Today we wrap up our four day exploration of the benefits and drawbacks of your personal style, whether you prefer plain, clear sentences or write in a more baroque manner.
In particular, today’s the day to discuss the inherent dangers of having lots of detail and embellishment in your prose.
If Faulkner is your role model and inspiration as a writer, you couldn’t aspire to better company. Just remember:
- Big emotions don’t have to come from big words. Hemingway once said, “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.” Big words aren’t a problem, and you can certainly use them when they’re the words that come naturally to mind, and they feel appropriate in context, rather than pedantic or superior. But don’t make the mistake of thinking big words are the only way to describe or imply big emotions. (Thanks to the person who directed me to this quote in a comment on a previous post. I couldn’t find the comment again to name you!)
- Don’t say too much. If we Hemingways have a tendency not to say enough, you Faulkners can err on the opposite extreme. No writer ever needs to say more than is necessary. There’s a definite difference between a long, lengthy description of an important character or a major setting, and a word vomit. That difference means boring and alienating your reader. Too much description throws off your pacing and kills reader interest. There’s a limit to how much downtime people will accept before they really need something to happen or need you to make your point.
- Complexity and a bulk of description don’t have to mean “difficult to follow.” In fact, unless you intend your writing to be lofty and difficult to understand in order to make a specific point, no matter how complex your structure is, your points should be easy to follow. You will only frustrate readers if they have to return time and again to the start of a paragraph in order to decipher what you’re saying, or which character is doing what.
- Make sure you don’t come off as pretentious. This is a serious danger if you’re trying to force length, big words, and complex structure into your writing when that’s not natural for you. You can’t turn yourself into a Faulkner if you’re not one, and you shouldn’t try. You don’t need to. You can accomplish all you need to with your writing by embracing your personal style.
So, what do you think of baroque writing? Do you ooh and ahh over the beauty of such style, or do you prefer things to be simpler? What do you love and loathe about Faulkner and similar writers?
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