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Arash
July 3rd, 2007, 09:52 PM
There are things that can be easily learned from others. Such as rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation and so on(Not that I have learned them all :D ). But when it comes to writing nice, elegant prose that flows without bumps and awkward breaks, there doesn't seem to be much of a rulebook. Or at least I haven't found any.

This, to the best of my knowledge is learned by reading and writing voluminously. But I'm still hoping that there are guidelines and methods to consciously make one aware of ways to improve prose.

Does anyone have any sources or tips they can give me? Any help would be appreciated.

hippokrene
July 3rd, 2007, 11:07 PM
Difficult question.


Nice
Elegant
Flows
No bumps or awkward breaks


A basic step would be to use Latinate words and longer sentences. Something like:
It was cold and damp there even in summer, under its vaulted ceiling beside the circular pool of endlessly deep, dark water. But it was hardly worse in winter, and it had the supreme advantage of being forbidden, so we could slip down to it with delicious stealth when we were assumed to be elsewhere, and not kindle our torches until we had crossed the barred hatch behind us. Then, when the flames shot up from the burning pitch, how our shadows danced up those clammy walls!

Of course, this type of prose is languid by design. If you want to "kick it up a notch" you'd want to create shorter, bumpy sentences.

Arinth
July 4th, 2007, 12:24 AM
while it may be a challenge to write an elegant sentence, it can be an even bigger challenge to write one and not be too wordy, or ramble on too much. If the sentences are too long the reader may begin to lose focus

James Carmack
July 4th, 2007, 12:50 AM
You can't be taught elegant prose. There are no tricks to it, no hidden scrolls with the secrets spelled out for you. You can observe the prose you deem to be elegant, you can practice and you can have your work critiqued by those with an eye for it. That's about it. You can work at it, sure, but in the end, you've either got the gift or you don't.

Nice as it is to have, elegant prose isn't necessary for good writing. First, focus on being able to make readable prose. This largely can be done by learning the rules of the language and following them. Matters of style come in later. You can be perfectly respectable as a minimalist, every bit as much as the crafter of gorgeous, lyric prose. Develop a style that's true to you, that's a proper vehicle for the story you're trying to tell. You can worry about the finer points of style later.

Dawnstorm
July 4th, 2007, 05:49 AM
A) Bunnies came through the gate.
B) Through the gate bunnies came.
C) Through the gate came bunnies.
D) And through the gate came bunnies.

A') Bunnies poured through the gate.
B') Through the gate bunnies poured.
C') Through the gate poured bunnies.
D') And through the gate poured bunnies.

My favourite sentences are D) and A').

1. Why D) and not C)?

There's a nice rhythmic regularity added to the first part of the sentence by the "and". I like that.

2. Why D) and not D')?

Similar sounding vowels tend to make connections within the sentence. I tend to prefer the "....gate --> came..." to "...through -...-> poured. It helps me make the connection of "gate" and "bunnies".

3. Why A') and not A)?

Similarly to two, I prefer the "poured through" sound to the "came through" sound. But additionally, it gets rid of the "came"/"gate" connection, which places undue emphasis on "came". In this sentence, the only "light" sound is "gate", which places a special emphasis on the word. This is nice, since the other main word (bunnies) is right at the beginning, some time ago. [The verb isn't all that important in this sentence; the key ingredients are "bunnies", "gate" and "through". Take this variant: "Bunnies through the gate!" The preposition already indicates the movement.]

***

So to summarise:

1. Identify the Key-words.

You may have heard about the primacy of nouns and verbs in composition. Forget that. The sentence above (all versions), IMO, hinges on noun + preposition.

Other examples:

"We have to move quickly now!" (Key word "quickly". A short form could be: "Quick!")

"Are you hungry yet?" (Key word "Hungry", short form: "Hungry?")

"There's an elephant in the road!" (Key words: "elephant", "in", "road")

"Don't disturb me, I'm writing." (Key words: "not", "distrub", "write")

Key words often depend on context. For example, if being "hungry" is the topic of the paragraph, "you" may very well be the key word of "Are you hungry yet?" You'd probably italicise the "you", in that case.

2. Construct your sentence about the key words you identified.

A few possibilities:

- Place your keywords in prominent positions in your text (beginning and end of sentences, at rhythmic focal points [In: "And through the gate came bunnies." the transition from gate to came is a rhythmic focal point: Da dam da DAM / dam Dam-da.]...)

- Make your keywords stand out in the sound-scheme of the sentence (like: "gate" in "Bunnies poured through the gate.")

- Use unusual word order to emphasise your key words (e.g. subject-verb inversion: "And through the gate came bunnies." Rather than: "And through the gate bunnies came.")

3. "Clean up" your sentence.

- delete words that don't contribute to either the "meaning" or the "rhythm" of the sentence if it's grammatically possible or stylistically justifiable.

"To be" is a frequent candidate. (That's one of the reasons people dislike the passive voice.) But bear in mind that it's a necessary component of the English language. I've seen people correct "was running" to "ran", thereby changing the meaning of the sentence, and muddling the meaning of the text.

Other candidates are articles, some prepositions ("of"), etc. (But be careful not to remove a necessary word.)

Often you can avoid the repetition of subjects and/or verbs by joining sentences or by using sentence fragments. ("Bunnies poured through the gate. Lots of them.")

- Sometimes add "filler words" to enhance the rhythm ("Through the gate came bunnies." --> "And through the gate came bunnies." See above.)

***

Finally, a lot of this depends on taste. Read your prose aloud and make your decision.

This probably sounds quite complicated, but the good news is you don't really have to pay attention to it. Most writers do that without thinking. I only think about these things when I don't like a sentence, but I'm not sure what's wrong with it. The process is more akin to a jam session than to rule application. You're not writing to a pre-fabricated beat.

The music metaphors above are deliberate. Listen to songs; they have the advantage of emphasising the rhythm with instruments. For writers, it's probably songs that are closer to "talking" than to singing that are more useful: Rap, Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, some David Bowie...

***

There's a lot I haven't covered. This (http://courses.nus.edu.sg/course/ellibst/lsl01.html) site is about studying what people have done with their style rather than writing, but that's more helpful anyway. I only skimmed it, but it looks good. (I'm posting the link for myself, really. ;) ) [Edit: Summary of course. (http://courses.nus.edu.sg/course/ellibst/lit-stya.html);Table of Contents (http://courses.nus.edu.sg/course/ellibst/lsl_handouts_list.htm)]

Holbrook
July 4th, 2007, 06:18 AM
"I am not going through that gate." Fred Bunnie moved to the side of the massive stone structure, watching his fellow bunnies hop through with out a care in the world.;)

James Carmack
July 4th, 2007, 07:47 AM
The Black Rabbit folded his paws in grim satisfaction. His pawns would flood the Surface World and wreak havoc on the Short-ears. After generations of waiting, there would finally be a reckoning. There was only one who could disrupt his plans: the rebel Fred Bunnie.

Lagomorph antics aside, I'm impressed with your analysis, DS. I've never thought to really analyze the elements of good prose before. I am, after all, counted among those who don't think about it. That's a fine approach for doing, but puts you in a poor position for teaching. I should be more mindful in the future.

choppy
July 4th, 2007, 08:03 AM
I recommend "Stein On Writing" by Sol Stein. There's all sorts of good stuff in there that can help tighten up your prose.

Dawnstorm
July 4th, 2007, 09:43 AM
"I am not going through that gate." Fred Bunnie moved to the side of the massive stone structure, watching his fellow bunnies hop through with out a care in the world.;)


The Black Rabbit folded his paws in grim satisfaction. His pawns would flood the Surface World and wreak havoc on the Short-ears. After generations of waiting, there would finally be a reckoning. There was only one who could disrupt his plans: the rebel Fred Bunnie.

Excerpt from: Fred Bunnie and the Gate of Doom.


Lagomorph antics aside,

For a moment I thought you said "lagomorph antlers". (Excerpt from: Fred Bunnie and the Jackalope) ;)

***

"Peter?" (Excerpt from: Fred Bunnie and the Black Rabbit's Secret)

lin
July 4th, 2007, 11:27 AM
A basic step would be to use Latinate words and longer sentences.

I don't want to personally offend the poster of that statement, but as a pro writer and editor I would urgently urge any young writer to ignore it aggressively.


Hard facts: you can't learn to have a nice singing voice. You can't learn to have athletic talent. You can't learn to have the kind of eye, ear, and voice that goes into writing, the "way with words" we note in some people, whether writers or not, and do not note in others.

You can learn musical technique and sports technique by drilling it in to compensate for lack of talent. But writing doesn't really HAVE technique. It's just a way of seeing things, a way of "talking".

But don't give up hope. If you have good characters and story, you might be able to make your style work for you. Nobody ever accused Rod Stewart of Bob Dylan of having nice voices. Nobody talks about the elegant flow of Hemingway or Bukowski.

If Dylan had sat around dreaming of being an operatic tenor...