Is creative use of language a dying venue?

This board is probably going to lean heavily one way, but…

there seems to be a 'trend' going, that readers are not gonna sit still for anything but stripped down, fast moving prose…

I have never seen the degree of viciousness shown toward creative use of language…it's becoming an endemic practice, on blogs, boards, reviews…with little or no detractors presenting any other opinion, the effect is rather damning.

Thoughts, anyone?

Is it threatening to post a counter opinion in the face of such polarized viewpoint, or - are we headed for the straight-jacketed future, where a word cannot be USED to evoke a sense of mystery between the lines, or to anchor an experience into a landscape that has not been explored…are we going to settle for the didactic interpretation, and limited shading, toward Dialogue Only, that's the product of the TV generation?

Just a question - let's open a hot debate!

Why might some people feel the need to Stamp Out creativity, with regard to language in story?

originally posted by Auna

Language evolves with lifestyle. In older times, people took more time to see plays or read books if they were educated. Older classics like Jane Eyre had quite flowery paragraphs that I remember one person in my class commenting on how people don't really speak that way. But I think perhaps they did back then.

Today is cluttered with cellphones and text messaging that forces brevity. We have an abundance of fast food, drive throughs, and a definite feeling of rush rush through life. People get used to fast paced and simple and have less tolerance for slow and meandering in the limited time they have for leisure.

I think this will only get worse because there are so few popular thought-provoking works in the mainstream. Simple stuff sells, more people produce simple stuff because it sells… vicious cycle.

I also think people are suffering instant information everywhere - a form of ADD - so it's harder to concentrate on something that isn't concrete, get to the point, fast to digest.

I personally feel there is room still for creative language as long as it doesn't stray so far from what's being currently used as to be seen as complete gibberish by the masses. You can write like Shakespear all you like, but how many people actually understand that without taking special classes?

originally posted by Meredith Lee Gray

I think a lot of readers are drawn to your writing simply because you use our language in a way that no one else really is. I feel like I've learned a lot about a simply written sentence can be so evocative. I don't know that I fully comprehended before reading this series.

People alawys disuss Shakespeare's master of the language in his writings, but that was the language of his time, and it's not as easy to understand why he is counted such a master. (I mean, you can come to understand it, but you have to read it, and you have to research the meanings of the words and phrases that we no longer use in modern English.)

With Janny's writings, I get the same effect. Someone who understands how you can use written language to a masterful effect. It's really inspiring to read.

Anyhow, not to brown nose!

On message boards, blogs, and so forth I tend to get accused of being a snob, or just really pretentious, because I will use "big" words, or words that (apparently) those people aren't used to hearing/haven't heard before. And in speaking, my family is often laughing at the words I use, or giving me the classic "What?!" It doesn't bother me in any way. It's their problem, not mine. And sometimes I do find it kind of amusing, like I am jokingly assuming the mien of an intellectual or artiste. But the joke's lost on most people. :frowning_face:

Like I posted elsewhere a couple days ago, I hate hate hate the new text messaging short-hands ("c u l8r") and I never ever use them (except, occasionally, when I'm being silly I will, because people who know me, know that that's a deliberate joke), so my texts are often having to be sent in multiple messages! Oh well.

My thing is, I'm trying not to judge people who type things like "r u going 2 bbl", trying not to think that they're either really young, or just not as "bright." Because I know that's not the case. I probably am just being a snob about it. In text messages, I can almost understand, but then that kind of writing does start encroching in other forums of writing, where it's not so necessary to type as quickly as possible in as few characters as possible.

If you're in the U.S. you've probably seen those cell phone commercials where the mom is getting on the childrens'/grandma's case about their text messaging. "IDK, my BFF Jill?!" You expect that language from the kids, but it really is spreading to everyone, of every generation. My mother, my older sister, my own peers. It always surprises me to get messages or e-mails with those types of short-hand (for lack of a better term).

That's just my pet peeve.

But I do think that people who display a "creative use of language" are termed pretentious snobs. It's sad. It's easy to say that our language is turning into crap, and vocabularies are shrinking like crazy. But, then, language is always changing, isn't it…

Perhaps people who haven't devoted as much time to reading (the #1 booster of vocabulary, in my opinion), like many people aren't anymore, feel threatened or embarassed by other people that display a more comfortable grasp of the language, and have a wider vocabulary, or are just more creative and unique with their phrasing.

I do think the world, at least my part of it, is getting more focused on speed and function, than artistry (unless you're specifically in an art field), and maybe that plays a part as well.

Speaking of speed, I'm about to run out the door, so if this post seems rushed and nonsensical, I apologize!!


originally posted by Meredith Lee Gray

Auna, I was writing my post before yours had appeared, but we touched on a few of the same points! Great minds! :smiley:


originally posted by Auna

I agree Mer :smiley:

originally posted by Julie

This subject has come up before. I joined the discussion on why Janny's books do not have the same following as other fantasy/sci fi writers. Basically I said that Janny has not diluted her style of writing as the series continues unlike other ?more financially successful writers such as Robert Jordan.His books are easy to read although boring. I'm not sure how we can redirect our short attention span/ instant gratification culture. Maybe as this next generation matures they will discover the joy of more complex reading.
THere are writers out there who can write creatively and still keep pretty much within the modern vernacular (The Canadian writer Douglas Coupland has that ability.)This may be a good place to start- hook people onto good wordsmithing and then add more complex language.

originally posted by motley

Language shifts are constant. Every new technology or ideology changes language. We do not speak or spell English the way Shakespeare did, nor Austen, nor even Elliot.

English has been growing. Every new discovery and field requires new terminology. English has a monstrous vocabulary of a million words, half of which are technical terms. In daily communication we use 20,000 words - Oxford and Cambridge English Teaching language professionals compiled lists of these words to create a rationalised English Language programme, graded from beginner to advanced. Anything after that is redundant or specialised in terms of getting plain meaning across.

Not that I agree with not exploring the richness of English vocabulary. I love finding new words in new contexts.

Language is constantly being invented and reinvented and used for different things. Is there a gift emerging from this rationalised use of language?

originally posted by Reading_fox

I think it is true to say that the general population (which probably doesn't include most serious readers?!) does prefer a lite version of almost anything.

However it is worth considering that the average length of novel, particularly in fantasy, is significantly longer than it was a few decades ago. So it can't be just attention spans because to read HP7, Steven Erikson etc etc is a fairly significant investment of time.

Interesting - what gets to me, sometimes, is a trend toward equating this word, and that SIMILAR one, as the same thing.

But both words, in fact, are not the same thing. Each has its own, precise shade of meaning…there are many times where "simpler" is not better, in this respect…the shade of meaning matters.

To switch the one word out, and use the more "common" one shifts the impact, sometimes significantly.

That sort of short hand thinking puts a twist in my knickers. (grin) I see the difference, and it bugs the feelers until I twitch…I see the notch dumbed down, all too clearly, and the reduction takes what might be full, living color, and turns it down to drab…

Do some people not realize what they are missing, by losing the life that's available in the full range of possible word choices?

Give me six shades of red paint to render a picture, not just one pigment…all reds are not cadmium, and even that one, which derives from a heavy metal, comes in a range of variety…when painting the twists and turns in a ribbon, I CAN'T DO IT! using only the one!

It takes cadmium red light, cadmium red, cadmium red deep AND a glazing in both alizarine crimson, and violet, just to do the sheen on a twisted satin ribbon…

What about words? The nuances of character, dialogue, place, pacing, mood - tension…where do we shortcut, and what might be lost?

originally posted by Susan C

I do know people who will avoid anything written that requires them to expand their knowledge. I have had my own son ask me why I use "big words" when speaking when he feels I could use simpler words. I have explained that words carry more than definitions, but thoughts, feelings, ideas, and so forth. I have also noticed that each generation appears to read less. (Note: While many children, who rarely read did pick up the Harry Potter books-many read little else). My daughter preferred the series by Lemony Snicket to the Harry Potter series and her reason was she thought the Lemony Snicket books were more intelligent-the language was more complex and she enjoyed learning new words.

Anyone who studies literature learns the immortal lines "It was a dark and stormy night…" as an example of poor writing. Yet, today our children are not taught to appreciate the richness of the spoken and written word. As the world becomes more technological and our lives are filled with "gadgets", I believe people are becoming increasely inclined towards convenience in all things. This includes the ease of simple words. Those of us who enjoy the nuance of language can not give into the masses. The use of language is true magic. The choice of one word over another has the power to free our imagination and induce profound emotion. I do not think it is the constant shifting or expanding of a language that is the root cause of people seeming to want "lite" reading. I truly believe it is the expansion of society's ever growing search of convenience.

While some may enjoy a lengthy novel, they do not want to pause to look up a word or decipher the meaning from the context. Yet, as I ponder the use of language I think of the many times that I have been in a rush and have asked someone to be more succint-to shorten what they are saying-to get to the point. Does this inadvertly teach someone to say something in the shortest, easies way possible?

originally posted by Susan C

The last line should have been written: Does this inadvertly teach someone to say something in the shortest, easiest way possible? And does this teach them that being succint is preferred in all written communications?

originally posted by Clansman

This is an incredibly rich philosophical discussion, and I think that it can easily be expanded beyond just words. Janny, your illustration of painting a ribbon is perfect! What a wonderful way to make a point.

My wife and I just commissioned a piece of furniture. Yes, commissioned. It is being custom-made for us, to house our computer/television/stereo centre, and our DVD and CD collection. The reason is that we could not find a pre-made one that would work. Also, most of what was available in the stores was crap.

We chose to have this piece made because it met our specific needs, we are supporting a local craftsman, and what he is making really is a piece of art, for not a whole lot more than what a good-looking crappy one would have cost. But most will never consider this as a possibility. They will buy the cheap piece of junk, tell them to HO HO HO-ld the payments, and then throw it out in ten years.

I think the same attitude that has chipped away at the beauty of the English language (and undoubtedly other languages) is chipping away at all kinds of art, beauty and craftsmanship. Think of how few really good television shows have come out of Hollywood in recent years. Most of it is on specialty channels, like HBO, or PBS, and there is precious little of that. The decline of decent news coverage in the US, and to a lesser extent Canada (I don't know about other nation's news). Look at what has happened to 60 Minutes, which used to be an excellent program, but now devotes half of its time to biographies of celebrities. My only US news programs now are Frontline (PBS) and Bill Moyers.

Business does tell us to do something in the shortest amount of time. Good enough is perfect, as long as it gets the basic point across.

However, there is hope. What has survived to this century from the last few? For the most part, it was not the popular forms of entertainment, but rather the high literature, ballets, operas, fine plays, beautiful paintings and sculptures. We still read Charles Dickens (who was immensely popular, btw :smiley:), but not the pamphleteers of London or New York. We see Shakespeare on stage, but not the rowdy musicals put on the music halls of the Victorian era. Vaudeville (I hope I spelled that right) died (although I liked parts of Vaudeville), but Gilbert and Sullivan did not. One day, the Fox Network too will die. The question is, what will survive from our time?

None of us can predict where language will go. The reason I post here is because I love to read Janny's books. She is the best wordsmith in her genre, and her plots are anything but predictable, especially with her more recent work. Her characters come alive on the page, and are distinct, because of the language she uses to evoke feeling in the reader. To extend her metaphor, were her pallet of words smaller, she would not have the same impact.

One of the critics I read on complained of her use of language in the Ships of Merior. I dismissed the man as a philistine, because he completely missed the point. He wanted the story, not what the story was for. Me, I want what is behind the story, the whole point. Without that incredible lexicon, Janny's work would be diminished, the characters less sharp and distinct, the landscape more dull. The story would still be great, but no longer epic. Mere entertainment, as opposed to literature.

As for the use of synonyms and similar words, rubbish to "redundancy". Those who say the use of a synonym is redundant wouldn't know a sonnet from a sow, and probably think that the Sistine Chapel could have been done with a roller or paint sprayer. For instance, think of the different words used for "river", and how using those words changes your perception of that particular waterway. Also, people in different places use the word "river" to describe different things. I saw what was called a "river" in Nova Scotia, and I would have called it a creek. But the locals were insistent that it was a river (albeit one that was only three feet wide!).

I don't think the use of creative language will die. The trend is currently that way, but trends fade and die. Creative use of language has stayed around for hundreds of years, and the slang of yesteryear is found only in Partridge's. People stop liking trends when they finally see where the trend is going.

I am reading to my kids as much as I can. I am determined to instill the love of reading into them, and to give them the benefit of language. This is one of the reasons I have been so slow with SF!

I am guilty, I suppose, of using big words. I got teased for it in grade 1 (my parents are both PhD's, and as a result, I had a vocabulary at a young age that lead to others feeling a little threatened), and I still use big words. I like them, and I don't do it to be self-important. They are just better and more descriptive.

Incidentally, on this point, check out Sheldon Comics this week. Mr. Kellar is poking fun at Wikipedia, and how it has more on Optimus Prime (a "Transformers" toy) than it does on George Washington. We are not the only ones feeling this way.

originally posted by DarthJazy

Ok veiwpoint from the gamer. I see where all of you are going with this and while clansman is right it wont die I dont see the trend changing in our lifetime. While I whole heartedly wish more time to do the things I love I often find myself rushing through everything and have to shorten everything and get to the point so I can move on.

Now I raised my son (hes 6) reading to him all the time and he still sees me read a great deal. still I am a gamer by nature and so is my son as well as our mutual love of starwars. He absolutly is fighting me every step of the way on learning math and learning to read and write. He has caught the new "trend" if it cant be done fast don't do it. I am working on trying to find a way to fix this ie making him help me read his video game text but for the moment I have to force the issue and force him to do it at home and at school.

Our world has evolved to a point to where you get everything now and dont have to wait. While next day world wide shipping is great and so is e-mail has connected the world there are going to be draw backs and this is the big one.

Where back during shakespears life and through time till recently the human race has always had to wait for everything to get here be it information, new products, or just word of a friend or even country news.

With the whole of human knowledge doubling everying few years we are esp. with computer and technology, we as a race are progressing so fast that in order to keep up we no longer have time for a leasurly hobby or past time. We need to get things done now. Even the problems with our planet are coming to a point where if something is done now we won't be here.

I forsee this problem increasing with the new generation. Noone will want to wait anymore and those hobbies like reading and chess and any others will either evolve to the same or be for those select old people like me and you who want to waste the time on it. Hell if it wasn't for my failing body i probably be the same way…

I probably have said this all wrong and didn't explain my self that well but my arm has gone numb again and still have work to do so ill go now before i make this worse.

originally posted by Reading_fox

One of the joys of english has always been the slight and subtle (note both! neither can be just reduced to "little" ) differences between similar words - a process formed from the vast hodgepodge of backgrounds that combined to form english.

However clarity of expression is also key. If your meaning is obscured by the language, then the sentance is wasted. However like a picture, what the reader gets from a passage is in part what they bring with them to the viewing.

originally posted by Trys

Here's a question that relates to this subject. Given that there are locations on the Web (blogs, stores, etc.) where individuals are espousing their opinions regarding the unnecessary use of 'quality' language, does anyone know if there are places where the 'defenders of the faith' are standing strong? Or are we just voices in the wilderness being blown away by the gale force of conventionality?

originally posted by Clansman

HMmmmm. Did you want to start one?

originally posted by DarthJazy

thinking about this I just remembered something my old college biology teacher said.

"Witht he coming of computers and picture based icons that represent words we as a species are entering a phase of deevolution. We seem to be going backwards because if you look at the egyptions they used pictures to represent words or phrases much as windows does for us now. Even the internet is starting to do it where the written creativity of useing words is being forgotten in place of useing pictures to make things quicker." He goes on from there saying how he thinks this is happeneing because humans have eliminated the process of natural selection by keeping alive and allowing to breed people who have series illness both mental and physical ie. down syndrom. where in nature these people would normally die.

I think this fits what we are seeing which I to am much like with the use of language. I am more familiar with useing txt based chat and or icons than with written words nowa days.

originally posted by Clansman


Your old biology teacher sounds like a left over from the 1930's eugenics movement!

I am not sure that we need worry so much. Those who need to communicate with proper language will always do so. In the olden days, most people were illiterate, and only the elite were able to read and write. Perhaps this is a return of sorts to those days?


"Is the modern use of text-based chat and iconic communication the new illiteracy?"

The test could be hand them a copy of CotMW, and see if they can read it, understand it, and pick up on its basic nuances. Or give them some modern classics of the mainstream like Hemingway or John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath would be a good choice. I loved that book. Sad though.

I rather imagine that English profs in colleges and universities are using the red pen on a lot more exams and papers these days.

originally posted by Susan C

DJ: I agree with Clansman that the biology professor does sound like someone reciting 1930's eugenics. Having a son who is Bi-polar makes me extremely wary of those ideas.

I don't it is a matter of selective breeding or lack of it. The media today is fast. If something happens in Swaziland, we know it about immediately. Before the invention of the printing press, books had to be laboriously copied by hand. It was not economical for most people to learn to read as they could not afford books and it was in the interest of the church to keep the masses illiterate. The printing press was one of the greatest inventions, in my opinion. It lead to more people having access to knowledge.

My secretary told me when she reads she wants to relax and not have to think too much. She says she much prefers an easy read.

My work involves a great deal of writing, but it is technical and scientific. This type of writing is by nature not creative. Short, choppy sentences are almost required. Therefore, when I read I enjoy something that is flowing and creative. When I read Janny's books, I am in Athera. I see it, smell it, hear it, and feel it. That is what I want when I read.

I stand by my assertion that the move towards more stripped down prose is a result of swiftly advancing technology and much busier lives. It is so much easier for people to plop down on the sofa and turn on the television and being mindlessly amused than to pick up a book and use their brain. My children know when I am reading that I become deaf as I lose myself in another realm. But for them television or the computer hold more allure. Take my kids to a video store and they are happy. Take me to a book store and I am in nirvana.

originally posted by Clansman

Susan C:

You said that so well. I too am constantly writing technical documents, affidavits, motions, etc., that by their very nature must be stripped-down unvarnished facts.

I read SF today at lunch for about 45 minutes, and it was an island of bliss in an otherwise "tyranny of the urgent" day that is my regular existence.

There is an old song that ends "take me away, take me away…" (No, it is not They're Coming to Take Me Away Ha Ha…") I don't know it's name (I have been trying to find it out for years), but the sentiment at the end of that song is what I want from fictional literature. Take me away to a different place, just for a while. It makes me appreciate my reality more, by letting me step outside of it for just a bit.

That is what creative language does, just like a beautiful painting, or a sculpture. It takes you somewhere, sometimes to places you don't want to go. It is the journey that is important with art, not the destination (I probably stole that, but I don't know from whom).