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How fancy should ones writing be? (and everyone sucks somehow):

The Wordnomnom
Im concerned about this idea that writing should or shouldnt be fancy or long-winded. Its just a part of a trend that continues to upset me, but I think maybe this time their is some happy medium to reach.

I was recently reading some advice for new authors from some guy (I forget who, because I found him pompous ((OH NO! BIG WORD!)) and a bit hypocritical) and he said that you shouldnt use more complex words than needed, or write things in a longer manner than needed.

Taken as an ironclad statement with no room to wiggle about, it means that the often quoted "Brevity is the soul of wit" is a bad phrase. "Soul" of wit? What Purple Prose nonsense is this? "Brevity is wit" is much better. But "brevity" is still one of those fancy-words we dont want.

"Short is witty" AHA! Now thats true literary opus material right'thar that is. Wonder who the hack was who wrote that origional bit of dribble (im joking)?

The author of that advice bit himself used "contemporary" at another point rather than "current" so he apparently couldnt follow his own advice, which was very clear (and repetitive) about NEVER going beyond the baseline level of complexity in diction and whatnot.

And I could go around writing at a 3rd grade level only if I wanted. I could avoid using words like "lugubrious" or "scintillating" but someone invented these words for a reason, did they not?

So from caveman speak to the Eye of Argon where should writers fall?

Everything below this is just me complaining about how Tvtropes and people in general act towards writing.

That lazy hack Shakespear and how his characters go off saying what emotion they are feeling! Everyone knows its a mortal sin to have a character announce That Makes Me Feel Angry when you could give context clues. After all real people never bother stating any emotions, do they? So characters stating emotions would be unrealistic.

And those damn Mary Sues. Because every character ever written with interesting eye-color, a complex backstory, great power, or a key role in the plot is either a Mary Sue or a Villain Sue of some sort. And if they arnt cool then they MUST be an Anti-Aue. Look at that one bloke, Harry Potter. THE WHOLE PLOT REVOLVES AROUND HIM! What a Marty Stu. He even has some story-breaking power that lets him survive a death spell or whatever. And that one guy with like every super-power ever...Superman...yeah him! The plot of his world always ends up involving him too. And he has a whole buttload of powers!

And I cant stress too much the whole Sue-Eyes thing. Kaleidoscope Eyes are just soooooooo stupid because in real life people eyes always look exactly the same under every lighting condition...right? And OF COURSE no established creator of any sort would ever just use crazy red or silver or mismatched or robotic eyes for a major character.

And whats with people in fiction having sex for no reason? Real people never have sex unless huge amount of dramatic buildup occurs (I dont even feel like adding the link this time).

And that brings me to that Homer fellow and this 'Odyssey' thing. Bad stuff happens out of nowhere because some god is upset.And the main character gets all raped at random by some ocean-spirit. Bah! Gratuity and rape (because again, "real rape" always happens after a dramatic build-up) and then, worst of all, at the very end a god solves some problems. In fact, that god keeps helping him along the way. Every few books its another Deus ex Machina.

And yes, I am getting all apoplectic and over-the-top here, but this treatment some situations and tropes get as if they were univerally bad (we even have an index for some of these) bothers me.

edited 21st Sep '12 6:02:29 PM by Stormthorn

While the breath's in his mouth, he must bear without fail, / In the Name of the Empress, the Overland Mail.
 2 Wheezy, Fri, 21st Sep '12 6:16:12 PM from Tampa, FL. Again.
(That Guy You Met Once)
'K.
 3 Collen, Fri, 21st Sep '12 6:25:40 PM from it is a mystery
vilent waler
You do understand that Deus ex Machina is practically tradition in ancient Greek stories, right?

 4 Wolf 1066, Sat, 22nd Sep '12 2:17:28 AM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
[up]I gather that was the point.
Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 5 Loni Jay, Sat, 22nd Sep '12 2:30:27 AM from Australia Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
I think you're misunderstanding what people mean by 'don't use more complex words than you need'. The key bit is need. If there's a big or unusual word that exactly conveys the idea you want, use it. It's better than a short one that doesn't mean what you want.

What is looked down upon is using long words and fancy phrasings just because they're long and fancy, when they don't accurately say what you want or provide an artistically pleasing whole.
Be not afraid...
 6 Dark Soldier, Sat, 22nd Sep '12 2:59:16 AM from Delta, BC, Canada Relationship Status: What is this thing you call love?
If you're writing in first-person or third-person limited, it's a good idea to limit your vocabulary to what the viewpoint character would reasonably have. A farmboy won't be using "lugubrious" or "scintillating" as adjectives.
 7 Major Tom, Sat, 22nd Sep '12 8:10:34 AM Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
All I can say to this guy's "advice"...

Cool story bro.

edited 22nd Sep '12 8:10:55 AM by MajorTom

"Allah may guide their bullets, but Jesus helps those who aim down the sights."
 8 JHM, Sat, 22nd Sep '12 1:30:04 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
I think you're misunderstanding what people mean by 'don't use more complex words than you need'. The key bit is need. If there's a big or unusual word that exactly conveys the idea you want, use it. It's better than a short one that doesn't mean what you want.

What is looked down upon is using long words and fancy phrasings just because they're long and fancy, when they don't accurately say what you want or provide an artistically pleasing whole.

This. Also, this:

If you're writing in first-person or third-person limited, it's a good idea to limit your vocabulary to what the viewpoint character would reasonably have. A farmboy won't be using "lugubrious" or "scintillating" as adjectives.

...and, in response to that whole "brevity is the soul of wit" thing, this:

Cool story bro.

Know what you mean before you say it, and make sure that it's clear before you say it.

edited 22nd Sep '12 1:30:57 PM by JHM

Rainbows hurt.
TL;DR

No, I'm kidding. I get what the OP's trying to say, and I half-agree with some of it.
(屮≖益≖)屮 彡 ┻━┻ F*ck yo' table; Go read my book! —> http://goo.gl/mtXkm
 10 Night, Sat, 22nd Sep '12 7:49:32 PM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
[up]Perhaps you could explain it better than them?
"Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other...and rise."
Dapper Gentleman
H'm. While the dregs of logic may be found somewhere within this chaotic ramble, I get the strong impression that it's more trolling than anything else. The laserlike precision with which the author singles out universally acclaimed works and says how much they "SUUUCK" seems highly suspicious to me. I mean, calling Shakespeare a hack? One gets the sense that this has nothing to do with Bill's actual works and more to do with deliberate provocation. I'm not thoroughly certain it's worthy of the well-thought-out responses you're giving it...
"And every life is a special story of its own." —The Stargazer, Mass Effect 3
 12 nrjxll, Sat, 22nd Sep '12 8:13:13 PM Relationship Status: Not war
[up]That's completely the opposite of how I interpreted it - the point seems to be that because Shakespeare and Homer and other miscellaneous well-known authors used these "bad" story devices, maybe they aren't so bad after all.

 13 Wolf 1066, Sat, 22nd Sep '12 8:18:43 PM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
Agreed. The whole post smacked of Sarcasm Mode.
Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 14 Rem, Sat, 22nd Sep '12 10:14:07 PM Relationship Status: watch?v=dQw4w9WgXcQ
[up][up][up]-Possibly. It's hard to tell the difference between when someone is serious about what they're saying or just a slightly experienced troll who knows what subtlety means, and since the OP is plausibly what someone is thinking, we can't really be sure.
Fire, air, water, earth...legend has it that when these four elements are gathered, they will form the fifth element...boron.
 15 JHM, Sat, 22nd Sep '12 10:50:46 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up][up][up] And it fails on that very point. Particularly in the assertion that "brevity" is somehow a "big word." Failing to understand how different ancient Greek drama and modern Anglophone literature are in terms of expectations is also problematic.
 16 Dec, Sun, 23rd Sep '12 6:35:16 AM from The Dance Floor
Stayin' Alive
@OP: I think you're talking about Steven King. Or maybe not — he isn't exactly the only one saying simpler writing is better.

But yeah, I kindasorta get where you're coming from. I'm currently running headlong into one of the problems with that advice. I've gotten good enough that I can spot words that can be cut, but can't always tell if I should cut them. It makes the writing smoother, but it can also completely fuck up the pacing if you don't know what you're doing.

edited 23rd Sep '12 6:35:57 AM by Dec

Nemo enim fere saltat sobrius, nisi forte insanit
Deviantart.
 17 cityofmist, Sun, 23rd Sep '12 11:09:11 AM from Meanwhile City
turning and turning
Saying 'how fancy should your writing be' is akin to saying 'how long should your story be' or 'how many characters should you have'. Anything you write should be exactly as long, have as many characters, and be as fancily written as it needs to be/have to express whatever it is that you're trying to express in that particular story.
Scepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom.
- Clarence Darrow
Ecce Homo Superior
[up]Preach it.
(it's David Bowie)
 19 Dr Starky, Sun, 23rd Sep '12 11:40:54 AM from Corn And Pig Land Relationship Status: Staying up all night to get lucky
Okay Guy
I think the OP is attacking a strawman.
Put me in motion, drink the potion, use the lotion, drain the ocean, cause commotion, fake devotion, entertain a notion, be Nova Scotian
Ecce Homo Superior
[up]I think you are right.
(it's David Bowie)
 21 JHM, Sun, 23rd Sep '12 12:56:33 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Dapper Gentleman
Upon a rereading, I concur. My apologies for drawing the wrong conclusion, but the original post is...rather unconventionally phrased, to put it mildly. So, yes, the OP is essentially saying that Tropes Are Not Bad and that one shouldn't judge a work by a single, narrow contemporary standard.

Despite this being a bit more understandable, it doesn't change the fact that the post is still rather something of a Big Lipped Alligator Moment...but kudos to you lot for taking it seriously nonetheless!

edited 23rd Sep '12 1:09:51 PM by BrotherMycroft

"And every life is a special story of its own." —The Stargazer, Mass Effect 3
'Taken as an ironclad statement with no wiggle room' - You can reduce any advice to absurdity by taking it as an unwavering rule.

The comments I'd make on style are what people have already said. You should write to the level of complexity that fits your story and your audience. A fantasy story for third graders will be written differently than the same story as a young adult novel. A story with a viewpoint character of a noble will be different from a story with a viewpoint character of Marty McFly, 80's Teen.

I'd assume that the advice given was for people who don't have much experience with writing and who think that to make their writing better, they need to make it more eloquent. But the basis of writing is conveying ideas, and if your ideas get tangled up in your language, you're failing on a fundamental level. So if the choice is between muddled ideas and 'fancy' style or clear ideas and barebones style, the latter is preferable. (Clear ideas and a perfectly suited style would be best, though.)

In response to your rant:
  • When characters talk about their emotions in Shakespeare, they do it in metaphor and verse, adding both to the imagery and to their characterization. This works because the plays are generally in a melodramatic sort of style. It does not work as well outside of this style, and would not work as well if it didn't have the metaphor and literary content that it does. It also works because Shakespeare is much better than you are at writing.
  • People can dislike characters that are given 'cool' traits that are supposed to make them likeable without being likable characters or having a good reason for having them. It can be dull, unnecessary, or worse, show an undue focus on physical traits of characters, when it's a character's character traits that are important.
  • Characters with powers have to be shown as fully fleshed out characters, or they'll be criticized for being simplistic. A character can't be defined by a special ability they have; they have to be a person first, and someone with a special ability second. You can even have someone who's technically invulnerable like Superman, but then the conflicts he faces are going to be more cerebral than physical. If the only challenges Supes has are physical, then it's boring and the story is underdeveloped.
  • Stopping the plot for an unimportant scene of any nature is silly and that applies to sex scenes too. If it doesn't serve the narrative somehow, it shouldn't be in there. (Be careful about reducing this to absurdity too—atmosphere, setting and imagery are important to the narrative; wholly irrelevant scenes are not.)
  • Odyssey gets to use its deus ex machinae for a couple of reasons. For the first part, the Greek gods are their own characters, and they don't just cause good things for one side. Second, some of the themes of the Odyssey are about specifically the relationship between men and gods, and what the gods do for men. You could even claim that for the most part, since the gods are defined as characters throughout the book, that there aren't really deus ex machinae because the gods are never wholly external to the human characters.

Some things aren't necessarily bad in concept, but are difficult enough to do properly that unless you're very sure of what you're doing, you shouldn't be trying to use them.

edited 23rd Sep '12 4:18:35 PM by Kotep

 24 nrjxll, Sun, 23rd Sep '12 4:26:09 PM Relationship Status: Not war
Honestly, I think it's simpler that all that: the most basic answer to "But Shakespeare did it" is "And are you Shakespeare?" That something can be done well does not mean it's easily or usually done well.

You could even claim that for the most part, since the gods are defined as characters throughout the book, that there aren't really deus ex machinae because the gods are never wholly external to the human characters.

That's an interesting way of thinking about, but I think it's a bit simplistic.

edited 23rd Sep '12 4:27:19 PM by nrjxll

 25 JHM, Sun, 23rd Sep '12 4:39:19 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Total posts: 31
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