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Window Pane Or Stained-Glass Prose? (1 Viewer)

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TheMightyAz

Mentor
I don't know much about grammar, don't follow any rules on story structuring and don't know the terminology associated with writing. But one thing I do know is my instincts have served me well. As a result, I've come up with my own way of describing what I mean. What I've discovered over the years though is that 'most' of what I've instinctively applied naturally, or as a goal, does in fact have a name. A lot of it is well established and understood but because I never knew the name and used my own way of describing it, I could never search to see if anyone else agreed or utilised a similar approach. I've come across yet another, which is the title of this thread!

Window Pane or Stained-Glass Prose. So now I know I'm a stained-glass prose writer.

Window Pane: This style of writing is used more often on the commercial side of the industry. The aim is to write in such a way that the prose style used is as unobtrusive as possible. It describes without drawing attention to itself so the reader sees straight through to the story.

Stained-Glass Prose: This style is more often than not used in 'literary fiction'. As the name suggests, this is still transparent to a certain degree but the aim is to colour the story so the reader sees it through the prose style. Just to clarify any possible confusion, this doesn't mean 'flowery', it means 'interesting'. More of those unique grammatical styles, metaphors, similes, personifications etc.

There is a third category which is a mix of the two above. The reason I would put myself in the second category is because everything I aim for (and I think this forum can attest to) is about style, structure, word choice and the such ABOVE all else. For me, story comes secondary in my first draft and then I begin to tighten the story. This is probably why I tend to write more slowly.

So, what are you?
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
So, what are you?
An unvarnished heathen of uneven temperament, marginal ability, and a lesser degree of utility than a dead houseplant...or so my friends tell me.

As styles go, straightforward clarity has a place. This place is generally reserved for things like instruction pamphlets, technical manuals, or mattress tags. DO NOT REMOVE and 3/4 turn at 6 in/lb don't leave much room for negotiation (or imagination)...which is arguably the point.

The whole purpose of fiction is to engage the reader, and one who grasps the story without feeling it has been shorted their money. The weather man can point to his green screen and tell you about temperature and barometric pressure with reasonable confidence that the viewers can follow along and judge whether they need long sleeves and an umbrella tomorrow - whereas the eighth-generation Boston Irishman who spent the night prior threading the family boat through a string of unfamiliar shoals in zero/zero fog with the engine missing and cold seawater running down his collar can tell you about the storm.

The former relies on precision and accuracy to deliver information.

The latter will likely use slang, turns of phrase, and storytelling devices to relate an experience.

Whichever you go for will probably depend on what you mean to do with it. If you want to be clear, be correct. If you want to be memorable and stand apart, start learning which rules you can break, when, and how - and then start breaking them to good effect.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I don't think the concept goes so far in either direction as the first two posts here assume. BTW, great blog on the subject here:


and he has an example which can be expanded upon to hit the happy medium of this conversation:

He quickly crossed to the opposite side of the road. vs. He crossed the road.

First, we're going to suspect the adverb, because we should always at least suspect it.
Then, we're going to get rid of redundancy: When you cross a road, you are ALWAYS going to the other (opposite side). This is just like the sentence I cut in my last book when I read "He approached the door of the building" ... the sentence I will use for the rest of my life to focus my editing. LOL Where else would the door be???

So that leaves "He crossed the road".

BUT, the first sentence is not stained glass, it's simply a bad sentence. The second sentence is not clear pane, It's simply dry, and in context it COULD be the desired sentence, but it doesn't have to be.

He darted across the road. or He picked a break in traffic and sprinted across.

But not: He weighed the velocity of each oncoming vehicle, and studiously decided on the prime moment to safely race across the sticky, oil smeared tarmac while the swishing of tires on water combined with hissing steam and blaring horns filled his expectant senses with an immersion of the overloaded city's straining traffic.

That sentence has all kinds of color, and thank God I don't write it for real. :) I might write a shorter version of that where it counts, but where it counts is an important concept. If I write every sentence like that, and believe me, I could, I'll soon wear out the reader.

We can add plenty of color without overloading modifiers, meaning we can have color AND clarity at the same time.

There are dozens of ways to lose a reader. Ensnaring them in prose they have to work too hard to untangle is one of them.
 
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TheMightyAz

Mentor
I don't think the concept goes so far in either direction as the first two posts here assume. BTW, great blog on the subject here:


and he has an example which can be expanded upon to hit the happy medium of this conversation:

He quickly crossed to the opposite side of the road. vs. He crossed the road.

First, we're going to suspect the adverb, because we should always at least suspect it.
Then, we're going to get rid of redundancy: When you cross a road, you are ALWAYS going to the other (opposite side). This is just like the sentence I cut in my last book when I read "He approached the door of the building" ... the sentence I will use for the rest of my life to focus my editing. LOL Where else would the door be???

So that leaves "He crossed the road".

BUT, the first sentence is not stained glass, it's simply a bad sentence. The second sentence is not clear pane, It's simply dry, and in context it COULD be the desired sentence, but it doesn't have to be.

He darted across the road. or He picked a break in traffic and sprinted across.

But not: He weighed the velocity of each oncoming vehicle, and studiously decided on the prime moment to safely race across the sticky, oil smeared tarmac while the swishing of tires on water combined with hissing steam and blaring horns filled his expectant senses with an immersion of the overloaded city's straining traffic.

That sentence has all kinds of color, and thank God I don't write it for real. :) I might write a shorter version of that where it counts, but where it counts is an important concept. If I write every sentence like that, and believe me, I could, I'll soon wear out the reader.

We can add plenty of color without overloading modifiers, meaning we can have color AND clarity at the same time.

There are dozens of ways to lose a reader. Ensnaring them in prose they have to work too hard to untangle is one of them.
The definition of the two is what I'm interested in here, not how they're applied. Both have value but both need to be done well. That goes without question. If you never practice stained-glass, you'll never learn to use it properly, so a certain amount of pushing through is required ... often in the face of criticism. You just need to know what you're aiming for. If you're not honest with yourself then genuine mistakes (regardless of which you're attempting) can be a way of defending bad prose. Both approaches still require universal rules, and those are what to look out for.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Stained glass - epic events rendered in a hyperflorid style.
That's not true at all. It's not about being flowery. It's just definitions of two approaches. Some writers write in such a way that the reader sees the story through their words and others try to make their words as unobtrusive as possible. It's not a matter of 'bad' style, 'good' style.
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
To throw another shovelful of coal on the proceedings....

Most stories from flash to short (and possibly some light novellas) can be summed up in one sentence. That might be ultimate marriage of clarity and brevity...but it doesn't make for much of a read.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
When I was a CW student - a secret that I don’t like to talk about - the textbook had a.chapter on the issue, an issue similar to the @AZ issue on the poles apart, and if I recall, Orwell in the one camp and across the river stood JJ Marquez.

Orwell described as ‘arid’ which I always enjoyed, being the generation that suffered Orwell at his zenith, or peak, I can’t remember which word, maybe tendril?
 

Darkkin

WF Veterans
I'm stain glass somebody put a rock through...decadent, but very technical with the number of moving parts. Books like A Discovery of Witches, Ten Thousand Doors of January, The Starless Sea, and A Darker Shade of Magic are right in my wheelhouse.

Authors like Pattetson annoy me because the prose is overly simplistic and nothing more than functional. It is nearly impossible to get lost in the vividness of the story, its setting, and characters. It doesn't make my brain fully engage. It is white noise reading. Done in an hour, forgotten in a moment.

This is why I prefer genres: fantasy, science fiction, romance (historical, paranormal), and some mystery (those that involve a psychological element...) and children's books.
 
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Irwin

Senior Member
I'm stain glass somebody put a rock through...decadent, but very technical with the number of moving parts. Books like A Discovery of Witches, Ten Thousand Doors of January, The Starless Sea, and A Darker Shade of Magic are right in my wheelhouse.

Authors like Pattetson annoy me because the prose is overly simplistic and nothing more than functional. It is nearly impossible to get lost in the vividness of the story, its setting, and characters. It doesn't make my brain fully engage. It is white noise reading. Done in an hour, forgotten in a moment.

This is why I prefer genres: fantasy, science fiction, romance (historical, paranormal), and some mystery (those that involve a psychological element...) and children's books.
Books like Patterson writes are often what make the best-sellers lists. They exist purely for the story—not for the style in which they are written. They're the kinds of books you can read on the train on the way to work, and there's some value in that. David Baldacci is another one. Reading those kinds of books is like watching a made-for-TV movie. They can be entertaining, but they're almost always instantly forgettable.
 

Darkkin

WF Veterans
These are the books I read in a couple of hours when I need a breath between my immersive reads.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Based on your description, I would put myself in the Window Pane category. But, every author strives for what they think will be interesting to their reader. So it may not be as simple as one or the other, or even a combination of both.

There is a third category that I strive for. And that is where words used literally can be thought-provoking above and beyond the story without, metaphors, similes, personifications. And it is typically done in dialogue. Witty clever dialogue. Things said in a way that is not just commercially straightforward and plot-advancing.

I give you Oscar Wilde:

"Dorian Gray? is that his name?" said Lord Henry, walking across the studio towards Basil Hallward.

"Yes; that is his name. I didn't intend to tell it to you."

"But why not?"

"Oh, I can't explain. When I like people immensely I never tell their names to anyone. It seems like surrendering a part of them. You know how I love secrecy. It is the only thing that can make modern life wonderful or mysterious to us. The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it. When I leave town I never tell my people where I am going. If I did, I would lose all my pleasure. It is a silly habit, I dare say, but somehow it seems to bring a great deal of romance into one's life. I suppose you think me awfully foolish about it?"
 
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indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I write in close third person, so everything experienced is colored by that character’s POV; so I’m definitely a stained glass writer.
 

Gamer_2k4

WF Veterans
He quickly crossed to the opposite side of the road. vs. He crossed the road.

First, we're going to suspect the adverb, because we should always at least suspect it.
Then, we're going to get rid of redundancy: When you cross a road, you are ALWAYS going to the other (opposite side). This is just like the sentence I cut in my last book when I read "He approached the door of the building" ... the sentence I will use for the rest of my life to focus my editing. LOL Where else would the door be???

So that leaves "He crossed the road".

BUT, the first sentence is not stained glass, it's simply a bad sentence. The second sentence is not clear pane, It's simply dry, and in context it COULD be the desired sentence, but it doesn't have to be.

He darted across the road. or He picked a break in traffic and sprinted across.

Despite writers' common dislike of adverbs, there's nothing inherently wrong with them other than that they make a short sentence longer - and even that may be a good thing depending on the pacing you're going for. In this case, yes, it's a quick action that deserves a quick delivery. But if you're describing two grandmasters pondering over a chess board, introducing complicated words like "meticulously" may serve the story better than colorful verb choice alone.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Despite writers' common dislike of adverbs, there's nothing inherently wrong with them other than that they make a short sentence longer - and even that may be a good thing depending on the pacing you're going for. In this case, yes, it's a quick action that deserves a quick delivery. But if you're describing two grandmasters pondering over a chess board, introducing complicated words like "meticulously" may serve the story better than colorful verb choice alone.
To me, the most difficult aspect of writing is knowing when to apply a general rule and when not to. It's easy to say cut adjectives, cut adverbs etc, but the more you read published works, the more you realise they're not simply applying a general rule. Trying to understand why they've ignored those rules at given points in the prose, is mind melting. But, for me at least, it's not simply about 'when' but 'why' too. It can be any number of reasons, including the examples you've given. WHY, for me, will be the final icing on the cake.

What is my WHY?
 

Matchu

Senior Member
The published writers are not reading the rule books, @AZ.

They express one thing at a time.

This thing leads to the next thing, not a this and also a that thing,
and another thing,
as well as this is also pretty thing & an allusion
thing thumping to a next line metaphor
spring, and onward with the story
after a photograph of my moment before edits.

Why so rich? Write clean.
 
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