Eric’s Writing Blog

The writing blog of Eric Rosenfield

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Objective vs. Subjective Style

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“The writer must of necessity write in a style that falls somewhere on the continuum running from objective to subjective; in other words from the discursive, essayists’s style, in which everything is spelled out as scientifically as possible, to the poetic style in which nothing (or practically nothing) is explained, everything is evoked, or, to use Henry James’ term, “rendere.” The essayist’s style is by nature slow-moving and laborious, more wide than deep. It tends toward abstraction and precision without much power, as we see instantly when we compare any two descriptions, one discursive, one poetic. In the essayist’s style we might write, for instance, “The man in the doorway was large and apparently ill at ease–so large that he had to stoop a little and draw in his elbows.” The poetic style can run harder at its effects: “He filled the doorway, awkward as a horse.” Both styles, needless to say, can be of use. One builds its world up slowly and completely, as Tolstoy does in Anna Karenina, where very few metaphors or similes appear; the other lights up its imaginary world by lightning flashes.”
—John Gardner, The Art of Fiction


Written by ericrosenfield

April 13, 2010 at 2:07 am

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