A dull pencil is greater than the sharpest memory. - an English proverb
A DullPencil Editor blog post
Phew! It’s been a long while since the last time we met. I hope you’ll forgive me.
In “The Fancypants Fallacy, pt. 1: Debunked,” I demonstrated that there is no correlation between the fancy-ness of writing and the goodness of writing. In Part 2, we go over the use of fancy-ness as a writing style in your own writing, and discuss its uses and its risks. I define fancy-ness here as any obscure wording or over-complex sentences or descriptions that go into unnecessary, teeny-weeny detail.
Fancy writing can sometimes be contributory. Mainly, fancy writing can be used to create a fancy air that may be needed for a fancy story (like an 18th century romance novel or a noir detective story), or for a fancy narrator (like the Queen of Britain or an arrogant evil genius). It wouldn’t be quite accurate to write plainly. Plus, used sparingly, it can sometimes be pleasing to the ear (eye?). And a not-quite-essential paragraph here and there can make the sense of time passing, or act as a drag chute after a scene of too much drama (or to set the stage before one). But as a general rule, extravagant linguist-o-batics are not a great idea to use.
It’s just too tangly, unwieldy. Prancing words and dancing patterns create the dangerous risk of getting readers confused and just plain lost. With a YA audience- which is the audience DullPencil tailors to- this is especially horrific, as the major young adult reading issue is impatience, and an especially disgusted YA reader will punt a book away with no regrets. (I know I’ve done this.) This is possibly one of the worst things that could happen to a novice writer trying to attract attention, and one of the cruelest things that a writer could do to a reader.
Also, even worse results are possible— you yourself could get lost if you go too far and your own words outrun you. You may end up having to plow painfully through bajillions of previous sentences that take 5 minutes each for you to digest, just to reference back to that spot where you mentioned your main character’s eye color. Even entire EVENTS could get muddled and out of order. It can happen. It makes me shudder just thinking about it. Bluhh.
But most of all, too much fancy-ness bestowed on trivial things, detracts from the story itself. This goes back to what I said about confusing the reader. A story can have characters deep and dazzling, action bursting with BAM!, or a premise that would make masters throw down their pens in anguish, but overly-flashy writing can steal too much attention and focus from the reader, making all these look duller. If you want your storytelling to shine, prick up your ears now. Take from the realm of exotic viewpoints, indigestible tense, and excessive thesaurus-consulting very, very, VERY sparingly, if at all, please. You’ll want your technical choices to be discreet, so that your writer’s talent can stand out and be as visible as possible.
Sometimes fancy-ness is used in mundane circumstances to make dramatic effect, often for humor. You’ll see this on a lot of blogs. The more ordinary the subject, and thus, the more stark the irony, the funnier it becomes. The major problem with this technique, though, is that if the writing becomes too fancy and starts to drag through the entire piece, it loses its charm and becomes a chore to read. Also, in fiction, there’s an expectation of something happening. It’s somewhat mean to the reader to beat around the bush constantly.
Other times, the use of unnecessary fancy-ness is used as an attempt to jazz up a mediocre story. You’ll find this in cheaper, fluffier fiction. This can be useful to lure in the gullible readers who believe in the Fancypants Fallacy or to sneakily hide flaws in writing.
But! This is a dangerous move.
The final risk of fancy pants is that your writing may make you seem plain silly. If you yourself feel that your fancy writing is somewhat contrived, a reader who isn’t too dimwitted will undoubtedly be able to tell. Plus, the more cynical readers and writers in the community (like me, always bashing) look down upon writing that relies excessively on fancypants. Sadly, they perceive these writers as dim-witted amateurs who ought to be banished to the lowliest depths of typesetting and fortune cookies (…in bed).
If you need a touch of verbal dancing for your story’s sake, then you need it. By all means, go ahead. But always keep in mind the risks of being overly fancy. All in all, I’m trying to say to go with your natural flow. Try plain writing, even if only once, and see how it feels. Ask yourself, “Does this part really need to be fancy?” And if you have an undesired fancy urge while writing, take deep breaths and try to expel it from your head before you resume. The chances are that you’ll find it so much smoother, and so will your audience. Good luck.
I hope I was helpful, but if I wasn’t, I would prefer to know! Please, feel free to add your opinions in the comment section below! :D