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When I write my short stories, I usually end up using a direct style as follows:

Tim remembered the day he had to say goodbye to Cathy. He did not really have a choice. He had to let go of Cathy, for she had no future with him.

"I'll never forget you," that was the last thing Cathy had said as he had pushed her away.

The words had continued to haunt Tim all these years.

Tim picked up his backpack. It was time to move on again. He had just caught a glimpse of Cathy.

My stories usually have flashbacks and dialogues that I use to try to connect seamlessly the past to the present.

Question: Does a direct style like the above appear snappy?

I am after some techniques that I can use to turn a direct style (like the above) into more interesting and captivating prose. Based on an answer below, this is a minimalist style.

Question: Does minimalist style need to be descriptive?

Note: I hate to admit that I really do not see much wrong with the above. Perhaps this is my style of writing and I cannot improve it further. I would be very grateful for more feedback.

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5 Answers

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I agree with you. There's nothing wrong with that direct style. I even prefer it over the indirect/complicated one.

I believe this style is called minimalism, the biggest exponents being Hemingway and Raymond Carver.

That being said you can vary your prose and make it more captivating in the following ways:

  • Start the sentence with a verb/action (e.g. Picking up his pack, Tim started moving again).

  • Use metaphors/similes (e.g. The words had continued to haunt Tim all these years, like ghosts lurking in the shadows).

  • Vary sentence length (e.g. Tim remembered the day he had to say goodbye to Cathy. He did not really have a choice; he had to let go of Cathy. She had no future with him.

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Thanks! Its fascinating to know that this is a minimalist style. –  Javeer Baker Jul 17 '13 at 0:38
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Minimalism has great virtue in modern writing. Modernists believe the world moves too fast to be reflected accurately by overly complicated writing.

Hemingway put the bare essentials on the page. He knew that a picture could tell an entire story, so why use more words than were necessary to create an image (a picture) in the reader's mind?

Raymond Carver advanced the concept. Imbue the image with implication, symbolism.

Now here is the challenge for you, the modern, sophisticated writer. The most artistic kind of symbolic implication is this: a characteristic of a simple object which reflects something meaningful to one of the characters in the story, even if the character in the story cannot see it for himself. The reader, however, is allowed to see the meaning of the symbol. This is dramatic irony.

A very difficult concept. Let me give you an example, and then I will bring this concept back around to your story. Stay with me.

In Richard Ford's story, Rock Springs, a small-time criminal (who never understands why he's always on the wrong side of the law) stops with vague intent at a mobile home, but behind the home is a mine, and it is lit up with hundreds of golden lights, so that it seems like some sort of promised land. He is dazzled and distracted. The image of the mine works on him in an almost mystical way, and the reader can see its effect, and how all this fellow really wants is his one chance at having something good in his life. He just doesn't know how to get it.

None of this is said out loud. It's all by implication. It's all in the symbolism of the lights in the towers of the mining structure.

So now you want to take your simple, direct prose, and make it just a little more complex, a little more interesting. Well, okay then. Mind you, you are on a good path already, but let's see if we can take you from Hemingway to Carver.

Cathy says, "I'll never forget you." Hmm. Well, gee. Let's look in the dictionary under "cliche." (See what I'm getting at?) So instead of this, let's make up something that is new, fresh, unique, and has a significant symbolic implication about her having "no future" with Tim. How about this?

He fished the tiny clip out of his pocket and pressed it into her hand. "This is yours."

She didn't even have to look. "It's the -- "

He nodded. "Hair clip. Skull. I replaced the eye."

She tried to smile. "It's the first thing you ever gave me."

He tried to smile. "Now it's the last."

"I'll be wearing it when I die."

"Cathy!"

"No, sorry. I didn't mean it that way. Just, I will, someday." She turned away and ran.

Just one of many, many, many possibilities. I hope this opens some doors in your mind.

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Wow brilliant advice. –  Akshat Jiwan Sharma Jul 29 '13 at 15:37
    
@AkshatJiwanSharma Thank you very much! –  John M. Landsberg Aug 1 '13 at 0:31
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When I Write My Stories I Like To Write Them In Old British Vocabulary. And When I Write I Attend To Add A Little Bit Of Hidden Meaning Between The Lines. I Will Add My Ideas In Yours If You Please ( PS: First Two Sentences Are Beautiful) :

Tim remembered the day he had to say goodbye to Cathy. He had been given no choice but to let Cathy go. for she had no future with him.

"I'll never forget you," he spoke his last words with a sorrow melting his heart.

The words may have been spoken, but yet they never stopped hunting him.

As Tim Was About To Let Everything Behind And Move On. His Eyes Captured A Movement Far Away. It Was Cathy.

A Storm Of Mixed Emotions left him frozen in his Spot. Was He Happy To See Her Or Was It the Wound That She Left, Opened Again.

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Ok, Javeer, here's some more feedback.

  1. Thinking about style is pretty much a waste of time. What you need to be doing is thinking about what you want to write. Focus on the stories you want to tell, and let your style flow from that. Your style develops naturally out of your experiences, your thoughts, your observations, your attitudes, your knowledge, your feelings, your responses to the world. Look at people, place, things, and incidents, and see what they mean to you. Put yourself in the place of your characters and imagine what they are feeling. What would they really say to each other at each moment? How would they really react? How would the sun really look filtering through the ancient windows in that nearly ruined train station on that particular morning? Experience the world you are creating and tell us about it, and before you know it, you won't be worrying about the style; you will be writing in your own style.

  2. If you must, however, think about style, if you need a way to flex your style muscles, then pick out some books you love or even some you don't, and copy their style. Try to write a few paragraphs in the style of Dickens, or Mark Twain, or J. K. Rowling, or anybody at all. Do it a bunch of times until you get sick of it and you find yourself saying, "hey, I see how this works; let me give it a shot on my own." By that time you will have absorbed a bunch of the "tricks" of lots of successful writers, and you won't have to think about them, you'll just reinvent them for yourself.

  3. Do try to remember that too much attention to style can bog you down, and it has been the bane, even the death, of many writers, even many great ones. If you spend too much time picking out which hammer you want to use, you won't get the house built.

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Thanks for a different perspective. You wouldn't believe how much it helps. –  Javeer Baker Jul 24 '13 at 4:08
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Many great books repeat common phrases. For example, this is Sherlock Holmes: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1661/pg1661.txt You will see many instances of "said I," "said he," "said Holmes." Here's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/11/pg11.txt "said Alice," "said Alice to herself," "said poor Alice." This type of repetition is not noticed by the reader if your dialog drives.

Some notes:

~ Tim remembered the day he had to say goodbye to Cathy. He did not really have a choice. He had to let go of Cathy, for she had no future with him. -- "remove" equivocates. Could be removed. The phrase "He had to let go of Cathy" is redundant with the first sentence.

~ "I'll never forget you," that was the last thing Cathy had said as he had pushed her away. -- "that was the last thing Cathy had said as he had pushed her away" could be replaced with "said Cathy, as he pushed her away."

~ The words had continued to haunt Tim all these years. -- "had" is unnecessary. In fact, " had continued to haunt" could be replaced with "haunted."

~ Tim picked up his backpack. It was time to move on again. He had just caught a glimpse of Cathy. -- "It was time to move on again." could be tightened to "Time to move on again." Again the "had" is weighing you down. He just glimpsed Cathy.

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Thanks. "Had" as used shows the action took place in the past (as remembered by Tim). This is a flashback. –  Javeer Baker Jul 22 '13 at 23:04
    
@JaveerBaker, no had as used is either part of a phrasal verb meaning must (and in the future) or indicates having a day (at an indefinite time), or is a grammar error. Use “the day he had had to say goodbye to Cathy” if you meant for the day to be in the past. –  jwpat7 Jul 27 '13 at 18:45
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