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Writing

The Purpose Of Prose

08.14.08 | 1 Comment

There’s an interesting discussion going on over at Crimespace about “lean” or “muscular” prose, what it is and why it’s used. Gerald So has also weighed in on his own blog..

I think that this misses the point of writing. To me, writing in a particular style is not a goal. My goal is to write in the style that fits the story, whatever that may be. I recently sold a story in which the narrator is an over-educated, almost hysterical neurotic, and just finished another in which the narrator is a laconic cowboy. Each is written in a style that would not be appropriate for the other. Now, it’s true that some styles do come more naturally to me than others; for example, I had trouble writing with a story that was intended to be in a loose, objective third-person point of view, in which narrative summary would substitute for much of the dialog.

In a broader sense, I think that prose should generally appear effortless. It should serve only to further the story and should not call attention to itself needlessly. When I say “further the story”, I’m not just talking about plot, but also character, setting, tone – if possible, each sentence should further more than one of these, for example pushing the plot forward while giving insight into a character.

This type of writing is very common in genres such as mystery or science fiction, less so in literary fiction. Sometimes literary fiction seems to be like Olympic gymnastics: capable of amazing feats, but certainly not effortless. I personally believe that this striving for effect weakens the overall work and should be disposed of quietly.

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