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Olly Buckle

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The protestant propogandists introduced the concepts of 'Prose so plain, that the least child in the town may understand thee', and to write well was to 'Speak as the common people do, to think as wise men do.'
Before that writing was the province of the elite who 'interlace phrases with Italian terms, powder style with French, English or inkhorn rhetoric to feed the dainty ears of delicate yonkers'.

Do you like your language plain and simple, or do you savor rhetoric, long words, and flowery phrases? Do you write seriously of serious matters, or do you agree 'Jesting is lawful by circumstance even in the greatest matters' ?

Yonkers, later younkers, by the way, means young people, not inhabitants of the city by New York.

I imagine that most will go for 'plain', but I do know those who read Dickens avidly for his florid prose, I can't accept that one is The Correct Way, nor that the other should always be rejected, although it is now a matter of style. One Bishop in the sixteenth century rejected plain prose because it meant common people were discussing matters that were the prerogative of Kings, I guess we all do that now.
 

midnightpoet

WF Veterans
I think someone (don't remember who) said something like "don't write what readers skip over." It's not that simple, of course. A lot depends on genre, some readers expect a certain style, and authors give it to them to sell books. It's nice to have a good vocabulary, but it's important to know when not to use it. Personally, I'll read anything if I'm interested in the subject, but writing I usually go for plain - especially if I'm writing mystery/crime fiction.
 

Earp

Senior Member
I enjoy both, as long as 'flowery' doesn't mean 'purple'. I divide fiction authors into two groups: writers and storytellers. It's rare to find someone who is good at both. I'll put Stephen King in the storyteller group. I've read most of his work, and enjoy the plotting and characters, but his prose is mundane, and rarely surprises me. James Lee Burke is in the writer category. His stories are pretty ordinary, as regards plot, but his writing style is complex and I often find myself stopping and re-reading a paragraph, just to enjoy his talent with the language.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Use the words and phrasing that is appropriate to the character POV, the scene, and the mood. I try to use the right word at the right moment.
 

Tiamat

Patron
For me, it depends on the story. In plot based fiction, I tend to write more plainly. Basic third person past POV -- he did this, she did that, etc. Not that there aren't compound sentences and metaphors and such, but usually if I'm writing third past, it's because I want to tell a story, and I want the writing to convey the story without drawing attention to itself. In character based fiction, where I often default to present tense with a preference towards first person POV (though I've used third present here as well), it's usually a lot heavier on the flowery side of things. Not always though. Style doesn't necessarily have to mean Dickens. I once wrote a flash piece about a goldfish swimming in a bowl on a kitchen table. It consisted of mostly simple sentences and a lot of repetition and frequent call outs to the setting. It's probably the most artistic (and stylized) piece I've ever written, and also the most bare bones, prose wise. Ten-ish years later, it's still my favorite story of mine.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
Stephen King ... but his prose is mundane, and rarely surprises me.

This is a normal thing to say, but my subjective opinion is that King is a master craftsman for writing clearly in a way that feels effortless and friendly to read. Which is to say, he doesn't just decide to write plainly, he's really good at that; he would be almost impossible to imitate without a lot of skill.

In the grammar book I am working on, I have high praise for his use of "the gun" instead of "a gun" -- I would never have thought to write "the gun", but it works brilliantly. Does that count as surprising? It's not flowery, but is it plain?

But yes, his goal is to tell the story, and if his writing draws no attention that's probably good. Or, to be more precise, he is not just providing information, he is creating a reader experience. He is usually plain, but not when he needs more.

From above them came a man's voice, heavily disapproving: "If you need to talk. You should go. Somewhere else." (page 377, Lisey's Story)
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
Can you give an example of the same sentence in both plain and flowery style?

Like, on of my books begins "My friends are discussing shoes." That must be plain, but I don't know what the flowery version would be.

I have another that begins: "Her father suddenly threw aside his newspaper and jumped to his feet."

Would it be more flowery if he leapt or exploded or popped? If I added a metaphor?

What if I added more detail?
 
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luckyscars

WF Veterans
I imagine that most will go for 'plain', but I do know those who read Dickens avidly for his florid prose, I can't accept that one is The Correct Way, nor that the other should always be rejected, although it is now a matter of style. One Bishop in the sixteenth century rejected plain prose because it meant common people were discussing matters that were the prerogative of Kings, I guess we all do that now.

Do you think Dickens' style is florid, Olly? I always thought that it was fairly accessible stylistically, certainly compared to other nineteenth century writers.

Anyway, my thing is this: Stylistically, I like simple...and I like complex. For me, the issue isn't whether something should be one or the other, the issue is whether it needs to be.

I think most writers don't actually get to choose their level of stylistic complexity, because most writers write according to their own personal comfort level and that of their audience. Basically, we're all trying to be as 'advanced' as we can be without wandering into gibberish. But if you write YA, or commercial thriller fiction, you CAN'T write in long-winded metaphors regardless of how 'good' you may be at them, because the audience doesn't want that shit.

Similarly, if you're targeting literary fiction, if your goal is to write 'highbrow' stuff of the sort that might make it into an NPR segment or be discussed as 'serious fiction'...you probably need to push the envelope as far as style. If your story is 'gothic' in flavor it needs to be 'gothic' in style, right? Gothic fiction usually needs some 'flowers'.

But can you do that? I can want to write elaborately all I want, but if I simply don't have the intellect and/or skill to use words, it's going to crash and burn. 99.9% of the time I am going to write as high a caliber as I can without losing control. This will place my work as either being simple or complex, depending on who is reading it.

So, part of it's genre/reader constraints, part of it is writer ability. I would suggest a relatively tiny part of how complicated something is comes down to choice.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
It depends on the story. My speculative fiction is not (usually) as flowery as my literary fiction. Sometimes people express dislike at my intricate, elaborate sentences. So I try not to write like that too often.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I think there is room for all of the above. The discussion seems suitable for an Asimov response I often quote. Asked what he most wanted to achieve in his prose, he responded, "Clarity".

There is a middle ground between "simple/clear" and "flowery", and it keeps me from overstepping from flowery to purple. I endeavor to write a simple and clear sentence, then I look at it to see if I can find a more interesting word here and there (if I didn't already think of one while typing the sentence). Not flowery, not something you need to go to the dictionary for, just more interesting.

I don't always come up with the best examples off the top of my head, but here's a try.
Simple: I handed Stella an apple. She ate it hungrily. I asked when she'd last eaten.
More interesting: I offered Stella an apple. She gobbled it greedily. I waited for a break in the constant crunching to inquire when she'd last eaten.

I don't really need the "greedily" in there, but if a bit of fanciful alliteration is appropriate in the scene, there it is. I'd absolutely keep "constant crunching" though. :) I wouldn't always substitute "inquire" for "ask", but I'm certainly going to throw it in on occasion.

Style is also appropriate to context. If I'm writing a bucolic scene, I'm going to tend to longer, more gentle sentences, and I might even lapse (horrors) into some passive voice. Then when the monster bursts out of the woods, I'm going to switch to shorter sentences with powerful action verbs to intensify the mood.

I just read a couple of articles on Style vs. Voice since it seemed germane to this discussion. According to those articles, I'm supposed have a "style", such as Olly presented, AND a voice, which narrows down the general style to me. I don't. For me, I apply style to context and genre, and voice to genre and narrator. My third person heroic fantasy doesn't read much like my third person sci-fi. Neither of them sounds like my first person urban fantasy, and my fairy tale is very wide of those voices.

Good idea for a discussion, Olly.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Can you give an example of the same sentence in both plain and flowery style?

Like, on of my books begins "My friends are discussing shoes." That must be plain, but I don't know what the flowery version would be.

I have another that begins: "Her father suddenly threw aside his newspaper and jumped to his feet."

Would it be more flowery if he leapt or exploded or popped? If I added a metaphor?

What if I added more detail?

"My friends are discussing shoes."
My intimate acquaintances are discoursing on the subject of footwear

"Her father suddenly threw aside his newspaper and jumped to his feet."
Violently and impetuously discarding his daily journal her paternal parent vacated his seat to take an upright stance

I found the second much more challenging, and TBH I am less satisfied with the result, anyone else up for having a try?
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I am curious. Do writers here Google poetic devices to practice writing with style? Is anyone learning and using poetry and in which ways to improve their style? So for example I have a barren landscape and want to improve the description. How do I begin to improve it? Is it recommended that I look for poetic devices and neglected rhetorical devices to make sure it is not boring to read. I am paying attention to the beginning especially to write and incorporate poetic devices. I tend to not try metaphor as much as I like it. Because sometimes people understand it and other times they can be confused. This would be for the last draft. When I am sure the editing has been done. That I want to add finishing touches.

Also does anyone here mind map images? You write a word and draw a circle and do a concept map. You write of whatever you can come up with. It can be something you associate with the word circles and then you create another circle. It an also be an expression the image conveys. For example, as I was writing I kind mapped and wrote. for the word bird, fly, flock together, sometimes are seperated, fly south for the winter. That is a strategy I use for when I must imagine images and can't find these on the internet.

That's how I came up with an expression. That for example the planet is library that has volumes of living and dead creatures. They live on borrowed time. Although time consuming to mind map on paper it is worth it. It can be done for 500 words at a time per day. I want to know if others do this. Observing is a good exercise but I can't leave home since it is very difficult to practice social distancing from other people in commercial zones. I did read this tip in a creative writing manual. It is a right brain activity that uses the subconcious.
 
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EternalGreen

Senior Member
Simple: I handed Stella an apple. She ate it hungrily. I asked when she'd last eaten.
More interesting: I offered Stella an apple. She gobbled it greedily. I waited for a break in the constant crunching to inquire when she'd last eaten.

I don't really need the "greedily" in there, but if a bit of fanciful alliteration is appropriate in the scene, there it is. I'd absolutely keep "constant crunching" though. :) I wouldn't always substitute "inquire" for "ask", but I'm certainly going to throw it in on occasion.

You're right, you don't need "greedily" in there.

Let's see if we can eliminate some abstractions.

"I took an apple from my coat pocket and held it out towards Stella. She snatched the fruit and bit into it, scarcely chewing before she bit again.

'When have--" I said; but her crunching interrupted me.

'When have you last eaten, Stella?'

She held up three fingers as she tore a chunk out of the dribbling apple.

"
"My friends are discussing shoes."
My intimate acquaintances are discoursing on the subject of footwear

"Her father suddenly threw aside his newspaper and jumped to his feet."
Violently and impetuously discarding his daily journal her paternal parent vacated his seat to take an upright stance

I found the second much more challenging, and TBH I am less satisfied with the result, anyone else up for having a try?

That's actually a common meme. The joke is to slowly find wordier and less coherent ways of expressing the same thought.

But on a serious note:

"Her father flung the newspaper across the room like a wad of discarded chewing gum. In one motion, he collapsed the footrest of his recliner and leapt to his feet."

I find "my friends are discussing shoes," to be problematical - not because of the plain prose - but because of the abstraction.
 
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bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
I am curious. Do writers here Google poetic devices to practice writing with style? Is anyone learning and using poetry and in which ways to improve their style? So for example I have a barren landscape and want to improve the description. How do I begin to improve it? Is it recommended that I look for poetic devices and neglected rhetorical devices to make sure it is not boring to read. I am paying attention to the beginning especially to write and incorporate poetic devices. I tend to not try metaphor as much as I like it. Because sometimes people understand it and other times they can be confused. This would be for the last draft. When I am sure the editing has been done. That I want to add finishing touches.

Also does anyone here mind map images? You write a word and draw a circle and do a concept map. You write of whatever you can come up with. It can be something you associate with the word circles and then you create another circle. It an also be an expression the image conveys. For example, as I was writing I kind mapped and wrote. for the word bird, fly, flock together, sometimes are seperated, fly south for the winter. That is a strategy I use for when I must imagine images and can't find these on the internet.

That's how I came up with an expression. That for example the planet is library that has volumes of living and dead creatures. They live on borrowed time. Although time consuming to mind map on paper it is worth it. It can be done for 500 words at a time per day. I want to know if others do this. Observing is a good exercise but I can't leave home since it is very difficult to practice social distancing from other people in commercial zones. I did read this tip in a creative writing manual. It is a right brain activity that uses the subconcious.

I use a few narrative tricks here and there to add a little oomph. They seem to come as part of my natural voice so I go with them. I hadn't thought of them as poetic devices, but I guess they could be used in any writing. Never done mind maps though. I'm never entirely sure what their purpose should be. To me it seems like an unnecessary step. I suppose if I was looking for that extra creative jump I might try one. I dunno; I probably should. I am conscious that I have negative associations with them; they remind me of someone in particular who was trying very hard to be creative and give themselves an imagination. Meanwhile, there was me, being all snobbish and a purist about it, sitting in my fantasy world. I think I felt the imagination as "my territory" and they were trying to muscle in on it where there had been only denigration before. But that's by-the-by. Thinking about it, I can absolutely see how they would be useful.
 

Phil Istine

WF Veterans
My thoughts are to try keeping it understandable and manageable for most people, without pandering to the lowest denominator because that might be too bland for those who wish to read something more challenging. A more complex part of a piece of writing could be written to have a reasonably guessable meaning, even for those who don't fully understand.
I suppose the exceptions to this would be writing that is targeted to specific audiences such as young children, or technical work that is for the scientific community for example.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Those protestant propagandists I referred to in the OP had other problems as well; they were open to censorship and prosecution if they expressed views too wide of the official views. For this reason they developed various tactics. A short pastoral poem in the form of dialogue known as an eclogue for example could put risky ideas into the mouths of ordinary people and distance the author from the views expressed. Allegorical expression of ideas was another way of doing it. Using the plain prose of ordinary people was a good way of adding to the distance as they discussed the matters that were supposed to be the prerogative of their superiors. This was really the beginning of ordinary people being allowed to hear and discuss ideas, prior to this they were preached at and told what to think. Even when they heard the bible read to them it was in Latin which they did not understand and they had to rely on the interpretation of the preacher in his sermon.

To my mind the better writing is still doing this, telling a story which provides entertainment, but also causes one to think about larger social issues. The writing which is dictatorial in its aim may well try to disguise this with fancy prose, talking down to the reader in effect.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
"My friends are discussing shoes."
My intimate acquaintances are discoursing on the subject of footwear

"Her father suddenly threw aside his newspaper and jumped to his feet."
Violently and impetuously discarding his daily journal her paternal parent vacated his seat to take an upright stance

I found the second much more challenging, and TBH I am less satisfied with the result, anyone else up for having a try?


Hmm.

My friends are trading anecdotes - thinly veiled competition, really - concerning the latest footwear du jour. Horrified's not the word when I discover Barb practically bleeding out from their metaphoric jabs.

Where father had been sitting quietly moments ago, the newspaper shot skywards in a rage of supplements, showering the old man in printing-press confetti as he went to his boxer stance.


As you can see, for me, it's all in the serif. I enjoyed writing these versions. Interestingly I seem to default to sports metaphors. I'm not even particularly into sports. I suppose they've rather crept into the vernacular, what?
 
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