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Thread: Style over Substance?

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    Default Style over Substance?

    I read a lot and I read in a lot of different venues, magazines, books, web sites, blogs, etc. Lately, and maybe it's just what I've been reading, I've noticed what seems to be a groundswell of style over substance or what I call "pretty writing". People seem to be enamored with alliteration (pretty, purple prose), hyped on hyperbole ( a million times more than they were) or trying to write like Hemingway. The casualty in all this seems to be content. They're taking 5,000 words to say what they could have said in 500.

    I admit that I'm occasionally a victim of overwriting (see this post) but I try to get to the point in a reasonable amount of time. I don't think pretty writing should take precedence over writing that does what it's supposed to do, which is most likely entertain or inform or a combination of both.

    What do the rest of you think? Is pretty writing a justification in and of itself, or should writers concentrate less on writing beautifully and more on writing to make their point?

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    Depends on the purpose of the writing.

    I have to concentrate really hard to not be flowery with my writing. It comes natural to me - I think because I've read wa-ay to many epics & fantasy novels and I love playing with words. I adore alliteration. Hyperbole, not so much...

    I don't necessarily mean to be putting out pretty words, but they sometimes sneak in even when I am trying to do some serious writing. I tell them to stay with the personal blog, but they don't always listen to me. That is where editing comes in.

    Sometimes I just say F-it - and let it run the way it came out of my head - but that would be for things I'm writing under my own name for my own purposes (or forum posts or journaling or whatever) and not the writing I do for others.

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    Patrysha, I totally agree with you. For my own purposes I do get a bit more flowery and showy, because I enjoy playing with language. I wouldn't do the same for my business writing though. I think I'm mostly wondering why people don't seem to make that distinction. There's a big difference between writing to entertain and writing to educate. I don't think the two have to be mutually exclusive, but I do think one or the other should be the clear goal.

    I also think some people give in to the urge to show off. I read a book recently that was like that. It was non-fiction and the story was interesting, but the writer used so many tricks that I found myself being pulled away from the story. Now it is possible I noticed more of that stuff than most would because I write as well, but it got to be irritating after a while.

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    Kristine it depends on what you were reading of course. I tend to write a lot and I'm sure I could say what I want in less words. For me it's trying to be thorough and do everything I can to make sure people understand what I'm trying to say. Sometimes that means saying the same thing more than once.

    The showing off stuff can be people thinking it makes them come across like better writers. If you use bigger words you must be better right? It never comes across that way though.

    They're taking 5,000 words to say what they could have said in 500.
    You must be part of the Twitter generation. What? It took you 140 characters to say that. I could have said it in 90.
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    I believe in length when length is necessary, but I sometimes think that people talk around their points instead of knowing where they want to go and then using the right amount of words to get there. Maybe what's missing is editing.

    As for being part of the Twitter generation I was one of the people who initially abhorred Twitter because it was taking all the romance out of using language and communicating. I do think Twittering can be a good exercise though. It does force you to figure out how to say what you want to say concisely.

    I also agree with you that the flowery writing can be people trying to show off. It just annoys me because it tends to get in the way of the story. To me that sort of writing sticks out like a sore thumb.

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    I was teasing about Twitter, which I take it you knew.

    It's hard to know about the writing without seeing it. There could be so many reasons why someone writes that way, some legitimate and some not so much. Could be the author's natural style and it could be them trying to show off. Some authors once they reach a certain level of fame and when their books go to the bestseller list by default, don't seem to get as much editing, since there's no reason to spend the time. The book is going to be a success just because the author's name is on it.
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    See and I try to avoid ten dollar words like the plague. Just because I know some doozies doesn't mean they have a place in most of what I write.

    I really don't see the point in using big words for the sake of showing off my vocabulary. It irks me when other people do it. I think big words tend to set up a barrier to good communication. I don't want to confuse people or send them off to a dictionary...I want to relate to them, generate a response, touch them in some way or just share a thought or an opinion or a memory.

    To me that's not pretty or flowery, it's just rude. The fact is that the general reading public has about an 8th grade reading level, that's generally what I try to aim for. The last time I intentionally wrote for a higher level was because I had to for my university essays.

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    Exactly. I generally opt for shorter words, though big words do find their way in when appropriate. I won't say I go for an 8th grade reading level, but I aim for something any high school student should be able to understand.

    I think new writers sometimes tend toward the big words because they think it makes them sound more literary. The good ones learn the opposite is true.
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    I find myself not thinking about it. I think I have a pretty good vocabulary - certainly above what might be called "8th.grade level," as I'm sure many 8th.graders are. (Some of the young folk I see today are really pretty smart.) But I'll be darned if I will dumb down my speaking or writing style for the less-articulate.

    I choose the best word I know for the occasion - and by "best" I mean most appropriate, most accurate and most poetic. Yes, poetry does come into it - not in terms of rhyming but in terms of cadence - the rhythmic flow of sound - the ease with which the words can be spoken, even the written word.

    The dictionary is my friend. I am constantly refering to a dictionary - for spelling and to make sure I am using a word accurately. (Example: the word 'cadence' above.)

    But I don't see the sense of lowering one's standards because the rest of the world operates at a lower level. I believe the world would be a better place if we constantly attempted to raise our standards, rather than lower them.

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    I am definitely one that over writes and repeats myself using different terms. I have to constantly go back and trim things.

    I don't really have the "pretty prose" thing going...actually I write my best when I am bitching sarcastically about something...I don't know why.

    Give me an album review and I am at a loss for words, even if I like it, but give a piece legislation or a politician that I disagree with and I can spew venom, sarcasm and jokes for pages.
    I can usually get to the point pretty quickly, but I like to savor it with all kinds of witticisms and bile.
    I tend to read people, and follow comedians that do the same..so I guess different styles are going to appeal to different people.

    What you are talking about only bothers me when it comes to videos. I can skim an article to get to what I want to read, and by pass all of the fluff, but nothing irritates me like watching a video review or tutorial and 3 minutes into it, the creator is still promoting something or making small talk.
    That really burns me up.
    Last edited by Harold Mansfield; 06-24-2010 at 01:58 PM.

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