Bloggers, Authors: the benefits of simple style and simple structure in your writing

1182879_woman_writing_in_the_agendaWhy do some novelists and bloggers  prefer short, punchy sentences to long, flowing descriptions? Why do some value writing that is direct, succinct, and simple, with little room for misinterpretation? Why are style and style preferences such personal things?

A while back, I wrote a post asking readers whether they wrote more like Hemingway or like Faulkner: that is, whether their style is closer to ornate or to minimalist in structure. I’m a Hemingway. Simple and sparse.

I have nothing against a more ornate style. In fact, I admire flowing, descriptive passages. Often they contain such detail and such beauty that I’m left in awe. I, however, can’t write like that, and I’d be foolish to make the attempt. I could never write successfully like a Faulkner.

There are various reasons you might prefer a Hemingway-esque style in your own prose. I feel the simplicity of my writing is a benefit for me both in my blog posts and in my fiction. Here’s why:

  • Grammar-wise, it’s simpler. There is less room for error as far as grammar and punctuation are concerned when you write simply, as people noted in the comment section on my Hemingway/ Faulkner post. I’m a perfectionist as well as a grammar Nazi, so keeping things short and sweet keeps me happy. By varying simple sentences with compound sentences of no more than two or three clauses, I avoid sticky situations; I know I’m obeying the “rules,” and that matters to me.
  • Less room for misinterpretation and confusion. As I mentioned above, when your style is direct and easy to follow, there is less chance your readers will misinterpret what you’re meaning to tell them. There’s less chance of them attributing a pronoun to the wrong antecedent. Less chance of them getting confused. I like that. You can write clearly and successfully in an ornate way, but I like how my simple sentences lend themselves with little toil on my part to clarity.
  • My third person narrator doesn’t draw attention away from the characters. You should always have a plan for what you want your narration–and hence, your narrator–to accomplish. My narrator’s purpose is to throw attention on the characters, and writing with a simple style helps me to accomplish that goal. Thanks to plain sentences, the structure of my narration doesn’t lend itself to remarks or contemplations. The characters and their actions do that instead.
  • I can write a first draft of a paragraph without worrying about style. Writing simply, first drafts come easier for me than they would if I tried to include flourishes and embellishments. I say what I need to say in the simple way I think to say it, and I move on. Of course, I edit later. But during first drafts, I don’t need to worry about dangling modifiers or misplaced or missing punctuation. I keep it plain and I keep moving.
  • I don’t feel pretentious. Now, I in no way mean to imply that people who write ornately are pretentious. That is definitely not true, and I don’t feel that way about the Faulkners out there. I only mean that I, personally,  don’t have the knack to pull of that style of writing without sounding pretentious. If I tried to force embellishments, I would feel uncomfortable and pretentious because such a method of writing doesn’t come naturally to me and I don’t know how to make it work the way others can.

Those are some benefits I personally experience by sticking to my natural inclinations for style.

Perhaps the reason my  stylistic impulses are what they are in the first place is that my personality lends itself to appreciate structure, simplicity, and clarity. I like calendars and routine. I like organization and feeling as though I’m in control of my life.

I’m not surprised, then, that I aim for clarity and simplicity in style. The simpler I keep things, the more in control of them I feel, without having to worry about the words “getting away from me,” so to speak.

So, why do you write the way you do? What do you appreciate about your style?

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26 responses to “Bloggers, Authors: the benefits of simple style and simple structure in your writing

  1. Now I challenge you to write a similar post defending Faulkner style 🙂

    I can’t write like a Hemingway. Not in any type of text. In fact, my university teachers often expressed surprise about my writing style in essays and papers, saying it was academic yet flowed like fiction. For me, it just meant I had trouble not writing more words than I was allowed! (my MA thesis was nearly 50k words, while the max was 30k) Writing like a Faulkner is natural for me. I love crafting and shaping words in unusual, lyrical or surprising ways.

    I don’t prefer either kind of writing myself, as a reader. Sometimes a book is about the story and that’s enough. But I do every much enjoy beautiful language if it’s there. Several of my favourite authors write quite lyrically.

    • that’s awesome! I wish I could write lyrically 🙂 And I like that challenge about writing a post defending a more ornate style. I’ll see how it goes, though I can’t promise it will pan out into something I can put live. I’m not sure I can do the topic justice, just because I don’t know how to write that way. 🙂

  2. I think writing in a flourish-y style is what comes natural to me. I use small and simple sentences if I can, but they always seem to bland and out of place among bigger sentences. Maybe it comes from having commas drilled into me in high school and reading stories that have long-winded descriptions. I try not to go that far, but I’m still not used to seeing a simple ‘He swings his blades at the goblin’s head’. I guess I feel like I can always do more to give the sentence more oomph and action.

    • It’s so fascinating how different people write in different ways! My natural tendency is usually to simplify. Long, beautiful, complex sentences that are also easy to follow and to understand just don’t come naturally to me, so I try not to force it.

  3. Reblogged this on Sarah Solmonson and commented:
    Great post on the benefits of succinct writing – particularly bullet #2!

  4. One of my favorite writing quotes is, “I wish I had more time, so I could have written less.”
    Bart

  5. I definitely keep it short and sweet. It is my natural style to be punchy and blunt. However, I sometimes take it too far, that’s what editing is for. I’ll definitely be calling myself a Hemingway from now on!

  6. Great post! By the way, I nominated you for an award. You can find the details in this post: http://melissajanda.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/more-awards-im-not-worthy/

  7. Pingback: Bloggers, Authors: the benefits of an ornate style and complex structure in your writing | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  8. I have as much difficulty writing short sentences as you do with Faulkner. I suppose it’s part of one’s natural prose; odds are, I talk this way too. I agree about lengthy narratives getting in the way of the characters. I try to deal with that by using descriptions via the character, so that in seeing what is happening, we’re also learning something about them. My hope is in that way, you can read a descriptive passage, while thinking it’s only about my characters.

    Who knows if it works.

  9. I am a very animated talker – and tend to “spider web.” I suppose I write the same way. My blog is conversational, which I prefer to stilted or a sense of speaking “at” my readers.

    BTW – I’ve been working hard at removing “it” from my sentences. That one task keeps me busy. (Yeah, I had to go to my third sentence and remove the pesty little bugger!)

    Thanks for all your helpful articles. I’ve gained much confidence in writing as a result of reading them.

    \o/

    • A conversational tone in a blog is a great idea, and perfectly appropriate. That’s what blogs are for: not just communication, but conversation. I’m so glad you find the blog here helpful!!! Thanks for your support and encouragement. I’m glad you’re gaining confidence.

  10. Pingback: Authors, Bloggers: The Pitfalls of A Simple Style | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  11. Pingback: Dear Writer: Lots of Words or Few, Which Is Right? | Notes from An Alien

  12. Pingback: Five Great Writing Blogs | JaniceHeck

  13. Pingback: What Is Writing Style All About? | This Craft Called Writing

  14. Thanks for a great set of posts, I’ve taken the liberty of linking to all four on my blog. Hope you don’t mind. Lorrie

  15. I believe that I am more like a Hemmingway in my writing style. I get right to the point and don’t use 5 dollar words when a common term will do. I used to believe that this made me a poor writer, but I’m realizing that it is simply a matter of style. Your article on the subject has confirmed this realization. Thanks. 🙂

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