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Old 07-16-2013, 01:05 PM   #1
speakingtohe
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How does writing style influence your reading choices?

How does writing style influence your reading choices?

A couple of MR discussions have made me wonder just why I like the books I like.

Content and genre aside, there are some authors that I enjoy so much I will read practically anything they write, and others whom I really like the first book I encounter and struggle with the next.

I am a bit ignorant on the subject of writing styles in general and would like to know more. I understand narrative, expository, descriptive and persuasive, but until yesterday I had no idea what second person present tense meant.

Overall I prefer first person present tense, with the narrator being the main character or sidekick.(examples Robert B. Parker, Rex Stout) I also like many books with switching POV’s and books that can go from one timeframe to another, although some of them leave me scratching my head wondering who or when. (Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler was confusing as to timeline in spots but I enjoyed the book)

Descriptive is all well and good, but too much description has me going blah, blah, blah in my head. As does too many rabbits pulled out of a hat.

I like to be able to picture the characters and settings in my mind but I don’t need a whole page or two devoted to the sound of the wind in the trees, although my mother loves things like that. And I am inclined to actively resent pages and pages and chapters and chapters devoted to magic 101 or the complete dynamics behind an alternative reality. (example: Nancy Holzner’s Deadtown series, liked the first, but the second just goes on and on with the demon fighting lessons)

An example of rabbits out of the hat books are The Dresden Files, which I like for the most part, but too many last minute saves by something that seems to have been belatedly poked into the first chapter because the author has dug himself a big hole does nothing for my suspension of disbelief.

I do enjoy my reading and don’t really have to know why I like certain books, but I would kind of like to.
Helen

[attribution: image by Susan Corpuz]

PS
It was pointed out to me by HarryT that I might really prefer past tense and he is absolutely right.

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Old 07-16-2013, 04:21 PM   #2
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What if you're not much of a reader? What does one rely on to make choices then?
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Old 07-16-2013, 05:38 PM   #3
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My tastes run towards simplicity.
While I appreciate a well-crafted turn of phrase, lyrical word-smithing is not a requirement and overly lyrical prose will raise a caution flag. Unless the book is well-above average, I would be less inclined to return for more from the same autor. Especially if word-smithing is most or all that the author has to offer.

Conversely, I look favorably upon authors whose prose is lean and concise and who get to the point easily. Even more if they have a worthwhile point to get to.

Examples? I favor Asimov, Heinlein, Dickson, and Anderson over Ellison, Bradbury, Moorcock, and Delany even though I have read, enjoyed, and own many titles from all of the above. Thus I am more likely to reread books from the former group than the latter.

Ideas over mood, basically.
Worldbuilding over pathos; plot over theme; rationality over neuroses...

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Old 07-16-2013, 05:51 PM   #4
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Words and writing are an art too, so you can say the same thing using a couple or lots of words and be good or bad in either case.

I prefer a good and elegant style of writing and that has nothing to do with word use. I have read concise texts that were rubbish and loong monologues about a single subject that were a delight to read.

I like Saramago, adore Proust and admire Sandor Marai, Nabokov and Tolstoy. Such beatiful writers. Some things do taste better when you prolong them (think War and Peace! ehehe).

Too much conciseness is in my opinion detrimental to the artistic and philosophical value of a book. Good writers write good stories and also supply good insights that require additional text (compared to the text that is necessary to strictly describe a plot or a character, for example). I like to give the freedom for a writer to release himself from the chains pf pure storytelling. Sometimes it is fantastically rewarding.

There is only one occasion where i think being concise is per se a advantage. and that is when you are writing nonfiction. All other cases, being concise is secondary to the talent.

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Old 07-16-2013, 06:14 PM   #5
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What if you're not much of a reader? What does one rely on to make choices then?
Nobody starts out as much of a reader. We all live and hopefully leanr.

If I was starting out I would go to the libraries and look at their popular reading choices.

You may not like them all, but you have a wide choice at a low cost.

I tend to like the same things on TV as I like to read, so I imagine if you like a show that has books published or a type of show, you would likely like that kind of book.

Helen
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Old 07-16-2013, 06:22 PM   #6
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My tastes run towards simplicity.
While I appreciate a well-crafted turn of phrase, lyrical word-smithing is not a requirement and overly lyrical prose will raise a caution flag. Unless the book is well-above average, I would be less inclined to return for more from the same autor. Especially if word-smithing is most or all that the author has to offer.

Conversely, I look favorably upon authors whose prose is lean and concise and who get to the point easily. Even more if they have a worthwhile point to get to.

Examples? I favor Asimov, Heinlein, Dickson, and Anderson over Ellison, Bradbury, Moorcock, and Delany even though I have read, enjoyed, and own many titles from all of the above. Thus I am more likely to reread books from the former group than the latter.

Ideas over mood, basically.
Worldbuilding over pathos; plot over theme; rationality over neuroses...
I kind of agree except Delany would have been my top pick of the bunch. Dahlgren may be the only SF book I would consider rereading. Heinlein and Asimov have not withstood the test of time although I have many friends who would strongly disagree, some of them even adults. Me I would just as soon read L. Ron Hubbard if I wanted a taste of a male oriented Utopia (just kidding, I would sooner remove my toes than re-read any of them). STill I loved them all when I was young.

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Old 07-16-2013, 06:47 PM   #7
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I kind of agree except Delany would have been my top pick of the bunch. Dahlgren may be the only SF book I would consider rereading. Heinlein and Asimov have not withstood the test of time although I have many friends who would strongly disagree, some of them even adults. Me I would just as soon read L. Ron Hubbard if I wanted a taste of a male oriented Utopia (just kidding, I would sooner remove my toes than re-read any of them). STill I loved them all when I was young.

Helen

Dahlgren is the only acclaimed SF novel I ever started and failed to finish.
Or even get halfway...

Different tastes I suppose.
Interestingly, I've never had any interest in any to do with Hubbard.
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Old 07-17-2013, 05:12 AM   #8
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For me there has always been two types of books — ones that keep me awake and ones that send me to sleep. It's nothing to do with plot; books full of violence and mayhem can send me to sleep and books about people watching paint dry can keep me awake. It's only very recently that I worked out why, and it's down to active/passive use of words.
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Old 07-17-2013, 08:11 AM   #9
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It's all about narrative voice.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was a master.
Dickens was a master.

E.L.Doctorow is damn good

Flowery descriptive language in novels puts me to sleep. It should be short and reserved for poetry, but Cormac McCarthy throws it in in such a way as to create magic.

Loren Eiseley's science (and other essays) ARE poetry.

Dhalgren is #1 on my list of SF novels.

I don't care for mysteries.

I've tried to read Neuromancer many times and always end up throwing it across the room before the second chapter - same with Ulysses by Joyce. Same with anything recent from Neil Stephenson.

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Old 07-17-2013, 08:34 AM   #10
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Story is what matters to me. All the pretty descriptions and beautifully crafted sentences are a waste of time unless they serve the story.
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Old 07-17-2013, 10:34 AM   #11
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I've tried to read Neuromancer many times and always end up throwing it across the room before the second chapter - same with Ulysses by Joyce. Same with anything recent from Neil Stephenson.
I agree with this statement. Neuromancer is so overrated, though I really enjoyed some of Gibson's other works, particularly Pattern Recognition. With Stephenson, I loved Snow Crash. Diamond Age, not so much. Recently I tried to read Reamde but coudln't get into it. Don't get me started in Joyce :-) I'll have to try Dhalgren, it has been on my to-read list for like 20 years.

As far as style goes, clunky, poor, simplistic writing is a huge turn off. I find myself re-writing a poorly written book in my head, and soon abandon it. Then again, overly complex, flowery language is just as off-putting. Poor or excessive character development is unappealing also. I need well-drawn characters, but I also need a book to be plot-driven. I live in that middle-brow realm where the prose is sophisticated and polished, yet relatively concise and straightforward, and where the characters are well-developed, but not at the expense of the plot.

Some authors just have a way with words that I just want to eat with a spoon, and would read their works for the prose alone. Some of my favorite prose stylists are Margaret Atwood, Tana French, David Mitchell, and T.C. Boyle.

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Old 07-17-2013, 05:23 PM   #12
speakingtohe
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Dahlgren is the only acclaimed SF novel I ever started and failed to finish.
Or even get halfway...

Different tastes I suppose.
Interestingly, I've never had any interest in any to do with Hubbard.
I remember liking Hubbard when I was very young and thought Heinlein was the cat's ass when I was 12 or 13 but then thought that Asimov's laws of robotics were sensible at that time. At around 18 I found Hubbard trite and boring and was firmly in favour of a robot uprising, and I won't say what I thought of Lazarus Long and the horse he rode in on. And poor old L. Ron is still controlling a hell of a lot of simple folk (from the grave one assumes).

Still these books are enduring the test of time for many. Maybe I liked Dhalgren because I had just bought a motorcycle, but probably because I am a sucker for the lone hero/anti-hero character. I actually liked escape from New York (the movie) and I am sure I am in a minority group there.



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Old 07-17-2013, 05:28 PM   #13
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And speaking of anti-heros --- Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant is the cat's meow!!

Loved it!
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Old 07-17-2013, 05:32 PM   #14
speakingtohe
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For me there has always been two types of books — ones that keep me awake and ones that send me to sleep. It's nothing to do with plot; books full of violence and mayhem can send me to sleep and books about people watching paint dry can keep me awake. It's only very recently that I worked out why, and it's down to active/passive use of words.
Expound please if you will. I kind of understand but not really. I am not totally like those simple people who keep saying I know what I like, and you ask them why and they just shrug or repeat themselves, but I am still a tad baffled by why I like so many really different types of books, and why I will suddenly go off a type of book. The obvious reasons of burn out from having read too many books by the author in a row or the author has died and they forgot to bury him apply in far less than 10% of cases.

Helen
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Old 07-17-2013, 06:24 PM   #15
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And speaking of anti-heros --- Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant is the cat's meow!!

Loved it!
Good series.
I liked the style there: "He climbed the hill. The sunset looked beautiful. He moved on."
That would be three chapters if done by Tolkien.

I would've liked the series a bit better if Covenant had reality issues (i.e., schizophrenia) instead of leprosy. That way he would have a better excuse for disbelieving the world around him.

He did rather beat that horse to death in the latter books.
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