Language Spectrum

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Hillsy
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Language Spectrum

Post by Hillsy » September 12th, 2012, 7:31 am

Right. I've come to a bit of a....decision point on my style here. Just wrote a new sentence, immediately editted it, then changed it again, then went back and reverted it to the original......here's my problem.

Obviously on the prose chart there's a pretty clear spectrum:
Metaphorical ---> Something in between ---> Literal

The sentence in question is someone tutting in a cave (yeah, rivetting stuff) and here's it's three stages:
Literal
He tutted and the cave threw back a dozen echoes.
Somewhere in between
He tutted and the cave threw back a dozen imitations.
Metaphorical
He tutted and the cave agreed a dozen times.

I like the last one, a lot, but it takes a risk of the reader "not getting" it..........So here's my questions: How much credit do you give a reader to get the metaphor, as opposed to spelling in out for them (this is adult fantasy, so my audience is neither literary nor YA)? How do you edit for clarity without turning your prose into dry, technical manual writing? Do you all just stick to your guns when it comes to your own prose style and just appeal to those readers whose personal preferences align with yours?

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polymath
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Re: Language Spectrum

Post by polymath » September 12th, 2012, 10:29 am

Facilitating reading and comprehension ease is the first principle of writing, bar none. Period. Writers learn mechanical style first, of course, as readers learning to learn. Next, writers learn craft: content and organization principles. Then voice. If the journey continues, then writers learn to write for audience accessibility and appeal. All four in a symphony of writing flair influence reading and comprehension ease.

The line you're struggling with invokes voice most. The voice of all three examples is of a narrator summarizing and explaining an action, or two, actually. Summary and explanation are tell. Or in more precise language, diegesis and exigesis, respectively. Diegesis and exigesis work for academic writing but may be too flat for prose writing to work as intended. Imitation or mimesis writing, or show, appeals to readers more than the former types and, due to being more exciting than academic writing, is more accessible.

In essense, the "tutting" and response from the cave is a conversation, or dialogue. As given, the voice is in indirect discourse. The narrator is telling the conversation in a summary form, explaining the context and texture of the conversation, removed in time and place and situation at arm's length from the action. Consider recasting into direct discourse, or dialogue, conversation. Or a mix of both direct and indirect, and break the two voices speaking into their own paragraphs:

The cave was deep and dark and unkempt.

"Tut-tut," Samuel said.

The cave agreed a thousand times.


Both literal and figurative language and meaning, or metaphorical. But the meaning is easily accessible. In the above, the figurative meaning is situational to a few terms: "deep and dark and unkempt" and "agreed a thousand times." Extended figurative language would encompass a larger scope, through theme and motif, symbolism and imagery, and a consistent pattern of rhetorical tropes and schemes. For example, all setting details for a scene, act, or drama are given in figurative language (rhetoric).

Metaphoric or figurative language is a poetic voice. Giving the voice to the speakers is more accessible and appealing for readers from default of wanting to care and being curious about what's going on as close to the action and a central character participating in the action as possible. Tell holds readers hands from a distance, interpreting and mediating the action for readers. Secondhand or thirdhand reporting holds readers away from the action. Show gives readers from up close and personal enough firsthand detail to be able to understand an intended meaning.

What's the intended meaning of the sentence? A man utters a nonsensical term into a cave. The cave reflects the sound back, distorted. What's the context and texture? A conversation with a purpose. Is he checking the shape of the cave? Is the cave a magical and mysterious phenomena? Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Aladin mystical? Or is this a more scientific action? Context writing is paramount. What's going on?
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Beethovenfan
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Re: Language Spectrum

Post by Beethovenfan » September 12th, 2012, 3:38 pm

I agree with polymath that it's very much context driven. I think the possible worry here is that, because you are writing a fantasy novel, the reader might misinterpret the sentence and think the cave is actually speaking (since things like that aren't impossible in fantasy writing). However, I think it's just fine to allow the reader to figure it out. Through reading the story up to that point, if they have no other reason to believe the cave is actually speaking, then they won't. They'll undertand that it's simply a way (a really awesome one, btw!) of saying there was an echo. And, the reader can take certain amount of pride when they "get it" because they will have realized that it was a round about way of saying something very mundane, and they, awesome humans that they are, were clever enough to figure it out! :mrgreen:
"Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine."
~ Ludwig van Beethoven

Amanda Elizabeth
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Re: Language Spectrum

Post by Amanda Elizabeth » September 12th, 2012, 5:41 pm

Honestly, the word tutted is what I think would throw people. We're all writers and we naturally have a much larger vocabulary. Readers, adult or otherwise, may not understand what you're referring to. I think you should write out the dialogue like what polymath wrote out. If you said "He yelled and the cave agreed a dozen times" it would be very obvious what you meant.

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Hillsy
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Re: Language Spectrum

Post by Hillsy » September 13th, 2012, 10:04 am

Context: He's showing disappointment while in conversation while walking in a cave.....

Interesting that you all put (in this instance) the job of understanding in the reader's lap - (albeit after the writer has constructed something that can be understood). You're right that in context I don't think anyone would confuse the meaning of the sentence as I've written it, but it's easy to create arguments where you can wilfully misinterpret....and that's what does me in...

....Seems to me there's a point at which you have to let go. It's like playing catch: how accurate the throw before it becomes your fault the catcher dropped it? If you just bomb it up there in the vague area and there's a reasonable chance they can reach it - is that enough? To you need to effectively run up to them and drop it into their waiting hangs? Where is the line where you just shrug and say "Well I've done all I can - it's up to you know"?

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Re: Language Spectrum

Post by LizV » September 14th, 2012, 11:15 am

Hillsy wrote:Context: He's showing disappointment while in conversation while walking in a cave.....
Ah, given that, I'd definitely go with the Metaphorical version. It's a very cool bit of phrasing, and I'd have no trouble understanding it in that context -- the only possible problem is that I might pause to say, "Ooh, I like that!" before carrying on reading. ;)
Hillsy wrote:Interesting that you all put (in this instance) the job of understanding in the reader's lap - (albeit after the writer has constructed something that can be understood). You're right that in context I don't think anyone would confuse the meaning of the sentence as I've written it, but it's easy to create arguments where you can wilfully misinterpret....and that's what does me in...

....Seems to me there's a point at which you have to let go. It's like playing catch: how accurate the throw before it becomes your fault the catcher dropped it? If you just bomb it up there in the vague area and there's a reasonable chance they can reach it - is that enough? To you need to effectively run up to them and drop it into their waiting hangs? Where is the line where you just shrug and say "Well I've done all I can - it's up to you know"?
One thing my ex-writers group taught me, though I don't think they meant to, is that you've got to decide who your target audience is and stick with that. If someone wants to read at a beach-reading level with neurons barely engaged, and you're trying to write a complex, multifaceted story where the reader's part of the job is to stretch to make that catch, then no, they're not going to get what you're doing. And that's okay; there are plenty of beach-level books out there for them. You're not obligated to write another one.

And if someone's going to willfully misinterpret... screw 'em. There's no way to write something that can't possibly be misinterpreted if someone really wants to, and if you try to cater to that, you're going to lose the people who would really enjoy your metaphorical, sit-up-and-pay-attention style.

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polymath
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Re: Language Spectrum

Post by polymath » September 14th, 2012, 12:26 pm

Hillsy wrote:....Seems to me there's a point at which you have to let go. It's like playing catch: how accurate the throw before it becomes your fault the catcher dropped it? If you just bomb it up there in the vague area and there's a reasonable chance they can reach it - is that enough? To you need to effectively run up to them and drop it into their waiting hangs? Where is the line where you just shrug and say "Well I've done all I can - it's up to you know"?
Reconciling cognitive dissonance is recognizing where seemingly polar opposite meanings overlap, how they resist direct cognitive understanding, how their reconciliation requires a transcendance of direct cognition; in other words, a cognitive leap. Doing so means at times using false logic or carefully chosen invented variables to unravel a Gordion knot.

Many people know a paradox as a seeming irreconcilable dissonance. Indecipherable using logical parameters, a paradox has self-contradictory or senseless meaning on the literal surface. Whoever loses the way in life, in art, in love, in belief, in due time, shall find it. Illogical, insensible, impossible on the surface. Yet that paradox evokes a greater underlying truth or two; that is, that one who is not lost has nothing to find and that a lost one is compelled to rediscover the way of life in order to thrive. The beauty of paradoxes and similar cognitive dissonances is their underlying figurative meanings that subtle minds can come to appreciate.

As to suitable audiences, how much cognitive dissonance can a carefully chosen reader audience of one appreciate? The ideal is actually comparatively easy for a writer to appreciate. Just slightly less dissonance than the writer can appreciate, if writing for a peer cohort. Progressively more or less, respectively, if writing for a more or less emotionally and intellectually developed audience.

The ideal, in other words, is to give niche-targeted readers adequate information, without excessive hand holding, to figure out meaning, literal and figurative, while reading, not later in a story, not before the meaning matters, not after the story has been read, in the now moment of the story. And do so so that readers feel smarter than a story and the writer. That last, that's the E-train ticket to ride. This gives readers a sense they're participants in the action and excites their empathy and curiosity and emotional responses and, lo and behold, avoids the number one issue with cognitive dissonances: readers who feel a story goes over their heads feel stupid and are turned off, tuned out, lost.
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LizV
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Re: Language Spectrum

Post by LizV » September 29th, 2012, 3:26 pm

A belated follow-up: I ran "He tutted and the cave agreed a dozen times" past my housemate without context, and she had no trouble understanding that the cave was echoing. She also thought it was a very good bit of phrasing.

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