Prose Style

Specifics about craft, talent, technique, etc.
liz
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Prose Style

Postby liz » Sat Jan 23, 2016 9:56 am

Hi all! I've been gone from the board for a couple of months thanks to an unexpected surgery. Everything's fine now, but needless to say I haven't done much writing! Nano went out the window, revisions on my novel dropped to a pleasant pace of 0.0% per day, and I didn't submit to WotF or anybody else. I missed the great discussion going on here as well, but I look forward to getting back in the swing of things wotf008

I've been thinking lately about prose and style. The style of prose in a short story is often quite different from that of a novel, both because it's a different form but also, in some ways I think, out of necessity. Many narrative styles that one might commonly find in a novel simply say too much to work very well in terms of brevity. Things roll out more slowly, there's more time for character development and world building and I think that the style of writing often reflects that (?). Short stories, on the other hand, can sometimes seem to give just as much information but in a different way. Or maybe its that they give less, but manage to leave just as coherent a visual/emotional picture in the readers mind, without any holes). I remember reading a story a few months ago by someone on this board, I *think* it was Stewart and I *think* it was in Baen's? It's been such a hectic couple of months I can't even remember what it was about, lol, but the sheer awesomeness of the style, both in terms of prose and also layout/punctuation etc. was just so effective and impactful. It didn't read like a novel, as well it shouldn't, and it worked. There's other great examples from people on this board and out in the world at large, and they reflect so much variety in story telling styles!

There seems to be a lot more variety in style in short stories compared to novels, or maybe that's just me. What do you guys think? Do you feel different when you write a short story compared to a novel? Do you have more than one style for either? What do you think works really well in one but not in the other?

I'm trying to figure out why my short stories never seem to go anywhere lol. I've only got one that's been consistently short listed, and while it reads waayy different than my novels, it was pretty uncomfortable to write because it doesn't feel like 'my' style. On the other hand, nothing that was comfortable to write has ever met any luck. Maybe that's saying something right there wotf011

Thoughts? Insights? Ideas?
Much appreciated!

kentagions
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Re: Prose Style

Postby kentagions » Sat Jan 23, 2016 4:52 pm

Hi Liz,
When I think prose style, words like rambling, purple and erotic come to mind. After reading your post a couple of times, I rather think that you are seeing a dichotomy between the relative compactness of your short stories and novels, which is exposition.

I will humbly submit that there should be no difference. Exposition is definitely part of style. It's the part that separates the beginners like me from those who profit from their craft. It is the show rather than tell of imparting information to the reader. Better versed people can help with exercises.

I think that there should be no difference because I see storytelling as a single craft. To me, a story is short because it can be told more briefly. A longer story has more characters, more settings, requires more complex plotting, etc., which requires it to be longer, but exposition remains the same as a shorter story.

Kent

liz
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Re: Prose Style

Postby liz » Sat Jan 23, 2016 9:23 pm

That's an interesting perspective Kent, thank you! I think you may be right that what I'm hitting is more exposition than 'style,' so thanks for clarifying the topic! For me at least, there's a definite qualitative difference in how a short story is told vs a novel. They 'read' differently, they 'feel' different, and it goes beyond simple length or how many details there are. I'm just trying to untangle where that difference comes from. It's hard to pin down! Although after doing some reading today I'm starting to suspect voice as the culprit, especially how close or distant a third person narration, for example, is played out. Not sure yet ;)

What do you think? If it's not style or exposition, what creates those qualitative differences? Or do you find them at all? Maybe it's just me lol ;)

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Dustin Adams
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Re: Prose Style

Postby Dustin Adams » Sun Jan 24, 2016 3:17 am

Liz,

I hear you.

I've been doing the short story thing pretty solid for the past few years. Whenever I dip back into my novel(s) I find them much slower, and lumbering. Like, "why did I just need an entire page to move the characters across the room?"

I throw in more character thoughts and little backstories in the novel as well. In the shorts, I move things along. Action vs. introspection, I suppose. I also tend to write shorter sentences in the shorts, where novel sentences can be longer.

Maybe that's not style, but storytelling? I don't think I'd want to read a whole novel of mine written in the same style as my short stories. I may not be able to describe it here, but I feel it when I'm reading it.

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amoskalik
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Re: Prose Style

Postby amoskalik » Sun Jan 24, 2016 6:54 am

We should look at this from the point of view of the reader. When I sit down to read a novel, I am willing to go off on tangents and explore a world at a leisurely pace. I'm reading The Da Vinci Code right now (yes, I really am that far behind on my reading wotf004) and while the writing itself is mediocre (lots of head hopping, and plot holes) I find myself turning the pages and enjoying the experience anyway. I do not mind it when Dan Brown goes off on five pages of backstory or (semi)historical theory. In general, I enjoy reading "educational" passages in my novels.

In short stories, however, time is compressed for the reader, so if it takes a few minutes to read a passage, it feels a lot longer. There had better be a payoff at the end of each passage or I will begin to feel like reading the story is a chore and rapidly lose interest.

It's like the difference between walking in the woods where a two or three mile hike doesn't feel like much or walking through a crowded marketplace where even a hundred yards feels like an eternity. There is a time and place for both types of walks, but our expectations are very different for both.
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liz
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Re: Prose Style

Postby liz » Sun Jan 24, 2016 11:22 am

Lol don't worry Aaron, I haven't read DaVinci Code yet either ;)

Some good thoughts, guys. I hadn't really thought about it at the level of sentence length, I'll have to go through a few today and make some comparisons. It does look more like storytelling than style--choosing what to include, why to include it, crafting a coherent narrative in the space available--these are all elements of storytelling and exposition.

I think this idea of two different walks for two different purposes is interesting as well. Maybe part of the difference in how a short feels over a novel is related to how we train ourselves as readers and how that, in turn, affects writers (who are also, generally, readers).

When we go to read a short story we have a certain set of expectations that might different from those we have for a novel, and thus our minds are primed for one kind of experience over another. This might affect the amount of 'patience' we have for tangents, etc. So the context affects how we read and experience, which affects how much we get out of it, which in turn may shape the direction a writer takes in some sense. Which brings culture and language and socially-constructed paradigms into question as well but maybe that's for another day ;)

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orbivillein
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Re: Prose Style

Postby orbivillein » Sun Jan 24, 2016 6:56 pm

Scope and magnitude are differences between short and long prose. A short story is best advised of limited scope, magnitude too somewhat. Scope is a matter of number of events, settings, and characters and conflicts and such. Short prose limits them because each requires development that soon could overwhelm word count limitations and miss needed story movement and satisfaction. Plot, too, a limited scope. Many short stories depict what amounts to a single, final act.

Edgar Allen Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" is a classic one-act short fiction in three parts and a limited number of events, settings, characters, and conflicts. Arguably, the story is one event, three settings, two actors, and one conflict.

In other words, focused.

Magnitude is more subjective though speaks to tension's empathy-sympathy and curiosity arousal and audience appeal. How appealing "The Cask" is is subjective. Anyone slighted by a rival could care about the story, its settings, characters, and event. The magnitude of the story doesn't become apparent until the end, though is cued throughout, actually, a story that appeals again and again from Poe's techniques and the re-realization time and again of the story's emotional charge.

Long fiction allows more leisure to develop emotional charge, scope, and magnitude, more events, though a single event action of congruent human condition conflict and surface conflict, more settings in which to develop events, and more characters to develop events and settings and conflict. However, long fiction no less than short needs focus and segmentation. Ideally, a long fiction is an assembly of short fiction segments, at least features of short fiction: limited events, settings, characters, conflicts, scope, emotional charge, and magnitude though that build upon what came before.

Less matters of style mannerisms, more matters of content and organization craft distinguish short from long fiction. The organization flow generally is from a destablilzed state of affairs to a less stable state through efforts to stabilize and to a stable state and consequently, unstable to stable emotional charge. Content organization that manages that equilibrium movement is paramount regardless of voice mannerism, i.e., told or shown emphases, first or third person, overt or covert narrator, detached, open, or close distance, and so on.

Time flow management is another area of difference between long and short prose. Narrative time and story time can be identical, one expanded, one contracted.

Short prose can feel as leisurely as long fiction, though establishes time's flow rate by briefer markers. Narrative time is time elapsed reading a story, about fifteen minutes average for a two-thousand-word story, varies though, by reader and story. Some short stories can feel like a longer span has passed than its elapsed reading time, in masterful hands, though only fifteen minutes elapsed. Or a writing method could make those fifteen minutes seem like an eternity of tedium.

Story time elapsed for a short story could depict one instant in time to all eternity and no less be enjoyable.

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Re: Prose Style

Postby amoskalik » Mon Jan 25, 2016 7:05 am

From a reader's point a view, a short story requires more effort. To use another metaphor, reading a story is flying an airplane. The tricky bits are takeoff and landing. Whether you are reading a novel or a flash piece, you need to take off and land exactly once. The difference is the length of the runway.

As writers, we build that runway and the plane that goes with it. If we do this well, readers can takeoff and land smoothly, but it is still up to the reader to put in the effort, and because of the shorter runway, this is harder with shorter pieces. This is why, in my opinion, short fiction is less popular (but not less rewarding) than long fiction.
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kentagions
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Re: Prose Style

Postby kentagions » Mon Jan 25, 2016 9:23 pm

I'd like to stick to my guns on this one.

Exposition is the measured release of information to the reader. How, when and how much are the points of craft that I'm personally attempting to master. How much, as a point of craft, might be pretending to a throne it doesn't occupy in the kingdom of novel vs short.

Characterization happens now. No good author allows the reader to guess at characterization. Draco Malfoy is exactly who we think he is from his first line of dialog in ...Sorcerer's Stone. Any kid can tell you his personality type, and can tell you that we're not supposed to like him. But does anyone know his hand dominance? The exposition of a major character has been carefully meted out. The writer holds back minutia so readers can exercise their imaginations.

Plot happens now. Novel or short, we always know what the POV character is doing and where he is going. In the novel, there is a reason that shopping takes a chapter. Harry is shopping, but the sub-plots are planted; a theft at Gringots, Harry is famous, wands are significant. Fewer plot lines in a short require fewer chapters, if any. The exposition of plot is immediate to the needs of the story.

Setting happens always. Setting is significant, so each scene grounds the reader in setting. Exposition of scene gives us enough detail to imagine the rest. One reader imagines the Black Forest, another imagines Sequoia National Park at night, but Rowling doesn't tell us what type of trees we're passing in the Forbidden Forest.

Read Burning Chrome and then read Neuromancer. I don't see a significant difference in style or exposition, yet one is a short and the other is a novel. Every author has their own nuances of exposition, and I think that it is the most significant difference between pros and me. Unfortunately, I believe that pros do it so well that most of them don't understand what they're doing. Fewer still can say why they choose to hide certain things and expose others.

Obviously, I don't yet know where to stop... wotf011
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orbivillein
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Re: Prose Style

Postby orbivillein » Tue Jan 26, 2016 9:31 pm

What's with this beast "exposition"? I cannot understand what its different uses are in this discussion. Seems to be narrator narration as opposed to dialogue presentation, for one.

The customary use and label across much of contemporary creative writing discussion is summary, explanation, and information reports, backstory too, block dumps of dry-dull detail, "tell," in other words -- expository writing, too, as opposed to description, argumentation, and narration, the latter a creative writing mode.

Wikipedia repeats the expository function and another term that holds promise for how information can be more artfully exposited: incluing. Oxford, expository function also. Webster's says something else entirely.

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Dustin Adams
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Re: Prose Style

Postby Dustin Adams » Wed Jan 27, 2016 2:51 am

amoskalik wrote:
In short stories, however, time is compressed for the reader, so if it takes a few minutes to read a passage, it feels a lot longer. There had better be a payoff at the end of each passage or I will begin to feel like reading the story is a chore and rapidly lose interest.


I like this.

In my latest entry, I had two solid paragraphs of backstory. I stared and stared at them knowing I had to get them down to one. Both were important, both had to stay, but one had to go. Why? Because upon re-read, that section felt long. Seriously... two paragraphs.

I'm reading City of Bones at the moment, and while Connolly doesn't go off on tangents, there are plenty of two or more paragraph sections of backstory or introspection. They're great. Gets me into the head and heart of the character. I'm OK with them. I might even be OK with them in a short story. But...

Short story length: 4000 words vs 10000 words vs 17000.

Whenever my wife reads/crits one of my stories she says I'm missing character. Whether it's a physical description, or their motivations, etc. I want to say that because the story is short there's no time because look into the sky! Alien ship!

But it can be done. Has been done, and done well.
So I have no excuses. I must learn this.

Which brings me back to the original post. Prose style in a short story might either A. omit paragraphs or passages of character info or backstory, or B. Find a way to seamlessly blend them in. Perhaps either through setting or action. (As in, setting is character, and a character is what they do, etc.) Whereas a novel can separate backstory into a telling type paragraph or section, a short story has to do it on the move.
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amoskalik
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Re: Prose Style

Postby amoskalik » Wed Jan 27, 2016 3:28 am

I think another thing to consider between novels and short stories is pacing. Long backstory or other types of explanatory passages serve a purpose in a novel by slowing the pace and preserving dynamic range in tension. We want the climax to be the most tense portion of the story so the buildup must be slowed a times or the reader will burn out.

In a short story such passages kill all momentum without any chance of recovery.
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kentagions
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Re: Prose Style

Postby kentagions » Wed Jan 27, 2016 8:39 am

Dustin wrote
Whereas a novel can separate backstory into a telling type paragraph or section, a short story has to do it on the move.


I'll agree to this. I would personally place a lot of emphasis on "can."

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orbivillein
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Re: Prose Style

Postby orbivillein » Wed Jan 27, 2016 9:55 am

amoskalik wrote:I think another thing to consider between novels and short stories is pacing. Long backstory or other types of explanatory passages serve a purpose in a novel by slowing the pace and preserving dynamic range in tension. We want the climax to be the most tense portion of the story so the buildup must be slowed a times or the reader will burn out.

In a short story such passages kill all momentum without any chance of recovery.

A climax for me, when all is said and done, is a tension relief. Buildup to a climax's tension development and relief is through doubt about an outcome, from what's known before keeps outcome in suspense, curiosity, and emotional charge, sympathy-empathy foremost.

A backstory or explanation, etc., intervening between a tension setup and a tension relief, an intermediate moment or an overall climax, can, in masterful hands, artfully delay tension relief.

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Re: Prose Style

Postby liz » Wed Feb 03, 2016 10:42 pm

I think it does have a lot to do with pacing and tension both. As a reader, I find myself on the outside of short stories more often, sort of watching it unfold as an observer rather than feeling like a 'part' of the story, or like I'm experiencing it through the character's eyes. Perhaps my personal reading style just needs the time, pacing and unfolding tension of a novel to be able to settle in and have that experiential read.

Although, I really don't feel like anything is lacking if I read a short story from a more observational stance. It's a different kind of experience and one that can be just as impactful in it's own way. It's just interesting that it's usually short stories vs. novels, at least for me as a reader. Not that it can't go the other way, and it has, but as a generalization.

I would say it's just a matter of time--15 minutes isn't a lot to get up close and personal with your characters--but I've certainly read any number of novels where I felt that involvement before the end of a first chapter, which isn't much longer than a short.

Writing is an interesting process. So's reading. wotf011

amoskalik
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Re: Prose Style

Postby amoskalik » Thu Feb 04, 2016 5:49 am

liz wrote:I would say it's just a matter of time--15 minutes isn't a lot to get up close and personal with your characters--but I've certainly read any number of novels where I felt that involvement before the end of a first chapter, which isn't much longer than a short.


15 minutes is enough time to connect with the characters, but to create that connection AND tell a complete story in that time takes a bit more talent than I've managed to muster as yet. A worthy endeavor, however.
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liz
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Re: Prose Style

Postby liz » Thu Feb 04, 2016 10:07 am

amoskalik wrote:15 minutes is enough time to connect with the characters, but to create that connection AND tell a complete story in that time takes a bit more talent than I've managed to muster as yet. A worthy endeavor, however.


Very good point! And, me too.


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