Authors, Bloggers: The Pitfalls of a Baroque, Faulkner-esque Style

As Cogsworth's father always said, "If it ain't baroque, don't fix it."

As Cogsworth’s father always said, “If it ain’t baroque, don’t fix it.”

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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20 responses to “Authors, Bloggers: The Pitfalls of a Baroque, Faulkner-esque Style

  1. Thinking about it, this style isn’t used as much in YA than more Hemingway tendencies, at least in my experience.

    I think it’s because a story’s style is usually influenced by the narrator, and most teens tend to keep a more informal style than adults, although there some that do.

    • I agree with you here! Baroque style is more fitting for writers of literary fiction. That’s where you’ll most often find it. It’s not very common in YA in my experience either. Love what you say about the characters influencing the style of the narration…. That’s so very true!

      • I wrote a YA novel in a more Baroque style, so it is entirely possible. But I agree that the narrator is the key. My narrator (1st person) is a seventeen years old girl who is too bright for her own good, so the style suits her. I am currently writing a very shallow girl, which is murder for me. I naturally write Baroque, but my narrator has a simpler voice. So tricky!

        Of course YA and literary fiction do not preclude one another. There’s always literary YA 🙂

  2. I don’t think there’s any way to avoid the pretentious title at times. It could very well come with the Faulkner style. I’ve had a lot of my friends read my work and say ‘you sound pretentious’. Then I ask how the detail of the world and characters were and they gush about how amazing it was. I’ve wondered if some people simply jump to that word because a writer uses a wide vocabulary and long words. So, for the Faulkner style a deep description that grabs readers (at least in fantasy) might be the trade-off for sounding pretentious.

    • Thanks for your input, Charles. I think you may be right: some people might judge the style pretentious simply based upon what makes it the style. Such a style definitely has benefits to balance that, though, like you point out.

      that’s a great analysis coming from someone with a baroque style! Thanks for providing some insight I never could, since I don’t write that way.

      (I will be emailing you my guest post later this morning, fyi)

      • Thanks. Another thing that I’ve noticed brings in the pretentious title is not using contractions. I always feel strange using them in my descriptive narratives or when I have a noble talking. It seems to drive some readers nuts for some reason.

        • I’ll use basic contractions in dialogue for nobles, though it makes sense to me you wouldn’t. For sure. I also decide to use them in narration to some extent–when I feel the flow feel stilted without them–but that’s a personal choice of mine. I prefer it, personally, but I can see why others wouldn’t. I don’t mind when contractions don’t appear in narration. That choice is one I can understand, even if I don’t make it myself.

          It all comes down to what the writer feels fits and is appropriate for his or her story. After all, no one can please everyone 🙂

        • Exactly. The inner voice is a big factor too. Mine is rather serious and calm, so it doesn’t sound right doing narratives with contractions. Dialogue for non-noble characters are entirely different. I’m bad at writing accents, so the contraction usage is the only thing I can think of to work different speech patterns.

  3. You and Charles make a great point about the natural ‘pretentiousness’ of this type of writing. It’s not for everyone. or even welcome at all times by those who do prefer it. Some days, we just want to pass on the five-course dinner and eat a Twinkie.

    As for my own tastes, I usually enjoy a style that sprinkles a little bit of baroque on top of economy.

    All this talk of food and taste, I must be hungry…

  4. I once read a book where the author took a full page and a half to describe a Greek column at the entrance to a building in great detail. I didn’t know there were that many words available for this purpose! The funny thing is that the column had nothing whatsoever to do with the story. The guy was entering a government building, that’s all.
    The rest of the story was great!

  5. Victoria, I like how clearly you describe the differences between a plain style and baroque style. I think another key issue with both styles, and Hemingway and Faulkner in particular, is that those two authors knew exactly what they were doing and why. Writers who aspire to imitate them don’t often have that insight. As you say, it’s better that we find our own personal style. Great post!

  6. Thank you so much. Your posts certainly make me take a step back and analyze my own writing style. Please keep it up.


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

  8. Pingback: Voice | 10 Minutes of Words

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