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Thread: How to write vividly?

  1. #1
    No Blorg's Avatar
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    How to write vividly?

    It always looks like it would be fun to do, but I don't know how people do it. Like how do these paragraphs work:

    Quote Originally Posted by James Agee
    ...each texture in the wood, like those of bone, is distinct in the eye as a razor: each nail-head is distinct: each seam and split; and each slight warping; each random knot and knothole: and in each board, as lovely a music as a contour map and unique as a thumbprint, its grain, which was its living strength, and these wild creeks cut stiff across by saws, and moving nearer, the close-laid arcs and shadows even of those tearing wheels...The house is rudimentary as a child’s drawing, and of a bareness, cleanness, and sobriety which only Doric architecture, so far as I know, can hope to approach: this exact symmetry is sprung silently and subtly, here and there, one corner of the house a little off vertical, a course of weather-boarding failing the horizontal between parallels, a window frame not quite square, by lack of skill and by weight and weakness of timber and time; and these slight failures, their tensions sprung against centers and opposals of such rigid and earnest exactitude, set up intensities of relationship far more powerful than full symmetry, or studied dissymmetry, or use of relief or ornament, can ever be.
    Quote Originally Posted by Swann's Way
    The air was saturated with the finest flower of a silence so nourishing, so succulent, that I could move through it only with a sort of greed, especially on those first still cold mornings of Easter week when I tasted it more keenly because I had only just arrived in Combray: before I went in to say good morning to my aunt, they made me wait for a moment, in the first room where the sun, still wintry, had come to warm itself before the fire, already lit between the two bricks and coating the whole room with an odor of soot, having the same effect as one of those great rustic open hearths, or one of those mantels in country houses, beneath which one sits hoping that outdoors there will be an onset of rain, snow, even some diluvian catastrophe so as to add to the comfort of reclusion the poetry of hibernation; I would take a few steps from the prayer stool to the armchairs of stamped velvet always covered with a crocheted antimacassar; and as the fire baked like a dough the appetizing smells with which the air of the room was all curdled and which had already been kneaded and made to “rise” by the damp and sunny coolness of the morning, it flaked them, gilded them, puckered them, puffed them, transforming them into an invisible, palpable country pastry, an immense “turnover” in which, having barely tasted the crisper, more delicate, more highly regarded but also drier aromas of the cupboard, the chest of drawers, the floral wallpaper, I would always come back with an unavowed covetousness to ensnare myself in the central, sticky, stale, indigestible, and fruity smell of the flowered coverlet.
    Why is that writing so vivid? (I'm not asking how to write like these people, I'm just asking what you think makes their writing work or fail. (I might write what I think about them in another post.)


    less importantly (but still somewhat importantly), how do you manage to write vividly without being too flowery or pretentious? ie what should you avoid, and what should you aim for?

    I chose those examples kind of randomly, and I'm sure there are examples of less wordy and rambling paragraphs/sentences that are just as vivid. It would be great if you could share writing(s) that do a good job of painting a picture. (Your own writing counts.)
    Last edited by Blorg; 08-22-2014 at 10:07 PM.

  2. #2
    Pull the strings! Architect's Avatar
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    I find that kind of writing so vivid that it's gaudy. You hear more of the author masturbating over their keyboard rather than some good prosody and word choice.

    The best writing is when you're not aware of it working, one that uses silence as much as sound to shape its forces.

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    Global Moderator Polemarch's Avatar
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    Vivid writing is achieved with economy of language, and a focus on extremely relatable experiences, feelings, and sensations. Flowery writing is not vivid writing; any needless addition of non-relevant detail detracts from the impact of the prose.

    When you've read it, you know, because you can visualize the backdrop and feel the energy.
    We didn't land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.

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    No Blorg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Architect View Post
    I find that kind of writing so vivid that it's gaudy. You hear more of the author masturbating over their keyboard rather than some good prosody and word choice.
    How do you determine what's good/bad prosody and word choice? What's an example of a bad word choice in those paragraphs, and why is it bad? Too many adjectives? It might be helpful if you could rewrite one of the sentences in the quotes so I can have a better idea, but no pressure.

    The best writing is when you're not aware of it working, one that uses silence as much as sound to shape its forces.
    Like what? Hemingway-type stuff? Maybe you could post an example...

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    Sky Anvil Vison's Avatar
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    I enjoyed the second one much more than the first. The first actively annoyed me.

    I often have the issue of being much too verbose chasing my desire to be as precise as possible.

    Pick a moment where everything stopped and felt perfect, the kind that are etched into memory. Describe it in excruciating detail. Focus on sensory input, like the quality of light, smell, touch. Use way too many words*. Compare things to events or stories or emotional states, tell stories to describe a tiny detail.

    *If you want it to sound like the examples
    Oh fuck it, Its the 90's.

  6. #6
    fhtagn Rhu's Avatar
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    Online text-based prose-oriented real-time roleplay: you are time limited. You need to pour a paragraph of action, background, and dialog out of your head and onto a screen before the people you are playing with get bored. You get instant feedback in terms of their interpretation of the images that you attempted to present. You get to see examples of how other people attempt to squeeze an image into words. If you're feeling frisky, you can actively adapt or transform their techniques to your own purposes.

    This process repeats for as long as the participants remain entertained; each new paragraph of text presents a new opportunity to learn and adapt. And maybe also manipulate people into creating the context to unload the satirical poem that you were writing in the background while they were describing their preening and posturing.

    Although I'm not sure if people still do that. The 1990s were, like, forever ago, or whatever.

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    No Blorg's Avatar
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    @Architect, just realized that my post sounds snarky if you read it a certain way-- that's unintentional.

    In their defense, those two paragraphs have good reasons to be wordy, in the context of the books I took them from. But I do like their wordiness in and of itself. I also like eating raw sugar and raw butter and I want to decorate my apartment with multicolored christmas lights. I'm constantly battling against a torrent of adjectives threatening to spill into my writing on this forum. I like adjectives and superfluousness because I don't like main points (I like the jabberwocky poem). (I guess I'm just apologizing for having bad taste )


    Quote Originally Posted by Polemarch View Post
    Vivid writing is achieved with economy of language, and a focus on extremely relatable experiences, feelings, and sensations. Flowery writing is not vivid writing; any needless addition of non-relevant detail detracts from the impact of the prose.

    When you've read it, you know, because you can visualize the backdrop and feel the energy.
    This makes sense, though I think it can only be taken so far. Some writers still manage to come across as superfluous and self-indulgent even though they use choppy sentences and focus on verbs. On the other hand, sometimes long sentences are useful, even if they take some working through and aren't immediately energizing. So I guess I'm not sure what "economy" really is in terms of writing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vison View Post
    Pick a moment where everything stopped and felt perfect, the kind that are etched into memory. Describe it in excruciating detail. Focus on sensory input, like the quality of light, smell, touch. Use way too many words*. Compare things to events or stories or emotional states, tell stories to describe a tiny detail.

    *If you want it to sound like the examples
    Ok, I'll try this. I become frustrated by just considering writing about a memory in exhaustive detail, though. I don't know why. I guess I'm too self-conscious. Anyway, yes, I'll follow this tip.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rhu View Post
    Online text-based prose-oriented real-time roleplay: you are time limited. You need to pour a paragraph of action, background, and dialog out of your head and onto a screen before the people you are playing with get bored. You get instant feedback in terms of their interpretation of the images that you attempted to present. You get to see examples of how other people attempt to squeeze an image into words. If you're feeling frisky, you can actively adapt or transform their techniques to your own purposes.

    This process repeats for as long as the participants remain entertained; each new paragraph of text presents a new opportunity to learn and adapt. And maybe also manipulate people into creating the context to unload the satirical poem that you were writing in the background while they were describing their preening and posturing.

    Although I'm not sure if people still do that. The 1990s were, like, forever ago, or whatever.
    That sounds fascinating. I'm not sure where to find something like that, though. I hope it's not a thing of the past-- I'll keep a look out.

  8. #8
    Sky Anvil Vison's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dot View Post
    Ok, I'll try this. I become frustrated by just considering writing about a memory in exhaustive detail, though. I don't know why. I guess I'm too self-conscious. Anyway, yes, I'll follow this tip.
    You could also just pick an everyday scene that moves you the same way, sit down and "draw it with words."
    Oh fuck it, Its the 90's.

  9. #9
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    Less is more. Like Hemingway.

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    No Blorg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thevenin View Post
    Less is more. Like Hemingway.
    As I hinted at above, I think this advice beats around the bush. Too little is too little, too much is too much, and enough is enough. Saying "less is more" seems similar to suggesting that someone avoid starting sentences with "but" "and" and "because"; the advice is designed for people who can't/don't want to think too deeply about the underlying whys of grammar, or develop more than passable writing styles. I started this thread because I'd like to think about these things in depth.


    sorry, I'm in a bad mood for other reasons. I need that cat hand meme.

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