June 5, 2018 at 10:44 pm #38041Elizabeth@elizabeth
Okay, so this question has been lurking around in my head for some time now, and I’m (almost) embarrassed to ask it. But considering the short story contest is at the end of this month, and I’ll have to edit my entry soon, I figured now is a good time.
Is there such thing as perfect prose? If so, what does it consist of?
My story is in 1st person, and I’ve really been struggling with finding a balance between my MCs thoughts, what’s happening around him, and descriptions of things, so if you’ve any advice to add in that regard, I’d be most grateful.
INTP. Writer of fantasy and sci-fi. Wannabe artist. Anime geek. Merakian.June 6, 2018 at 11:48 am #38076
@elizabeth wow; enormous question. 😛
First of all, I wrote two blog posts related to this topic already, so maybe you’ll find something helpful here.
Wait, you follow my blog don’t you… 😛
Pretty much everything you need to know about prose can be broken down into just two categories: engagement and flow.
Engagement, of course, is how vividly the prose invites the reader into your world. Tools in this category include:
Description is pretty obvious. You describe what you want the reader to see. The biggest thing to remember about descriptions is that less is probably more. (*gulps*) You don’t want to dump every single detail of everything you see, but instead choose the smallest, most vivid tidbits and let the reader piece the rest of it together by themselves.
Metaphor is like description, but instead of presenting a simple image it attaches a double significance to it. Think of it as hitting two notes at once on a piano. ‘The leaves danced along the edge of the sidewalk’ is the first note. We don’t need a second note, but we can add one for extra artistic effect: ‘…like a double line of fairy ballerinas.’ If music was all single notes it would be too simple and boring, and if it was all double notes we wouldn’t have room to breathe and process. Adding metaphors in tasteful amounts is a great way to enhance the impact of your prose.
Word-choice… well, that’s pretty self-explanatory. 😛 I’m not going to go into word-roots here, but there are two basic categories of words in the English language: Intellectual and emotional. The intellectual words are ones like perspiration, respire, retiring, and piqued. The emotional counterparts to those words would be sweat, breathe, shy, and curious. The intellectual words are more elegant, and the emotional words pack more punch. Be aware of the emotions you want to evoke with a certain scene or sentence, and choose words accordingly.
Flow is simpler, but it’s where a lot of the magic happens. Tools in this category include:
- Sentence structure
- Variation of sentence length
- Sound interaction
Sentence structure… I’m not the one to say what’s beautiful and what isn’t. A basic knowledge of grammar and the construction of sentences is always very helpful. The biggest thing about this is to remember to shake up your pattern. Don’t always begin with subject openers. He said, she did, etc. Ing openers are good too— Jumping from her chair, she… or Tumbling out of bed, the baby… etc. Mix them up. Variety is the spice of life.
Variation of sentence length is the same principle. In fact they should probably be lumped in the same category. Don’t speak in a monotone. It is boring. All sentences are short. They put you to sleep. They lull you and kill your brain. However, also don’t take after the apostle Paul and fill the whole page with a single sentence, broken by commas, semi-colons, and dashes— it’s simply confusing to the reader and turns them off, irritating them, muddling their brain cells, breaking their concentration, and frustrating them with its entirely unnecessary length; this may have been impressive in the classical era of Dickens and Dumas and Hugo, but modern readers simply don’t have the patience for it, and we must both be aware of this fact and respect it, lamentable though it may be.
Once again— variety. Music and syntax and rhythm. Shorter sentences mingled with longer ones to flow together and make their own kind of special music. Short sentences relax the reader. Once they’re relaxed, they can throw themselves into the longer ones with vigor and spirit.
Sound interaction… I guess this is more of a poet thing, but it’s so important. Observe the ways different words and their different sounds interact, then mix and match to get the mood you’re trying to evoke. ‘The sugar icing blandishments draped the cake in delicate strings.’ That sentence just sounds delicious. ‘With an ear-shattering crack, the asteroids collided.’ Explosive. Violent. ‘His fingernails pattered incessantly on the slick surface of the table.’ Nervous and tense. The choice of words enhances the image.
Unfortunately I don’t think there’s any way to teach this as a system. The best way I can think is reading lots of really good poetry and stuffing your head full of the beauty of sound. Even if you don’t like poetry, dear. *severe Jedi master eyebrows* I could have assigned you to read classics. Dickens particularly is really good at this. XD
Anyway! Was that helpful?
INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.June 6, 2018 at 11:57 am #38080Hope Ann@hope-ann
I’ve not studied detailed prose and perfect prose or such. Partly, I do think people will have various reading preferences, so there isn’t one type of prose that everyone will love over everything else.
For me, good prose is prose with subtext. Basically something that reads smooth and shows instead of tells (at least the important points). Rarely, if ever, using words like happy or sad, for example. Instead, show it through thoughts and description and body language.
Part of it is just instinctive, at least for me. What ‘sounds’ right. I’ll read things out loud sometimes and you’d be surprised at how much you catch that way. The same word or structure repeated several times in a row. Things that just flow awkwardly.
Not sure how much help that is… 😛 Show don’t tell. Then read it out loud and let your ear catch awkward things.
Victory in the march. Hope in the destination.June 6, 2018 at 12:05 pm #38082June 6, 2018 at 12:05 pm #38083
- This reply was modified 3 years, 1 month ago by Kate Flournoy.
INFP-A. If you can't be brilliant, odd will do.June 6, 2018 at 5:36 pm #38128Grace Johnson@gabbyj
@elizabeth I’m still working on my prose, so I’m not sure how much help I can be, but I would echo what @hope-ann said–definitely read things aloud. It helps to figure out what sounds awkward and what doesn’t.
Also, I don’t know if this is cheating or not, but it could really help if you chose one of your favorite authors (someone whose words really flow well when you read their writing) and mimic their style, putting your own spin on it.
And I don’t think there’s such a thing as perfect prose, in the context that you meant. Something that sounds good to one reader might trip up another reader. I think you just need to make sure your writing sounds perfect to you, and there are sure to be many readers who share your tastes. 🙂
I hope this helps!
*Swirls cloak dramatically*June 6, 2018 at 8:48 pm #38161Jane Maree@jane-mareeJune 9, 2018 at 10:05 pm #38483Sam Kowal@sam-kowal
@elizabeth Of course there is!
Only… no ever really achieves it. I’m sure there’s some writers who come consistently close but it’s like someone trying to create perfect art, not really doable.
I think the best description of it is what Kate said about flow and engagement. If you need more flow in your story, I’d just go through first of all and make sure there are no super-long chunks of either MC thoughts, description, or action. I think you’ll be able to tell when you have too much of one, I especially find that with description or events; without a balance of the MC’s thoughts in there, it will become a little detached and boring.
One more thing I’d add for editing is just, if you’re like me and can’t figure out all these long guidelines for flow and engagement, look for bits in the story that bore you, if there are any, and check if its flat prose causing that. Then you know what to focus in on 🙂
*nom, nom, nom* *eats donuts*
Oh, are you hungry? *begins weeping*
I would have saved you one!June 10, 2018 at 12:05 am #38490EricaWordsmith@ericawordsmith
I find myself staring at the page when I see that amazing prose… Oh The Silmarillion….
I feel so happy when I go through my own work and find prose that gives me chills. I’m totally a discovery writer, so I just write what comes to me, but I think knowing what I like helps me to understand what I want to write. I personally hated some of the stuff I found in The Circle Trilogy. However, I absolutely loved Tolkien’s. When I read, I’m that critical gal who sits there and dislikes that word choice or punctuation. I just take note of what I want to sound like and what words should be used, what should I avoid, etc. Rachel Starr Thomson.. Oh wow do I love her prose. There are some utterly chilling moments in her fantasy works. Since I write fantasy, I take note of a lot of natural powers, noises, etc and spin them into the prose. Like lately in my writing, my prose has included a lot of:
Wind, snow, stone, howl, glow, blue, snarl, fur, and star.
I think whenever your writing gives you chills is when you’ve hit it. And since I’m a perfectionist…
*Hopes that there are some sympathizing perfectionists on this forum*
Tek an ohta! Tek an cala!June 10, 2018 at 4:00 pm #38516Selah CJW@selah-chelyah
@ericawordsmith, what does “Tek an ohta! Tek an cala!” in your sign-off mean? Sounds really authentic, somehow! 🙂
Assistant Guildmaster of the Phantom Awesome Meraki
~ Created to create ~June 11, 2018 at 10:02 pm #38675EricaWordsmith@ericawordsmith
It is Quenya Elvish for Write for war! Write for light!
It is curious to me though, I have not found one fellow ENFP on this site! (Everybody runs, there’s an ENFP here). They said my personality made up 7% of the population, but I wonder, a lot of the writers on here seems to have personalities that start with “I”… I wonder about that.
Goodness, I’m rambling, I should not be staying up so late on the forum.
Tek an ohta! Tek an cala!
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