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In the comments after my last post, On Writing Long When Attempting to Write Short, rachel_swirsky wrote:

Posting generic grumble/grump about how "too much description" and "too much wordiness" are often dependent on style and aesthetic, and while it's good that some people are (edited) Carver and Hemingway, one is glad that some people are Flannery O'Conner, too.

She has a point.

I didn't mean that everyone should try to write like Hemingway; reading wouldn't be fun if people all wrote the same way. I'm in favor of individual voices, and styles ranging from the very simple to the very ornate (with a personal preference for a range somewhere within those two extremes). However, a person who believes she "can't write short" might try studying some Hemingway if she wants to learn how to tell a story in fewer words. That's one method of learning efficiency in writing, but there are other methods, too.

Often the writing I see in the slush is just fine stylistically, from sentence to sentence, but in some cases an author will meander into territory that's outside the boundaries of the story being told. On one hand, it's the author's story, to be told as the author wants to tell it, but on the other hand, it's hard to be objective about what to leave in and what to leave out. I'm all in favor of many ideas being incorporated into a story elegantly, so that they make sense and enhance the tale, but there are times when taking out an ill-fitting idea will make the rest of the story stronger.

Seriously, I admire it when someone can do a great job of writing a one-hundred-word sentence. No matter the length of the sentence, I want it to fit together well with the other sentences around it, and I want them all to build up into a meaningful story.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 26th, 2010 04:36 am (UTC)
Thank you for indulging my grumble/grump. ;-)
Mar. 25th, 2010 06:42 pm (UTC)
Flannery O'Connor's fiction is not what I would call wordy. It is descriptive and this is what makes it so vivid and memorable. But there is always movement, life, action. The story is always moving forward and gaining momentum. If you go over one of her great stories line by line it is clear that every word counts. A less talented writer might have taken twice the number of pages to say as much. And I think this was the original point you were making, that writers ought to say what they want to say with precisely the right words.
Apr. 17th, 2010 10:18 am (UTC)
I like yout idea of the sentences fitting together. I think of it this way: one sentence should anticipate the sentence to follow. And the next sentence should respond (in some way) to the sentence before it. Until you are ready to surprise the reader.

Really clever writers can have sentences appear that respond to a sentence a little further back in the copy (first sentences of paragraphs sometimes to do this very effectively -- as do last sentences of a paragraph when you need to pick up a thread from a a little was back in the sentence tapestry).

A reader won't notice the anticipate/response pattern of sentences. They'll be reading for the story and your sentences will move them through it almost seamlessly... but they will notice (they may not know why) when you stop doing it and that's when you kick in the surprise element.

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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