Author Topic: Are you a minimalist writer?  (Read 2735 times)  

Offline kw3000

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Are you a minimalist writer?
« on: January 11, 2018, 08:22:42 AM »
I don't know what it is, but I find myself constantly working toward being more and more economical with my words (though not so much I find when I post on kboards  8)). To the point where I'm becoming barely there as an author. More efficient, fewer words, more efficient, fewer words.

It's almost an unconscious need to get more and more sparse with my scene descriptions, etc. I keep trying to find the most efficient, spare way to get into the dialogue between characters and to stay out of the way. As a reader I find I have little patience for flowery prose, but I admit in my drive toward efficiency I do worry my writing's starting to read like an instruction manual.

Part of this might come from my love of screenplays. I love white space on the page and the insistence on keeping the reader moving on down the page, faster and faster. In screenwriting economy and efficiency are often the goal. Novels are different I realize, but I do value sparse, terse writing. I can't help it. I just wanna get there, get there, get there. My Kryptonite, I guess.

How about you? What's your approach? Are you a minimalist? Maximalist? Changing from one to the other? How do you feel about it?

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Offline scott.marmorstein

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #1 on: January 11, 2018, 08:36:06 AM »
One of my favorite quotes:

"Prose is architecture, not interior decoration."
Ernest Hemingway

Personally, I'm not a fan of pigeonholing myself as a writer. I get into a flow, and if the flow works and makes sense, feels vivid and evocative, I hang with it until my mind gets in the way and I mess it up.

I think there's a time and place for an economy of words. There's also a time and place to get a little 'flowery' if the context calls for it. Those are elements which need to be felt out as you go.

I guess the example I'd make is: your character(s) enter a setting that demands more prose in order to set the mood of the reader, to really show what's happening--you know, good old fashioned world building stuff.

If you've already set the scene, and you know your audience knows what you're talking about, you're probably going to get away with being more sparse and getting to dialogue. It seems to me like: dialogue x action = forward progress. The rest is stage dressing. And depending on what you're trying to convey, some seem more important at times than others.

But that's just my take.

I watched Twin Peaks Season 3 (no spoilers, don't worry) episode 8? It was so f-ing WEIRD! It was almost all entirely contextual. I kid you not, about forty minutes of the 55 minute show were just these bizarre scenes with NO characters, NO dialogue, NO plot evolution at all and it was annoyingly artsy. Thanks, David Lynch!  It very much reminded me of elements (perhaps it was even a nod) of 2001 A Space Oddesy...but you know, on steroids. It would not have made for a good short story/novella, this episode, because it would have demanded a lot of attention to detail and imagination from the reader. I feel like that would be a mistake in prose, but it can work for something televised like this. The scenes were dramatic and beautiful in their own right, but even with my extremely keen observations, I still have NO clue what it was about. I don't think anyone of us can afford that in modern writing (ebooks/print).

My two pennies to this conversation.
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Offline Ryan W. Mueller

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2018, 09:15:13 AM »
I wouldn't say I'm minimalist, but I'm significantly less wordy and descriptive than a lot of authors in my genre (epic fantasy).

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Offline kw3000

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2018, 09:48:37 AM »
I wouldn't say I'm minimalist, but I'm significantly less wordy and descriptive than a lot of authors in my genre (epic fantasy).

Yeah, I'm not even sure I can write Fantasy. I want to, but I'll have a hard time making it 'epic' given I'm always trying to do more with fewer words. Then again, I guess 'epic' doesn't always have to mean epic length. Then again, it could be epic in length and sparsely told so long as you have plot developments coming out of your ears. That amount of plot though would likely exhaust the reader.

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Online Mark Gardner

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2018, 09:50:54 AM »
I started my career as a short fiction writer in magazines, and anthologies. When I wanted to tell longer stories, I started writing novelettes and novellas. Now that I write novels, I still find myself finishing a rough draft with only 40k or so. I have to force myself to be more descriptive. I've always felt that everybody knows what a bench, or a banana, or a beaver is. You don;t have to describe every tree in the forest, just the twisted old cottonwood that your third cousin hanged himself from.

Offline Lorri Moulton

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2018, 10:00:27 AM »
I started out in journalism....so I have to have a LOT going on in my novels.  8)


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Offline kw3000

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2018, 10:03:55 AM »
I still find myself finishing a rough draft with only 40k or so. I have to force myself to be more descriptive.

I start to get itchy when I get to 20k. Yikes. Some novelist I am.

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2018, 10:08:37 AM »
I like that - minimalist writer.  I'd consider myself a part of that team, because I prefer to keep the story moving, moving, moving forward, and too much description bogs it down.  Then again, I write thrillers and mysteries, so maybe that's why.  The farther along in my writing adventures, the more I've seen this minimalist tendency too.  In the early days I'd have to cull words, sentences, and whole paragraphs (maybe some pages too) from those first drafts.  Nowadays it's usually adding words - 20k, 30k in that second draft.

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #8 on: January 11, 2018, 10:23:21 AM »
Yes - I hardly ever describe anything in detail and I use dialogue wherever possible. I suppose this probably started when I was writing children's play scripts for a youth drama group (one or two scripts a year for about ten years!).
My mystery novels are about 60k and I only occasionally write longer than this.

Offline Harvey Click

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #9 on: January 11, 2018, 10:34:21 AM »
I like lean, hard prose with no flab. That doesn't mean I pare away all description, because faces and settings can be essential components of a story. I just make sure the descriptive passages are doing their jobs with no wasted words.

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Offline MattGodbey

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #10 on: January 11, 2018, 10:45:57 AM »
...
It's almost an unconscious need to get more and more sparse with my scene descriptions, etc. I keep trying to find the most efficient, spare way to get into the dialogue between characters and to stay out of the way. As a reader I find I have little patience for flowery prose, but I admit in my drive toward efficiency I do worry my writing's starting to read like an instruction manual.

Part of this might come from my love of screenplays. I love white space on the page and the insistence on keeping the reader moving on down the page, faster and faster. In screenwriting economy and efficiency are often the goal. Novels are different I realize, but I do value sparse, terse writing. I can't help it. I just wanna get there, get there, get there. My Kryptonite, I guess.

How about you? What's your approach? Are you a minimalist? Maximalist? Changing from one to the other? How do you feel about it?

I'm a minimalist. Pretty much Agree with everything you've said here. I don't mind reading prose that's more dense prose, but in my writing, I keep cutting and cutting and cutting until it's pretty spare. That's how I like it.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2018, 01:07:24 PM by MattGodbey »

Offline RBN

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2018, 10:58:33 AM »
I hate description and often end up looking for places to insert some before I hand it over to my editor so she doesn't chew me out for Empty Room Syndrome and Faceless Character Disorder.

I attribute my aversion to aphantasia. I conceptualize, but I can't visualize, so I DON'T CARE about "painting a picture." I skip those parts (which are useless to me) when I read, so I'm inclined to skip writing them, which is why I have editors to help me give readers for whom a "mind's eye" is more than a metaphorical concept the experience they want.

I don't have any trouble writing 100,000 words of character, dialogue, emotion, and action, though.

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2018, 11:30:27 AM »
Yes. I hate useless information. Like, I was reading a novel from a #1 NYT Bestseller and he took time to describe the MC putting on her wetsuit. And it added nothing to the story, it just felt like he was dragging things out because he did this dozens of times in the novel (describe details that weren't relevant to the plot).

My rule is simple. EVERYTHING, from description to dialogue, needs to move the plot forward.

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #13 on: January 11, 2018, 11:40:01 AM »
There is some value in adding sufficient detail that the reader can't discern which details are critical to the plot and which are not. It keeps them from figuring out things ahead of time.

Offline melodybremen

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2018, 11:44:18 AM »
I am a minimalist writer. My books tend to be on the shorter side. The first draft of my fantasy novel was only 32k words long. I added 20k while editing.

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #15 on: January 11, 2018, 11:48:07 AM »
There is some value in adding sufficient detail that the reader can't discern which details are critical to the plot and which are not. It keeps them from figuring out things ahead of time.
I agree. I get trying to misdirect your readers. What I hate is when it happens too much. The novel I mentioned above was brimming with mundane details.

I guess he was trying to make it more immersive. Sadly, it did the opposite. Stuff like that pulls me out of a story.

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #16 on: January 11, 2018, 12:47:21 PM »
As a reader, I prefer a sparse writing style. My tolerance for description is correlated to the latter's lyricism.

I find most authors wordy. My reaction moments before deleting their books...


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Offline DIAMONDSINTHESKY

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #17 on: January 11, 2018, 12:57:10 PM »
I tend to overwrite in the first draft and be massively brutal with cuts when I come back to it and re-write.

I always apply the same rules as with script writing - 'Does this need to be in here?' If the answer to that question is 'No' - it goes.

Offline XCulletto

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #18 on: January 11, 2018, 12:57:36 PM »
I also feel like a pretty minimalist writer. But that's been the most common criticism I've received in reviews--that the story needs to be more developed and the characters more fleshed out, so that's what I'm working on. It's a learning process, I suppose.

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Offline C. Gold

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #19 on: January 11, 2018, 12:58:04 PM »
Well, I will certainly never be a Robert Jordan. I swear you could build an exact replica of Rand's home town down to the last nail. Now that's some epic world building right there. Also some epic boring prose if you want to get to the actual story. He put in useless information everywhere. Some people love it. Some hate it. When I was younger, I thought it was amazing. But as I grew older, I got more impatient and wanted to feel emotionally connected to the characters, which he didn't do because he was too busy describing the minute details of the physical aspects of his world.

I became influenced greatly by Janny Wurts and Barbara Hambly. Now Janny is interesting because she writes very descriptive terse prose. What does that mean? Every single word she chooses is there for a reason. Descriptive words are there to evoke the perfect color, sound, or visual. She also loves to combine words to describe things in unique ways that expresses a whole slew of things. For instance, 'he fell to the floor like dropped meat.' Just imagine if you had a steak and dropped it. The squelch sound, the splat of blood, the way it jiggles, etc. Two friggen words she used to evoke an entire sentence or two worth of description without actually writing it. Anything you 'think' is spurious, becomes important later on in the series to the point where you can learn new things every time you reread the series after reading a new book. (War of Light and Shadow series). There's no waste in her stories even though the books are huge. I can't imagine writing that way, but it's awe inspiring to read. It can also can be tough to read because it makes you think. With Barbara, I discovered the wonder of evoking emotion in the reader with the words you choose. In the opening scene of the first book in the Darwath Trilogy, when Jil is having a dream, I was right there with her experiencing the terror of the populace as they fled something unseen. The words chosen to express Jil's experience conveyed that fear right into my very bones. I realized then, that this is how I want to write.

By nature I tend towards sparse. But because I want to evoke emotion, I'm forced to think of the words I want to use to describe the surroundings so I can set the tone. I make sure the words I do put in there for description have a purpose and aren't just filler. Rama II is an example of a book teeming with excess filler which served no purpose and ruined the story for me. I hope I never do that to my own readers.



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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #20 on: January 11, 2018, 02:06:27 PM »
Well, I will certainly never be a Robert Jordan. I swear you could build an exact replica of Rand's home town down to the last nail. Now that's some epic world building right there. Also some epic boring prose if you want to get to the actual story. He put in useless information everywhere. Some people love it. Some hate it. When I was younger, I thought it was amazing. But as I grew older, I got more impatient and wanted to feel emotionally connected to the characters, which he didn't do because he was too busy describing the minute details of the physical aspects of his world.


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Offline C. Gold

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #21 on: January 11, 2018, 02:16:17 PM »

So Crossroads of Twilight isn't your favorite book of the series?   :P
Haha, to be fair I read and finished the series. :P

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #22 on: January 11, 2018, 02:23:54 PM »
Haha, to be fair I read and finished the series. :P

So did I.  Slogging through CoT was a bear, but I made it.  I didn't even skim anything.  I'm actually quite proud of that.   8)

My favorite book of the series remains book 1, though my favorite scenes are in other books.

As far as the OP's question goes, I tried to be a minimalist writer, but I fear I've taken it too far at times, so now I'm trying to dial it back a bit.  There's a healthy balance there somewhere.  It's just a matter of finding it.
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Offline C. Gold

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #23 on: January 11, 2018, 02:40:31 PM »
Slogging through CoT was a bear, but I made it.  I didn't even skim anything.  I'm actually quite proud of that.   8)
I didn't skim anything either! Though I did quit reading the series around book six? because it got too hard to wait between books. I would forget too much. When the series was finally done and up for Hugo award, I received a nice ginormous single 'book' of the entire collection and read it straight through from front to back.

Offline Pacman

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #24 on: January 11, 2018, 03:23:28 PM »
You don;t have to describe every tree in the forest, just the twisted old cottonwood that your third cousin hanged himself from.

Mark, succinct and descriptive, nice :)

I'm much the same, no fluff no BS - I will struggle to add detail to characters though, that's my Achilles heel. I can write the action, their dialogue is easy, how characters interact with each other, but details like hair-colour and scars? Now that is a battle.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2018, 03:34:15 PM by Pacman »


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Offline she-la-ti-da

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #25 on: January 11, 2018, 03:26:29 PM »
I call myself a lean writer. I also consider myself a natural short story writer, so they meld together well. But, it's made it hard to do longer works, though my last novel ended up around 57K. Shocked me, that did. Anyway, I'm working on hitting the right balance of description and narration, and adding in emotions and things like smell, touch, hearing and so on. Eh.
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Offline CarolynVMurray

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #26 on: January 11, 2018, 04:04:45 PM »
I do come from a screenwriting background, and now, can't write a novel over 45K to save my life.

Also, after first draft is done, I have to go back over it and fill in descriptions of people and places, which I always gloss over the first time around.

As a reader, long descriptive sections always have me jumping ahead.
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Offline Piano Jenny

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #27 on: January 11, 2018, 04:42:08 PM »
I have four total books and have not been able to get any of them quite to 50k words, so I guess I'm ... something.

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Offline John Bardinelli

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #28 on: January 11, 2018, 04:49:32 PM »
YES. I feel like more words just get in the way. Detail is supplied in the reader's imagination, not by paragraphs droning on about how many bricks are in the wall. One hint of what's necessary, then move on.

I have four total books and have not been able to get any of them quite to 50k words, so I guess I'm ... something.

I struggled with the same "problem". My first five books barely broke 50k. The sixth doubled that, but only because it was structured in an entirely different manner.

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #29 on: January 11, 2018, 05:01:42 PM »
One of my favorite quotes:

"Prose is architecture, not interior decoration."
-- Ernest Hemingway

Nice.

My guiding principle is this, from Jack Bickham's book, Settings:

"... you will write best if you force yourself never to try to be 'fancy' or 'inspiring' ... The best style usually is no visible style at all--prose that is crisp, clean, clear and transparent: a pane of glass through which your reader experiences the story directly, without ever being aware of the words."

I find that Lee Child's and John Grisham's books are like that.

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Online Skip Knox

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #30 on: January 11, 2018, 05:17:48 PM »
I don't believe in minimalism or in flowery ... ness. Both terms speak to writing what is needed, which to say they speak to what is good writing. When I find someone describe a book as flowery or with too much description, what they are really saying is that those passages bored them. Which is fine. I can almost immediately find someone else who thinks the prose is wonderful. And conversely: some people praise a passage or books as minimalist (they will often use words like lean or incisive) and others who find the writing cold and complain of white room syndrome.

It's a false discussion. I can think of books -- and I'm sure everyone else here can, as well -- where I thought the prose was wonderfully evocative, then think immediately of another where the same "flowery" prose was boring and overwrought. The formula is the product of a reader's tastes and the author's command of language. I've stopped worrying about it. I write the best prose I can to make myself happy (I never am, not fully). That's first. I run that past beta readers, then past an editor. If they're all happy, then I'm happy. I go forward, knowing that some readers will be happy and some won't.

So, I reckon I'm not a minimalist writer. I'm a writer. I'll let my readers supply the modifiers.

Offline MattGodbey

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #31 on: January 11, 2018, 05:44:52 PM »

"... you will write best if you force yourself never to try to be 'fancy' or 'inspiring' ... The best style usually is no visible style at all--prose that is crisp, clean, clear and transparent: a pane of glass through which your reader experiences the story directly, without ever being aware of the words."

Witness Daphne du Maurier. Just sayin.

Offline kw3000

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #32 on: January 11, 2018, 06:11:00 PM »
I do come from a screenwriting background, and now, can't write a novel over 45K to save my life.

Also, after first draft is done, I have to go back over it and fill in descriptions of people and places, which I always gloss over the first time around.

As a reader, long descriptive sections always have me jumping ahead.

Yes, this is me as well. I have a hard time pushing past 40-45k. Most of the reading I do are screenplays as well, so that probably doesn't help.  8)

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Offline P.J. Post

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #33 on: January 11, 2018, 10:36:09 PM »
I like Elmore Leonard's..."if it sounds like writing, rewrite it."

As for brevity - I don't really worry about it - but I do avoid exposition, as much as possible, anyway. I try to mix setting with description with mood with action with foreshadowing with theme with whatever I can to avoid loose blocks of information.

It's so hard to discuss this stuff in the abstract, so here are some made-up examples and one real one:

My preference:

The girl can't see over the treads of the wasted AV-3 loader, but floppy, lost and found boots - boots that last belonged to Hennessy's boy - can be seen between the cogs. Maybe he still has the laces; Hester has them tied fast with fluorescent-orange engineering tape instead.

As opposed to:

Hester is seven years old and not very tall for her age. She wears over-sized, laceless, lost and found boots, held fast with fluorescent-orange engineering tape.
She is hiding behind the treads of the wasted AV-3 loader.

This is the opening from my YA post-apoc book, Feral:

Quote
I can feel the thunder in the ground.
The war is closer this morning.
A thin layer of frost shimmers off the dirt and grass.  The Bower girl is covered with the same gossamer sadness.
Her lips are blue.
They match her unmoving eyes.
She reminds me of any one of the girls back in school giggling down the halls, worried about Friday night dates and prom, while the seniors were all about college and their futures, and the outcasts were already preoccupied with jobs and getting out of that [crap]-hole town -- then one day, they were all the same, saying and doing it all for the last time.
She's staring at me like I can help her, like there's still hope.
But hope hasn't been real for a long time, if it ever was.
It's' harder to fake [crap] like that now.  The war won't let us.  Each new day lays us bare -- turning our ugly inside out.  Hers is permanent now.
I wish someone had closed her eyes.
I lower the gun from my lips, but the metallic taste remains like it always does.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2018, 10:39:31 PM by P.J. Post »

Offline TimothyEllis

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #34 on: January 11, 2018, 11:59:48 PM »
I don't know what it is, but I find myself constantly working toward being more and more economical with my words (though not so much I find when I post on kboards  8) ). To the point where I'm becoming barely there as an author. More efficient, fewer words, more efficient, fewer words.

I've gone the other way.

If you asked my English teachers in high school if I would ever write a novel, they would be incapable of answering through sheer shock.

I was the one who answered a question requiring a page and a half answer, with a single paragraph.

Who'd have guessed back then I'd have a million words under my belt now?


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Offline Alan Felyk

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #35 on: January 12, 2018, 12:58:28 AM »
To add another Elmore Leonard quote to the one that P.J. referenced ...

"I try to leave out the parts that people skip."

I found as I got older, my attention span got shorter and shorter. I spent most of my adult life as an editor, and I was extremely good at it. Now, I would characterize my editing as mediocre to poor. I had a hard time getting through James Joyce as a college student. Now, as a 67-year-old, I wouldn't even attempt to do so.

When I first started as a newspaper feature writer, I was told to write economically. But when I tried to write creatively, that lesson was lost. I felt I needed to write full descriptions that exhibited my knowledge of the English language. It took me a while (50 years) to figure out that storytelling was far more important.

When I write, I try to visualize my book as a movie in my head. And, I try to make my writing conversational in style, as if the reader is sitting across from me at a table at a coffee shop being told the story. I used temporal breaks liberally, something I learned from Kurt Vonnegut. If nothing of significance comes from a character moving from location to another, why bother describing it?

We are being trained by the Internet and social media to read in short snippets. I think that's a trend that authors can't ignore.

Offline ThomasDiehl

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #36 on: January 12, 2018, 01:44:26 AM »
My main outing is flash fiction so by necessity, I am trained toward minimalism. I was shocked to find out a 100 page book is not long enough to be considered a novel by any means.
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Offline Scrapper78

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #37 on: January 12, 2018, 06:56:41 AM »
Now I feel like a weirdo. I have to work to get my stuff down to 100,000 words.

I think of all teh stuff i love to read and try to ape the style of all my favorites:

1: Edgar Rice Burroughs.

That man would spend six hundred words describing a martian sunrise, just to have John Carter kill someone underneath it. Then use only use a hundred words to get him all the way across Barsoom. I'll describe a city street at night, just so my characters will have a shadowy place to act in.

2: Robert Heinlein:
A thousand words spent on describing the physics of an exotic piece of tech.  Two hundred words for character description (at most). Pithy dialog X 100000.
I burnt almost 6,000 words describing how cyborg tech worked in my universe. It was important for both the hero and villain's motives.

3: Neal Stephenson:
10,000 words on a throwaway setpiece that's just too damn cool not to talk about. Another 10,000 words of secondary character dialog that provides a little more than a form of tertiary allegorical exposition. Then throw in a super-nutso action sequence for about 3,000 words just to keep the reader awake.

I've never been as wordy or winding as Stephenson. But I respect the skill he had in making it all interesting. I usually write a lot of that stuff in and cut it before going to print.  My books are long enough already.

When I write, I love to paint a very evocative picture of a setpiece, and then run roughshod all over it once I've done so. I want the reader to see, hear, and feel what the characters do, and I ain't afraid to spend some words on that.

I'm also a big fan of pulling the reader out of a frenetic action sequence to drop in an impression or an insight. It's like the slow-motion part of a John Woo gunfight. If I have a guy leaping through a window while firing his guns, you can bet your butt I'm going to make that moment memorable. Drawing out a dramatic point of a fight so the reader can feel time slow is another Burroughs/Stephenson thing.

Efficiency is my day job (literally). We have a mantra about it.

"Efficiency does not mean using less of something. Efficiency means using the correct amount to achieve the goal and no more."

If I cut out half my words, but lose the feel and flow of my narrative, I have not been efficient.


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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #38 on: January 12, 2018, 07:44:52 AM »
Witness Daphne du Maurier. Just sayin'.

Educate me. I know she was a successful author--did she write flowery prose?

In my last book I had a ghost from two centuries ago. He spoke in the style of literature from that time. It was great fun to write like that, and I'm bringing him back in the next book.

"No. I later inquired of him on that point, and he replied that he did but recognize the voice. After exiting the carriage, he rushed around the pasturage as would a child chasing a chicken, yelling, 'Gregor, I forgive you. It was I who was at fault.' His imprecations continued for some minutes, and when it was clear there would be no response, he dropped to his knees and began to pray."

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #39 on: January 12, 2018, 07:48:21 AM »
Um, yes and no? When I outline my natural pacing tends to hit me at around 60k. Personally, I have always found this rather short, but I use that as a guide for my first draft because it works. As I go back and edit, I find places that are lacking or scenes that need fleshing out. For example, my first novel ended up at 57k, but as I'm in the midst of edits it's already grown to 66k, and it's not yet finished. However, I still personally think anything under 80k is short, so even though my novel continues to grow, I'm not 100% happy with it. But what can you do?

But I don't think longer works necessarily correlates to "flowery prose" and needless fluff. That near 10k I've added are substantial scenes and its own subplot, not just a bunch of description. It's actual plot, though I do admit that in general I tend to be a little wordy.
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Offline Dennis E. Taylor

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #40 on: January 12, 2018, 08:06:52 AM »
I'm a lean writer by nature, and I struggle to add setting and character descriptions. I've tried going through my MS and deliberately adding stuff, but I have to be very careful about that, because it doesn't come naturally.

I was at the Surrey Int'l Writers Conference this last fall, and managed to get my first page for Singularity Trap into their  SIWC Idol panel. This is where they read the first page from a story and a panel of agents "gongs" it when they'd stop reading. Anyway, my page did very well until the reader hit the paragraph where I stopped to describe things. The message was clear--given a choice between too much or too little, go with too little.

Regarding the overall novel length, I find that another problem I have is a tendency to summarize scenes. Essentially "telling" the scene. When I go through the MS and convert the summarizations into active scenes with dialog, the word count not only goes up, but the MS becomes more interesting.

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #41 on: January 12, 2018, 08:36:58 AM »
"Efficiency does not mean using less of something. Efficiency means using the correct amount to achieve the goal and no more."

If I cut out half my words, but lose the feel and flow of my narrative, I have not been efficient.

Yeah, I've always taken it to mean, why use 500 words when I can get the same across in 50?

A screenwriter I admire, Scott Frank, credits Dashiell Hammett's 'Red Harvest' for teaching him how to do a lot with a little.

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #42 on: January 12, 2018, 08:43:04 AM »
I vastly prefer minimalist writing. I often stop reading if a writer is too wordy. Unless it's John Updike.

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #43 on: January 12, 2018, 08:46:41 AM »
I'm teeeeerrible about writing too lean.  My first drafts always come in around 35k to 40k, all dialog, and I spend three or four drafts bulking it up to 55k.  I stumbled upon this incredible fantasy novel called A Darker Shade of Magic, though, and am reading it like a master class.  The prose is so sparse and clean.  Not an ounce of fat to it.  I think I counted two adverbs.  Yet, it is largely descriptive with barely any dialog.  It's kind of blowing my mind.

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #44 on: January 12, 2018, 09:26:39 AM »
For me it's about the emotional journey. I gloss over little details. In my WIP I described my protagonist's mansion as, "an angular thing that appears to be in a constant state of mourning." It's far too big, possibly haunted, and resembles some kinda alien cenotaph. Passersby often feel as if it's watching them . . . or contemplating something sinister.

For me, a description like that is more interesting than describing the mansion in detail. Writing is a collaboration of sorts--I want my readers to form their own pictures.

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #45 on: January 12, 2018, 09:51:27 AM »
Hi, Dennis. Congrats on your success!

This is where they read the first page from a story and a panel of agents "gongs" it when they'd stop reading. Anyway, my page did very well until the reader hit the paragraph where I stopped to describe things. The message was clear--given a choice between too much or too little, go with too little.

I've decided this is a critique trap. Critiquers can't resist objecting to any slowdown in the action in the first scenes, and they sometimes go overboard with that. A little setting description is okay and a good thing, even in the first scene. A sentence or two is good, as in Zollicoffer's example.

Give a man a gong, and he's going to "gong" it. It's Chekhov's gong.
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Offline Dennis E. Taylor

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #46 on: January 12, 2018, 08:45:29 PM »
Hi, Dennis. Congrats on your success!

I've decided this is a critique trap. Critiquers can't resist objecting to any slowdown in the action in the first scenes, and they sometimes go overboard with that. A little setting description is okay and a good thing, even in the first scene. A sentence or two is good, as in Zollicoffer's example.

Give a man a gong, and he's going to "gong" it. It's Chekhov's gong.

Thanks Al.

Yeah, I'm sure they're a little trigger-happy because they're trying to make a point, but it is instructive to me that they gonged me on the part of the page that I had to consciously work to add. So to a certain extent at least, my instincts about writing lean are correct.

Offline Usedtoposthere

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #47 on: January 12, 2018, 08:50:43 PM »
Writing lean does not = writing short. The length of books has more to do with how much is in the book in terms of plot, time frame, characters, subplot than it does with flowery or spare language.

I write fairly lean, with far more dialogue than description, but my romances are mostly in the 105-120K range.

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #48 on: January 12, 2018, 09:34:11 PM »
My drafts are wordy, but I strive to be lean.

I have a notecard I keep for editing. It's a quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

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Offline ThomasDiehl

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #49 on: January 13, 2018, 01:18:39 AM »
Writing lean does not = writing short. The length of books has more to do with how much is in the book in terms of plot, time frame, characters, subplot than it does with flowery or spare language.
That depends. Some writers can write a journey from Sacramento to San Francisco and fill up a trilogy. Some need to make a detour visiting Australia to even scrape at novel length.
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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #50 on: January 13, 2018, 01:31:58 AM »
That depends. Some writers can write a journey from Sacramento to San Francisco and fill up a trilogy. Some need to make a detour visiting Australia to even scrape at novel length.

Always detour to Australia.

It is after all, a very interesting place.  ;D


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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #51 on: January 13, 2018, 02:00:03 AM »
Always detour to Australia.

It is after all, a very interesting place.  ;D


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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #52 on: January 13, 2018, 02:38:09 AM »

The Sydney funnel-web spider can kill a man just by looking at him.   :-X

Which is excellent plot material.


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Offline P.J. Post

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #53 on: January 13, 2018, 11:46:43 AM »
Writing lean does not = writing short. The length of books has more to do with how much is in the book in terms of plot, time frame, characters, subplot than it does with flowery or spare language.

Unambiguously this.

I believe the following joke (apocryphal or not) is attributed to Lincoln:

Query: "How long should a man's legs be?"
Lincoln: "Long enough to reach the ground."

I'd argue that we need exactly enough words to reach the end...which includes saying whatever it is we have to say, however we feel it needs to be said. This is why we have flash fiction, short stories, novellas, novels and door stops. I don't think we should add filler to inflate, but neither do I believe we should eschew the exploration of evocative prose and nuance for the sake of misguided efficiency. The Great Gatsby is 47,094 words long.

If the story calls for a character to suffer under the weight of soul-crushing heartbreak... then use as many words as necessary to convey the depth of that emotion and the consequences that ensue. A brief paragraph isn't going to capture this, I don't care how good you are. Emotional issues like this have to unfold naturally and be revisited over and over, just like real life, but not necessarily in an obvious way, which is why I mentioned nuance earlier.

For me, story governs everything, and the more seamlessly the elements of craft are interwoven, the more engaging the book will be; with the caveat that every step of the way, every set back and every achievement, every smile, tear and curse  - every everything - needs to be earned.

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #54 on: January 13, 2018, 11:57:09 AM »
Depends on what I'm writing. My first drafts are likely to be sparse, for certain, but that suits some narrators or stories better than others. I do overall focus on power dynamics and the effects.
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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #55 on: January 13, 2018, 02:17:35 PM »
My favorite book is THE MALTESE FALCON. What do you think?

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Offline rjspears

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #56 on: January 14, 2018, 05:45:54 PM »
I actually found that my beta readers were asking me to pare back on my wordiness. They wanted simpler language and shorter paragraphs. From my first novel to my latest works, I've cut down my style significantly.
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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #57 on: January 14, 2018, 10:35:57 PM »
It depends on what I'm writing. My dystopian series had just enough description to help the reader form a picture, and I wasn't too wordy with everything else. My shortest book in that series was 49K, and the longest was 89K. Action/espionage scenes and dialogue make up the majority of those books.

For epic/military fantasy, however, I find myself describing a lot more. There is a lot of globe-trotting and military tactics in my current fantasy series, which both require careful description. I am really descriptive in battle scenes because I thirst for it. I don't just want to know that two swordsmen are fighting; I want to feel like I'm there. Hear the clash of metal, smell spilled blood, know the resulting injuries of accurate hits. I like grit and can't be immersed in action scenes without it, in my own books or otherwise. These books run from 89K to 160K.

Believe it or not, I used to have trouble reaching 40K. Most of the books I wrote as a child were 20K, and I had to work ridiculously hard at reaching a 40K minimum to submit a manuscript to a publisher just fifteen years ago.  ???

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #58 on: January 15, 2018, 04:48:26 PM »
I suppose I am, yes. It's usually the range between 15K and 20K words when I start feeling like the story's ending before moving on from it. Most of my stories are over 1K to about 20K words, give or take.

Offline ThomasDiehl

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #59 on: January 16, 2018, 01:03:24 AM »
Always detour to Australia.

It is after all, a very interesting place.  ;D
Absolutely, a place where everything is trying to kill humans is bound to be. ;)

(I used to have family in Sydney, though, and yeah, it is an interesting place)
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Offline dcswain

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #60 on: January 16, 2018, 01:28:38 AM »
I naturally write short, and I quite like the term "lean." My latest work is a fantasy novel, currently tipping the scales at 30k words, with probably another 30k to go if I"m lucky, which is unfortunate short for fantasy. Having said that, I agree that being "lean" does not equal not being short on detail. I like to think I leave just enough in the story to create a unique experience for my readers, irrespective of what the story is about.

My current longest, published, work sits a shade over 20k words, so I am in new territory, but am enjoying it. I've gone longer by introducing more story, rather than more back-story or other "stuff".

I guess the difference is I like my readers to infuse their own interpretation. How I see the story in my head will be different to every single one of my readers. I find reading books that go too heavy on description spoil the experience for me, which is why I tend towards the lean side of things.

I've got a couple of contemporary novels lined up next which are probably more suited to my style, but if you're after minimalist fantasy (sword and sorcery), watch this space in a few months time  :P

My favourite author is without a doubt Ian McEwan (closely followed by Bret Easton Ellis - who is not known for the minimalist approach - whole chapters on Huey Lewis and the News anyone?), which will influence the next couple of my books. I find his economy of words to be beautiful. There aren't too many authors who have won the Booker Prize with what is just about a novella (On Chesil Beach), but he never fails to captivate me with his held-back style of writing. (Except The Cement Garden - do yourself a favour and don't read it)

Overall, I think the key is developing your own style, whether it be minimum or verbose, you will (eventually) find your audience. With 7+ billion people in the world, there is an audience for your style, you just have to find it.


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Offline brkingsolver

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #61 on: January 16, 2018, 04:44:14 AM »
I'm teeeeerrible about writing too lean.  My first drafts always come in around 35k to 40k, all dialog, and I spend three or four drafts bulking it up to 55k.  I stumbled upon this incredible fantasy novel called A Darker Shade of Magic, though, and am reading it like a master class.  The prose is so sparse and clean.  Not an ounce of fat to it.  I think I counted two adverbs.  Yet, it is largely descriptive with barely any dialog.  It's kind of blowing my mind.

Buying it on your recommendation. If I hate it, it will be all your fault. :P

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #62 on: January 16, 2018, 04:54:22 AM »
Buying it on your recommendation. If I hate it, it will be all your fault. :P
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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #63 on: January 16, 2018, 05:59:57 AM »
Quote
I'm much the same, no fluff no BS - I will struggle to add detail to characters though, that's my Achilles heel. I can write the action, their dialogue is easy, how characters interact with each other, but details like hair-colour and scars? Now that is a battle.

 I dislike unnecessary detail when reading and tend to skim, so omit what I think of as fluff when writing. Like yourself, I find dialogue and story relatively easy, but describing appearance - yawn - but I also dislike reading too much info of that ilk, so that makes sense, I suppose

Now, I'm off the check A Darker Shade of Magic.
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Offline EB

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #64 on: January 16, 2018, 06:35:56 AM »
I've evolved into a more succinct writer. I look back now at my first book and laugh at the chunks of slightly purple prose, but I can't hate it because it's a reader favorite.  :-[ 8)

Offline Gregg Bell

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #65 on: January 16, 2018, 10:45:37 AM »
Yeah, minimalism is great but it can be overdone. I get complaints now and then that readers want at least some backstory. (I saw an interview with Christopher Nolan, the "Batman" director, and he said, "Do people care about the Joker's childhood? No! He just shows up and starts killing people.' That's the movies of course but even so there's something to it for fiction writers too.)

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Offline kalencap

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #66 on: January 17, 2018, 07:57:42 PM »
I was thinking of myself as lean, but with new novel coming out soon at 62.5 K and some of the comments here, guess I'm still within the average range. Of course, if "The Ancient Tripod of Peace" does get picked up for the kindle scout campaign -https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1X44DG0TTIURM - suppose edits could come back expecting me to add. But, I wrote a bit more lean than in the first one with first draft over 110 K (brought it down closer to 90 K though)

Offline lethomasjr

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #67 on: January 18, 2018, 05:30:08 AM »
I started out in journalism....so I have to have a LOT going on in my novels.  8)

This made me smile. Nice to see another journalist/author. I spent more than a decade in the journalism field as well. I found it made me unafraid of deadlines, politicians and crime.

It also made me a very uplifting person to be around.  ::)

L.E. Thomas | Facebook | Website | Twitter

Offline Muyassar Sattarova

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #68 on: January 18, 2018, 08:03:23 AM »
I don't care about the number of words. Sometimes one word means more than a whole novel, sometimes - on the contrary.

Online T E Scott Writer

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Re: Are you a minimalist writer?
« Reply #69 on: January 18, 2018, 08:42:23 AM »
Yes.

T E Scott