Why 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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