Over the last two days, I’ve examined the major dichotomy of style where creative writers and bloggers are concerned. I’ve discussed the benefits of using a simple style with short sentences focused on clarity. (This kind of writing is exemplified at its most famous by Hemingway.)
I’ve also discussed the benefits of writing with lots of frills and description, turning your draft into a real work of art of the baroque style. (William Faulkner, anyone?)
The most important thing is to be true to who you are. Write how you are meant to write and embrace the style you naturally gravitate toward. You will, for sure, have your greatest chance of success that way, no matter where you fall on the simple-baroque spectrum. You will sound sincere. Your voice will be genuine. Your readers will follow and trust you.
However you write–and whether you write fiction, nonfiction, a blog, or all of these–another key to success is to understand the pitfalls of your side of the spectrum. So, today, as a Hemingway-esque writer myself–meaning that I prefer short sentences, not that I have his talent, because geez, if only–I want to go into the stylistic dangers you face when you gravitate toward simple sentence structure and shorter, clearer words.
Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the problems I’ve seen in books written by people who prefer to embellish their sentences and paragraphs.
What to watch for when you know you prefer simplicity and clarity in your writing
- Simplicity isn’t always clear. Confusing conciseness with clarity is easy, but they don’t always coincide. Often writers like me–I call us “Hemingways”–worry about “saying too much.” In fact, in my first drafts I worry so much about saying too much that sometimes I don’t say everything the reader needs to know to make sense of a plot point. Be wary of this; preferring to give all necessary information with short, easy to follow sentences and short paragraphs is one thing. Making sure you give all necessary information is something else.
- Make sure you vary sentence structure. Variety is the spice of life. It’s also the spice of writing. There’s nothing wrong with short sentences. That said, you do need to vary them with compound sentences from time to time. A string of simple sentences will sound choppy. I know such a string is easy to follow. Your reader will progress quickly through your paragraphs. He’ll progress quickly until you lull him to sleep. (See what I’m doing here? How choppy, how boring was this paragraph without a variety of sentence structure? Even us Hemingways can be bothered to use conjunctions and semicolons, and a dependent clause here or there. These things make a major difference in how readable your prose is.)
- Make sure your themes, arguments, and the overall development of your work shows that your thought processes aren’t simple in the way your style is. In other words, make sure your content is quality. (That goes for everyone, of course, regardless of style.) If you’re a Hemingway, make clear by the intelligence of your arguments and the solidity of your structure that you know what you’re talking about. Show that your preference for conciseness and clarity doesn’t mean you’re incapable of structuring longer, more complex sentences. You just like short ones.
Some people might think that just because your sentences are simple, your plot or your argument is one-dimensional and undeveloped. They might predispose themselves to judge your characters one-sided. Your job is to make sure that isn’t true, and to give all the evidence you can to the contrary.
So, what do you think? As a reader, what aspects of a Hemingway-esque style have annoyed you in the past? What aspects of it do you like?
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