Author Topic: Are you a minimalist writer?  (Read 2902 times)  

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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Online TromboneAl

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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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Offline 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 »
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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?

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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Offline RRodriguez

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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.

Offline kw3000

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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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Offline juliatheswede

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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.

Offline KateDanley

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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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Offline D. Zollicoffer

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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.
« Last Edit: January 12, 2018, 09:55:23 AM by TromboneAl »

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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.

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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.

Offline David Peterson

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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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