say through it. When I remember that, it's easier to focus on the things that matter.
     
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