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Passions in Poetry

Some of those middle-to-higher level blocks

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Christopher
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0 posted 09-30-2002 09:24 PM       View Profile for Christopher   Email Christopher   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Christopher


I noticed Ron referring to the tools we as writers use (or mangle) as blocks on a pyramid... basic rules at the bottom (as the base) moving on up into the more esoteric considerations as you move upward.

My query right now is on imagery in a novel...

Now, when i read a book - the WAY i read - i tend to skim through all the "green forest, black shoes, blah blah." it's not that i don't appreciate the writing, it's just that i want the 'meat' of the work, and in my mind, a few words suffice to give me an idea of where they're at, what they look like, etc.

What is your take on this? I feel it's a valid concern, as there must be SOME reason so much imagery exists in these novels... am i the only one (or one of the few) who just blows through these parts? Help!

C
Poet deVine
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1 posted 09-30-2002 09:32 PM       View Profile for Poet deVine   Email Poet deVine   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Poet deVine

First? Promise me that no one will read what I'm about to say. Ok? Thanks.

I love good imagery - it helps me get a feel for the story, the setting and the characters. BUT, if there is a description of every single little itty bitty piece of burnt umber colored sand in that red painted square sand box that has seen better days, then I skim. There is imagery that sets the tone and enhances the story and then there is imagery that detracts from the story. TOO much of a good thing.

Christopher
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2 posted 10-01-2002 12:52 AM       View Profile for Christopher   Email Christopher   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Christopher

Too late, already read it!

I understand what you're saying completely Sharon. There is without a doubt such a thing as TOO MUCH description. Take GOodkind for example, who spent an entire two and a half pages describing a man's outfit. Wow... get the picture already, stop worrying about word count and tell the story, lol.

But how can you determine what is too much and too little? As the author, i can see the scene clearly in my head - i KNOW what every grain of sand looks like... but how do i know how much of that to give to the reader? How do i determine how much is necessary (ok, i think i can do this part), or how much is enough to add just that extra bit of spice without overpowering the sauce?

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3 posted 10-01-2002 01:06 AM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

I agree with Sharon. DON'T SKIM.

Everything you read? You should consider as if you'd written it yourself. So many nuances are there in foreshadow, that is where the depth is.

I say this with confidence because I was one of those experimental kids that were "trained" on a fast moving projector.

I always got the main idea.

But oh...the reading of again and again?
like honey on the tongue...

Pat Conroy? wow. Just like mental foreplay.

and I'll shaddup, since I'm such a brat.
Not A Poet
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4 posted 10-01-2002 10:29 AM       View Profile for Not A Poet   Email Not A Poet   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Not A Poet's Home Page   View IP for Not A Poet

I read it too Sharon, hehehe.

Pete

Never express yourself more clearly than you can think - Niels Bohr

bsquirrel
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5 posted 10-01-2002 03:53 PM       View Profile for bsquirrel   Email bsquirrel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for bsquirrel

Some can get away with the idea of a bright, vibrant, clear, blue, moving, cloudless, sunny, light-filled, shadowless, hued, colored, dawning morning sky.

Others
cannot.

Mr. Cannot
Severn
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6 posted 10-03-2002 07:36 AM       View Profile for Severn   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Severn

Question for you bm - would you notice if the imagery you skim through wasn't there? Do you think the book would suffer if it was empty of its greens and forests and mushrooms growing on the sides of the trees...?

I think it would suffer. Skimming something to get to the meat is not the same as having only the meat available.

It's about balance I think.

One doesn't want all vegetables and no meat. Or all meat and no veges...no, in order to have the right nutrients...omg, that metaphor is going on far too long...but you get the point (heh, an eg of far too much salad (laughing so much here it's sick).

Another point to consider - you're writing for a readership. The way you read doesn't matter per se. You can safely assume that part of the population is going to read as you do - and ignore some of your imagery. You can also safely assume that another part of the readership will lap imagery up like milk. Another part might at times either ignore or soak in the imagery - depending on mood, attention span, time available to read etc. Another part is simply unknown.

My creative writing teacher taught me that no matter what you do - your reader will never appreciate the effort that has gone into every single line you pen. That's something we, as writers, must accept.

Speaking for me - I love detail, I love imagery, I love the mushrooms, the tapestries, the ancient history of Luth and the dragons, the insect buzzing around the dwarve's ears...I do lose attention in battle scenes sometimes...or when some runaway kitchen slave is hightailing it through the battlements...can find it hard to construct it - mainly because I get frustrated as I'm following the detail so intensely and want to see it just as the author has built it.

In the end, you need your imagery - to satisfy the differing needs of the population. Mix the meat with the sidesalad love...

'How do i determine how much is necessary (ok, i think i can do this part), or how much is enough to add just that extra bit of spice without overpowering the sauce?'

I think you already know, personally. You know that describing a man's outfit for 2 pages is detracting and you know that the extra spice (or salad) is also necessary. It's impossible to set a scale for how much - every book, every chapter, every scene is different.

To sum up I'd say - go with what you feel for now. That's rewrites are designed for. And nosy people like me who will advise and flaunt their opinions. Not to mention editors.

K
Sudhir Iyer
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7 posted 10-03-2002 09:40 AM       View Profile for Sudhir Iyer   Email Sudhir Iyer   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Sudhir Iyer

Well... all valid opinions, of course coming from all of you...

I guess proper imagery is a great tool in a writer's armoury. What is proper constitues a great debate.

What I would say is when you are writing a book, think how you can use the image for developing the character or the story in itself...

An example: If you describe a male character and mention that he has a shiny metallic gun... you may use each of the three words for your plot... like the gun for shooting or defending, the metallic part for making a sound/signal (whatever!!)... and the shine for (I don't know) distracting by directing the reflection fo a shining sun on the face of the attacker... blah... blah ... ooohhhh I am so much spinning a yarn here ... but I guess you get the idea of what I mean to say...

But there is no way you can write a book or even a story without using images...

I like the meat v/s veges philosophy...

regards,
Sudhir
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8 posted 10-03-2002 09:42 AM       View Profile for Not A Poet   Email Not A Poet   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Not A Poet's Home Page   View IP for Not A Poet

To stretch your metaphor a bit more, You have to taste it to know when it is seasoned right

Ron
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9 posted 10-03-2002 11:07 AM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

There is no such thing as "too much" detail, in my opinion. Not in prose. Not even in poetry.

Description serves both a primary and a secondary purpose. The primary, of course, is to allow the reader to "see" what is being described. We measure our success not by quantity but by quality, which is why I say there's no such thing as too much. But while you can't have too much detail, you can most certainly have the WRONG detail. And that can happen on two different levels.

The first level is the easiest to avoid and includes describing anything that doesn't enhance the purpose of the scene. To use a simplistic example, a writer probably shouldn't stop to describe the flowers the hero and villain just trampled during their battle. The writer should ask himself what he wants the reader to experience in a scene and EVERY line of description should be a movement in that direction.

The second level is much more difficult to avoid. A writer's job isn't to just describe but rather to capture the essence of something. Rather than give a lot of details, we try to pick out the IMPORTANT details. And just as in the first level, "important" should be defined by purpose. A sunset on the eve of a major military action will be described differently than the same sunset being viewed by two lovers.

The secondary purpose of description is more subtle, but of equal importance, and especially so in longer fiction. Description is one of the tools we use to develop pace. After you've just made the reader run a four-minute mile, you need to give him a break. Contrary to the critic's cliches, you do NOT want the reader constantly on the edge of his seat, because he'll probably get too comfortable there after a while. You want him to sit back and relax for a bit, so that the next time you move him to the edge he'll better feel the contrast.

There are usually only a handful of set-pieces in a typical novel, the point where something important is resolved. As an all too common example, the hero may have just spent six chapters chasing the villain and their meeting is a set-piece. Take your favorite novel, find the set-pieces, and you should notice two things about them. First, the set-piece is probably very sparse on description. If the runes on the hero's sword are important to the conflict, you can bet they were described prior to the meeting so that the writer could just reference them in the battle and avoid slowing the pace. Second, the scene immediately following the set-piece is going to be heavy on description, perhaps describing the wounds suffered or the aftermath of the battle field. We want the reader to relax a little, sit back in his chair, and get ready for the next four-minute mile. Description, more than any other single technique, determines the pace of the story.

Chris, those who have followed Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series should recognize (a) he's not really that good a writer, and (b) he's getting better with each book. Because of (a) he's probably not the best example, but because of (b) he'll nonetheless serve.  

Remember Richard in the first few books? The woods guide with no ambition and a bent towards simplicity? I'm stretching my memory, but if I'm not mistaken, the lengthy description you referenced was of Richard's War Wizard ensemble and I suspect Goodkind wanted it to symbolize Richard's final acceptance of his role in the world. He spent a lot of time describing the clothing in the same way many authors spend a lot of time describing a brand new character - because Richard had essentially become a new character. I'm not saying Goodkind was necessarily successful, but I think the long description was there for a definite purpose. Again, I'm going from memory of the book and could be wrong, but I suspect if you look a few pages prior to that long description you'll find a flashback of the earlier Richard, or something similar to lend contrast to the War Wizard clothing. (At least, that's the way I would have done it.   )


Sunshine
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10 posted 10-03-2002 11:09 AM       View Profile for Sunshine   Email Sunshine   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Sunshine's Home Page   View IP for Sunshine


If a man is raised on concrete slabs, what does he know of sand?

Describe a building of glass, steel and stone to a desert dweller...

who are you writing to/for?

Good question, Christopher...
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11 posted 10-03-2002 11:10 AM       View Profile for Sunshine   Email Sunshine   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Sunshine's Home Page   View IP for Sunshine


Ron and I clicked at about the same time, and of course, his response is much more indepth than mine...

thank you, Ron!
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12 posted 10-03-2002 05:17 PM       View Profile for bsquirrel   Email bsquirrel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for bsquirrel

Great response, Ron. And Sunshine, the first line of your response should be the start of a poem! Please write it?
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13 posted 10-03-2002 05:31 PM       View Profile for Sunshine   Email Sunshine   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Sunshine's Home Page   View IP for Sunshine


Mike?  Just for you...I'll work on it tonight...

promise!
Christopher
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14 posted 10-03-2002 06:37 PM       View Profile for Christopher   Email Christopher   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Christopher

Karen - Don't skim? Heh. As fast as I read and as quickly as I go through books, I would likely be subjected to a lot of [what I consider] terrible prose to little or no affect other than the author showing off her talent. It is something I can certainly understand, doing such things myself quite often, but as a reader would rather avoid. I have more books to get to, and if I can save myself five minutes of useless rubbish? Heh.

Mikey - ROFL!

M/R - I would notice… and probably be very grateful! LOL - understand please, that I'm not saying I don't read any of it. I simple skim through, find what's important (a self taught skill over the years) and move on. As suggested above, it's fairly useless to me as a reader to know what every grain of sand looks like. Tell me the sand is red and move on - UNLESS there is a purpose for the extended description, in which case you'd better let me know you're not just practicing your adjective usage skills.

It's not true that the way I read doesn't matter though, I think. While I am writing for a readership, I don't believe I have to compromise what I feel and believe in to accomplish that. That doesn't mean - on the flip side - that I'm willing (could also read this as "able") to completely ignore their needs either. As you said, balance. I understand they won't likely appreciate the effort involved (how could one measure anyway?).

Besides, I don't like salads.

Ron - you make some sort of sense there, though I disagree with your initial statement, because it could easily be argued that any detail is pertinent. Ie: trampling flowers - could give the reader the impression of the weight of the battle, the carelessness for nature, etc. To a different example - Tad Williams, whose series "Memory, Sorrow & Thorn" Kamla was referring to. He spends the first two hundred pages of his book is spent in description, necessary, one could easily say, but mighty darn boring. (I only continued reading because ms K said it was so good).

This is where I start understanding what you're saying though. In reality, the first half of this book should be spread out among different set pieces. This tells me that you have to meld the two purposes you list as well. *nodding head* So what Tad did (and very well, I think he does a very good job of describing things), is to let us sit back and relax… for two hundred pages.

I was referring to that exact portion Ron, and I suspect you're right about the referencing previous to that portion. Still, as valid as that is in context, perhaps it was TOO MUCH? (lol).

Thanks Ron - looking at it from a story pace VP makes a lot of sense to me. I still think there is such a thing as too much though, and you really didn't show me where you truly disagree with that. (Or I just missed it, LOL)

Kari - You have a very good point, but I think that's a little bit of a different subject. What you're looking at isn't amount of imagery (ok, that COULD be argued, lol) but rather how you present it. Good phrasing though!

Thank you all for your input.

Chris
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15 posted 10-04-2002 08:28 PM       View Profile for Balladeer   Email Balladeer   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Balladeer's Home Page   View IP for Balladeer

Congrats on a vey interesting topic, CHris. There are somethings that need to be taken into consideration, I think. What is the purpose of the read? If you are writing for information or research then I would agree that "skimming" is fine. If you are writing for pleasure, however, I think you need to read it all. Adjectives and descriptions give the flavor to the work...they set the mood. This, of course, depends on the ability of the author. There are those who feel that every word must count, such as William Strunk, Jr. who wrote in THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE...

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, just as a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.  This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tells."

Ayn Rand was also a firm believer in this theory. She once stated that she never wrote about her characters brushing their teeth - not because they didn't brush them - but because it was not interesting to the reader to read of them brushing them. She claimed to have made every word count and would challenge critics to pick out any sentence at random in any book of hers and she would then give a detailed explanation of why she selected every word in that sentence. They never stumped her.

On the other side of the coin were the writers who wrote to set a mood, like Hemingway, for example. If you were to skim through his works you would miss the flavor entirely of his work. Ray Bradbury is another. His topics are simple - a boy buying his first pair of tennis shoes in "The Sound of Summer Running" or a grandmother with a kitchen in total disarray who was the greatest cook alive until someone straightened her kitchen. If you are looking for "meat" in these stories you won't find much but the style he used in his descriptions give a warm glow inside to their readers. How about Arthur Conan Doyle? What made Sherlock Holmes a legend? Yes, it was clever writing and there were good mysteries but the stories were so popular because, when read, one could feel the atmosphere of old London, could see every item at 221B Baker Street, could feel the chill of the foggy nights and hear the horse-drawn carriages on cobblestone. One "skimmimg" through Doyle's stories would miss all that, or at least have it diluted greatly. If, when you read the books you are reading, you find it boring or tedious to read the descriptive words or adjectives, it's time to change authors because the best authors will not invoke that feeling. You can speedread just as easily as you can gobble down a lobster dinner or prime rib to get the nutrition, but you forfeit the flavor of the experience.

You should read a book the way you make love. If your main goal is to get to the "meat" of the matter, then forget the foreplay and go for it...but if you want to make the experience enjoyable, pay attention to the details, even the small ones (no offense ). Take it nice and slow and allow yourself to soak up the pleasure of every word, each gesture, each touch to your mind and let them natually build up to the climactic ending. Sometimes the journey is better than the ending....and that's ok, too!

That's why Toerag only reads short stories!


Christopher
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16 posted 10-05-2002 01:03 AM       View Profile for Christopher   Email Christopher   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Christopher

Hey Mike, thanks for stopping by!

You bring up some very good and valid points. I understand and agree that there are times and places where skimming (I still don't think I've properly put across what I mean by this) can cause you to lose out on some of the meaning/feeling/art of a story. Needless to say, I don’t' skim on poetry.

I disagree, however, that if I find a work that I feel the need to do that on that I should move on to someone else. Just because someone doesn't write the most fantastic prose in the world (uh, like me, lol) doesn't mean that they are not worth reading. I can think of a dozen authors off the top of my head, but I'll stick with old faithful for the moment - Terry Goodkind: he does write some really nice prose here and there, though nothing phenomenal yet. His descriptions (as noted above) tend to wander to the lengthy/useless side and are often boring. However, several of his stories have been well worth reading for entertainment value as well as presenting some relatively unique presentations. He has fairly well developed characters (though I must admit the main ones have a tendency to be mono-dimensional), and I just enjoy reading him. I could lose out if I didn't just because he writes some stuff that isn't amazing.

I haven't read "The Elements of Style" personally, though I've been witness to more than one argument over its merits. Reading just the section you've selected, I think that I'd have to side with those in the negative. (tongue in cheek here). In word, I agree completely with the statement this selection makes; why would I want to waste time with something that didn't produce the effect I was looking for?

The problem comes when I read into this statement - who determines what is necessary?

Easily answered of course - the author does. Uhm, but where does that leave the reader? At the mercy of the author, where she always is. Looking up, seeing Ron's suggested reasoning for Goodkind to spend two pages describing an outfit makes complete sense. I see it being likely that was the man's intent. But, in my op, he failed. So where is the validity of including what he did? A statement likes that bothers me because it precludes subjectivity. If I were writing to an audience that I knew would see things from my exact perspective, it would make sense. If, however, I am writing to a more general audience (because I am), I can't know what one person will like as opposed to the other. Rather, I should say, I have to guess at what they will all appreciate, and balance that accordingly. This is not suggesting that one should throw in words willy-nilly of course.

Brushing teeth - lol, I laughed at this, because I wrote a short story a while back (Nakatomi for those who might recall) where the intro was located in the main character's bathroom - taking a shower, looking into the mirror etc.. Of course, there was a reason for that, which I think was fairly obvious as the story moved on. Still, I found it funny.

Again though, I think this is a subjective thing. It could be argued that there are reasons for any words an author adds to their story. But this comes from the author's perspective. Now, if I'm writing purely for myself (something I do, though mostly in poetry) I can assume a narrow audience and place words as I wish them, the meaning only subject to my authority. However, if I want to write to a larger audience than myself, I have other factors to take into account - specifically the fact that others will think and read differently than I do.

The best example I can give of this is Kamla and I. We think along very similar lines, to the point we often call each other mind readers. We like the same books, the same types of writing, etc. And yet, when I write (or she does, it works both ways) she still often finds disagreements with my reasoning for wording things the way I do. If she asks me why I wrote a verse the way I did, I can answer her every time. The problem isn't in me being able to answer though, but in her agreeing or being able to appreciate. LOL - that's where I end up having problems. (and you know her, she has no problem pointing out something SHE disagrees with!)

You might never be able to stump me either, but that won't make me a great writer like Hemingway or Bradbury though. They became great writers though, not because they only used words that were needed, but because they used the RIGHT words and the right amount. I could argue all day long that something was necessary, but that doesn't make it pretty. See where I'm going? I have a feeling that I'm not explaining myself very well - lol, oh the irony.

As to making love - well, I can tell you this: one would get tired after a while of just eating lobster or prime rib. Our restaurant businesses in this country would be in a sad shape were we to want to eat only a certain type of food all the time. Diversity is a good thing - it's hard to appreciate the prime rib if you've never eaten a greasy hamburger before.

And finally - that explains a lot about Toe and those stories we hear!

Thanks Michael for such a thoughtful response. I look forward to your reply.

Chris
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17 posted 10-05-2002 05:51 AM       View Profile for Sunshine   Email Sunshine   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Sunshine's Home Page   View IP for Sunshine


Prime Rib = greasy hamburger smothered with onions...

One man's book is another man's pleasure.  I understand very well 'Deer's points and I tend to think along his lines - perhaps seasoned poets have already skimmed through life enough, that we have finally taken up the adage of stopping...to eat the prime rib.  LOL...

As I read these last two entries, it struck me that to read a book 'Deer's way, and to take from it what he was inferring, was to dive deep into a gloriously blue pool of fluid that invaded my every pore.  To read a book your way, Christopher, was to just walk over the water.

Depending on where you want the method to take you, depends very much on the reader/diver/diner.  Christopher, you say it is up to the writer...sometimes, though, the writer knows, it will Always be up to the Reader...on what is taken, or not taken, from the effort.

Ron
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18 posted 10-05-2002 11:02 AM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

I'm a died-in-the-wool Strunker, believing that every single word must count. Of course, I'm sure everyone already realized that about me because of my usual brevity.

I also agree with Chris, however, that necessary and unnecessary are subjective. That's part of what makes this job tough. But it's not a part over which we have a lot of control and, more importantly, I don't think it's the biggest part of the problem.

The biggest part of the problem, I think, is a writer's tendency to fall in love with his own words. When that happens, necessary and unnecessary aren't just subjective reasons, but become instead justifications. We invent reasons why the passage is so vital to the story. And we believe our own inventions. A writer needs to be a merciless editor, and that's no easy thing.

For me, every scene has to have one or more purposes, and it often helps me to actually write those down. If the purpose is to move a character from Point A to Point B, it should end up being a fairly short scene (maybe even just a couple of sentences). The scene will become a little longer if I also want to foreshadow what will happen as a result of reaching B. I may need to introduce a prop that will be important at set-piece E and, depending on how important it is, I may spend quite a few words describing it. (Always remembering, if the prop is totally irrelevant to the current scene and I spend too much time on it, the reader will go into skim mode and possibly ruin my set-piece.) And, Michael, I think evoking a Bradbarian mood is also a valid purpose.

The deeper the scene, the more purposes it will try to simultaneously meet - and the more difficult it will be to write and edit. Chris, I think the problem you sensed with Goodkind's description of the War Wizard ensemble was valid and probably the result of that passage serving only a single purpose. It probably did exactly what the author intended, if only subconsciously, but it lacked depth. The effort required of the reader wasn't balanced by the weight of the writer's purpose.

The writer, I think, faces two challenges. The first and more difficult of the two is to determine the purpose(s) of a passage, and obviously that should be something that will (eventually) enrich the reader in some way. Beautiful writing alone won't do that, something Bradbury and Hemingway both knew and practiced. The purpose is the meat, and if you want to fill the reader, you need enough purpose. Some passages will do that with quantity (several purposes) and a very few passages will do it with quality (one very deep and probably difficult purpose).

The second challenge, of course, is to write EXACTLY what is required to serve the purpose(s). No more, no less. The only way to do that consistently is for the writer to fall in love, not with his words, but with the purpose they are meant to serve.


 
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