Folding, spindeling, and mutilating lauguage for fun since Aug, 2004
Friday, 15 December 2006

Conrad Zero has had some guff from Beta readers of his book.  Evidently, they find his sentance structure too complex and wordy.  His sentences are too long, and contain too many subordinate clauses.

While I agree that sometimes overly complex sentence structure can lose a reader unessecarily, some writing is complex simply because it deals with complex subjects in complex ways.  There is a balance to be struck, to be sure. 

My sister-in-law recently glanced at the cover of the book I was reading, and saw that I was STILL reading the complete works of Thomas Paine (it's been nearly a year.  It's not the only thing I'm reading, after all).

SIL:  "You're STILL reading that?"

Me:   "Well, you have to understand that Thomas Paine takes some digesting, there's just so much packed into the text.  It's a very rich experience."

SIL:  "Yeah, those old guys just go on and on and used fifty words where ten would do the job."

Me:   "Uh..."

SIL:  "Why can't they just say what they are going to say and get it done with?"

I dropped the subject.  I couldn't imagine how to explain to her that actually Paine's writing is elegant in it's simplicity.  It's clean, lucid, rational, meticulously precise and yet artful, graceful and refined.  No matter how many commas or semi-colons his writing has, you can clearly follow the line of the thought throughout.

There's no intellectual onanism, no wanking, no self-amusement to his writing.  There's no indulgence in cumbersome jargon to make his reader feel inferior, and yet it is a joy to read because it IS artfully written with clever turns of phrase that are so clever you feel as though you stumbled upon them rather than being dragged to them in a kind of literary shaggy dog story just so the writer can show you how clever he is.

It doesn't take a long time to read the great minds of the Enlightenment because they are difficult to read.  It takes a long time because you are enjoying the time spent.  Sometimes the ideas just won't fit into simple sentences, but though the sentences are sometimes as complex as the ideas they convey, the clarity of thought is never obscured.

Think of the best wedge of cheesecake you've ever had.  It's seems as though it should be simple, it's got what, three or four ingredients?  But it is not.  Difficult to make properly, the result of a well-made cheesecake is dense flavor with light texture, a delicate balance between satisfying richness, and not-quite-overpowering sweetness.  You don't just wolf that dessert down the way you would a Hostess fruit pie.

Just because it might take you twenty minutes to consume a small wedge of cheesecake, is no reason for an onlooker to assume that the process is tedious.

So Conrad, make your writing as dense and rich and complex as you need to.  Just avoid confusion, self-amusement, and arrogance and everything will turn out just fine.



Friday, 15 December 2006 10:41:24 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [0] | #
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