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  1. #1
    Michelle R

    Is my writing style too pretentious?

    Hey all!

    Well, I'm a hypocrite. When I have to suffer through stories which read as though the author is most interested in demonstrating his repertoire of language, I want to chuck the book at the wall. But maybe a year ago, when I showed some writing, my reader said there were too many semicolons and big/unusual words, and it looked pretentious. I also know I have the tendency to play with style, basically dancing around the point.

    People say there are worse problems to have, but I'm not so sure. You're thought of as supercilious for writing in such a way, and you try and say, "it's not my fault! It just comes out like that!" people give you this "yeah, sure, Ms. Thesaurus" attitude.

    But the words really do just "come out." That's the problem. I write what I'm thinking, and it feels like crap when, after 'supercilious' falls out, I realize if I don't change that to 'stuck up' I'm going to look, well, you know.

    I want my style to be somewhat embellished, but still popularly accessible. I think -- I hope -- I've made some progress to that end. Things are certainly looking less… semicolony than they did a year ago. Still, who am I to judge? I definitely could use some opinions from you all. While you're at it, please don't neglect any opportunity to point out other flaws.

    So, on with it. Here's an excerpt for you to judge by, from shortly into a WIP's Chapter 1. It assumes a small amount of familiarity, so allow me to explain: a girl awakes, confused and disoriented, to find herself in a crude stone cell. Things rapidly progress, and she soon learns she's being "guarded" by a strange but exuberant boy. Seeing as she's awake, the boy throws open the window to let in some light…

    I don’t remember thinking about it, but I must have leapt to my feet suddenly; I lost my equilibrium in the ensuing blood rush, and my vision blacked. As I fell against the rocky wall, I wasn’t sure if my head cracking against the damp stones only served to further my disorientation, or to actually clear my head.

    I clutched at it with both hands.

    Yes, he was still green.

    “Why are you green?” I shouted, my voice sounding accusatory.

    He titled his head like a confused puppy. “All of us are born green," he said. "Usually, we change colour by the time we’re grown up, but I never did. That’s funny, isn’t it?”

    I was still having difficulties remembering things, but the last likely candidate for food poisoning I could recall would have had to be the cream cheese bagel. I tended to have strange nightmares when sleeping on a malcontent stomach. Of course, this was all rather spectacularly loopy, even for one of my stranger food-induced dreams.

    I took in my surroundings, deliberately avoiding regarding the Green Thing further –- it was a bit of an effort to ignore the curious red-tufted tail flicking in my peripheral vision, but I managed. The new light had not revealed any important new features. It seared my eyes to take in the light beaming from the window, but I hazarded a quick, squinting glance; I could only confirm that there were trees outside. Certainly, there was nothing to explain my predicament –- or my company.

    I was surprised by how intimidated I felt by the whole situation, but I didn’t intend on staying in a stone cell for the rest of the day, so something would have to be done. Unsure if I should take the pleading, helpless course or threatening, dangerous course for persuasion, I simply opted for neutrality.

    “Would you let me out?”

    “No.” The response was immediate, as if he had been well prepared for it. “My brother told me to guard you here, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

    As he thrust his lower lip up like a petulant little bulldog, I was struck by his childishness.

    “He says he’s going to in terror gate you when he comes back.”

    Sorry if it all seems a bit long; I didn't know how much was appropriate. Thanks for the help!

  2. #2
    Joe Zeff

    Re: Is my writing style too pretentious?

    I didn't find it at all bad, not the slightest bit pretentious, unlike your introduction. BTW, that dizzy, slightly-sick feeling you get when you sit up suddenly (especially if you were asleep) is called "orthostatic hypotension," if you want to use the ten-dollar medical term for it. (No, it wouldn't fit the rest of your writing, but I thought you might like to know.)

  3. #3
    nancy drew

    Re: Is my writing style too pretentious?

    If the voice fits the character, I think it's fine. Is this aimed at children or adults?

    I hope you don't mind my saying, I think you can pare it down an adjective or two. For example you could nip the "accusatory" description of your character's voice -- or show it rather than tell it. And "spectacularly" loopy seemed excessive. (Just one opinion.)

    It seemed quite accessible. I wouldn't have minded a longer excerpt to get the rhythm.

    P.S. I think "titled" should be "tilted."

  4. #4
    Michelle R

    Re: Is my writing style too pretentious?

    Joe: Thanks a lot. No matter how hard I worked, I thought I'd never be able to get all the snootiness out, so you saying "not the slightest bit" was really surprising to me.

    Although, if you say my introduction (meaning the first half of my post, right?) is pretentious, that's kind of what I'm talking about. If I whittle away at a draft, apparently I can erase the prissiness, but when I just WRITE, it seems to lurk around the words somehow.

    Hey, I like it. I'm always up for some ten-dollar words, haha. My main character is a nurse in training, so I actually get to use them sometimes!

    Nancy: I want it to be for about age 15 or 16 and up; YA, basically, but still appealing to older people so inclined. Does that seem about right?

    I wasn't too sure about either of those adjectives, myself! I thought I might get a scolding for them, heh. I'll work on them.

    Oh, I'm glad you didn't think the excerpt was too long. I was afraid I was posting too much as it was. The next few paragraphs that come right after the end of the excerpt look awkward, but after I fix them, I could post more.

    Eeks! Really Bad Typo! I put the sexy in dyslexia. Thanks, I'll fix it right away.

  5. #5
    S Stull

    Re: Is my writing style too pretentious?

    Dyslexic writers do it best, eh? lol, just kidding. And are bigs words an English thing? I do it far too much for my own good. Heh.

    I thought the first bit was good. Not too pretentious at all, although if aimed at 15-16 year olds... perhaps not. I'm 18, and I have a rather large vocabulary, though most of my peers do NOT. I am also a fan of formal writing... But I'll tell you from experience that it can be detrimental to your story if a young reader has to pick up a dictionary. [Yes, it's good for us. No, we don't always like it. ]

    Also, I expect you'll have explained this later, but "terror gate"?


    P.S. Read Lord of the Rings. Great writers think alike! (eg, in large words) ^.^

  6. #6
    Patrick Edwards

    Re: Is my writing style too pretentious?

    Hey, Michelle

    It's obvious that you're very talented, but I'd have to say that your writing, IMO, overpowers what you're trying to say. Now, it could be that I'm just a simple guy, looking for a good story, but...I truly feel that your use of some words are unnecessary.

    my voice sounding accusatory (this whole line feels weird)

    sleeping on a malcontent stomach ("upset stomach" seems okay here; not too dumbed down...)

    Unsure if I should take the pleading, helpless course or threatening, dangerous course for persuasion, I simply opted for neutrality. (Your poetic writing is beautiful. Sincerely. However, it feels overdone with the "neutrality." Though I'm not sure how I would phrase it.)

    But I must say that I wish I had your writing ability. You're friggin' good.

  7. #7
    Amanda Brenner

    Re: Is my writing style too pretentious?

    You're only in trouble if your vocabulary is over the heads of your potential audience. I once read that most people read at a fourth grade level. Look at most of what's published--the fourth grade thing may not be too far off. It may be frustrating to have to dumb down your writing, but it may also be necessary if you want to be published.

    I too liked what I read. Good luck to you.


  8. #8
    Jeanne Gassman

    Re: Is my writing style too pretentious?


    I wouldn't say your writing is pretentious, but I would caution you about your use of diction. At times, you use words that are slightly "off." The "malcontent" stomach is the perfect example. Malcontent refers to mood or temperment, not to digestion.

    My advice? Write the story the way you feel comfortable, using the diction/language that is natural to you. Then, when you begin editing and revising, take a very close look at your word choices--especially the ten-dollar words. Make sure they mean exactly what you intend for them to mean.


  9. #9
    Michelle R

    Re: Is my writing style too pretentious?

    Lyra, I actually liked to just sit down and read the dictionary when I was younger. Definitely a sign of how messed up I am, dyslexia and all.

    Hrm, well, I'm 19, so maybe late teen is a more appropriate demographic? Gah, is that even YA anymore?

    Tolkien is my favourite author from that era! ^^ Thanks to my mom always buying me books when I was a kid, I graduated from Redwall right to The Hobbit.

    In terror gate is the boy's babyish way of saying interrogate, if that's what you're asking. He botches words like that other times as well. I hope it's an appropriate way to express his immaturity.

    Hi Patrick! Yeesh, thanks a lot!

    Simple guys are the best kind, haha. Certainly not the type I'd want to turn away with pedantic writing. Making the style feel transparent, but not bland... that's my number one goal. I'll keep working on it. I guess writing first person makes me self-indulgent, since some flair is expected from the narrator... but I have to be careful to not go overboard!

    I will definitely try to rework the examples you gave. In the case of "accusatory," I wanted it to be almost-but-not-really comical, since it's a bit of an odd reaction IMHO(fear or shock would be more expected). So, in short, I wanted to express that she was surprisingly accusatory, but some device like "my voice sounded surprisingly accusatory to my own ears" feels clunky and a bit overdone. Thus, the line stayed as what you see, and looks stupid.


    Back to the drawing table!

  10. #10
    Michelle R

    Re: Is my writing style too pretentious?

    Gah, I am having trouble over here. The latests two responses didn't appear until now. Sorry for the double post.

    Thanks very much, Amanda. Well, I hope that's not true, but I guess I wouldn't be surprised. I do know that I could write as prissily as I liked, and there would always be SOME crazy demographic for it, but part of the problem is a bit of a disconnect between my style and my would-be genre. The playful low fantasy/sci fi is probably YA, but is my writing style? I'm really not sure.

    Hi Jeanne, thanks for the advice. I'll try and take it to heart, and hopefully my writing will look more organic, and less overworked.

    I get a lot of satisfaction when a word is conveying some sort of psychological "under-meaning" that fits perfectly. IE, the way ecstatic, exuberant, and exultant all mean 'extremely happy,' but create varying mental images subconsciously -- I want to find the one that is just right, so the word simply snaps into place. So, it's ringing alarm bells if you say some of them feel off. Not what I was looking for at all. I'll continue on my quest to find Just The Right Word!

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