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helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman July 15, 2016 - 2:03pm

From another thread, how do you define minimalism? Or, how does someone you listen to define minimalism?

And for the love of Christ, let's not use any math analogies. This is a WRITING site, okay? Some of us softie artsy types can't handle that nonsense.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 15, 2016 - 7:17pm

Well... minimalism is like calculus. Continuous, often difficult in its application, but simple in its truth...

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 15, 2016 - 7:33pm

Buuuut seriously. 

Are we going to talk about "minimalism" in the theoretical, esoteric, whatever it's called sort of sense? Because I couldn't care any less about that academic shit. Especially when it comes to "your definition is wrong but mine's right..." You might as well argue prophet vs. messiah.

But if we're going to talk about how we like to make things "minimalist" in our own ways that sounds great. I love comparing/constrasting individual styles, philosophies, preferences...

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helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman July 16, 2016 - 11:51am

Okay, I can dig it.

How about this? How about we put out a passage that feels non-minimalist, and then take different cracks at crunching it down, maybe explain a little of the why behind your choices?

I found this passage from the 2015 Bad Sex Awards. If you're looking for some purple prose, it's the place to go. This feels pretty opposite of minimal to me (and fun, too). 

Her mouth was intensely ovoid, an almond mouth, of citrus crescents. And under that sling, her breasts were like young fawns, sheep frolicking in hyssop – Psalms were about to pour out of me.

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel July 16, 2016 - 1:30pm

So now it depends on what atmosphere we're trying to create. Sure, it's purple, but to what end. Are we trying depsperately to sexulaize this person, which it looks like? Are we trying to describe her to insult her sexuality? These details matter if I want to minimalize it. 

For me, minimalism is all about precise words to produce the desired effect. So, again, where do we want this to go?

I should just write it, and say this is where I went with it, but I'm tired and hungover.

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helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman July 16, 2016 - 2:15pm

The original intent was that it be sexy, I think. I'm pretty sure it wasn't supposed to be insulting, although I can see how it comes off like that. I guess I've never been called "intensely ovoid" so maybe I don't know how bad that one stings.

Frankly, I can't be 100% sure whether breasts "like young fawns, sheep frolicking in hyssop" is a compliment or an insult or somewhere in between. I don't actually know what that means, and I definitely can't picture what that looks like. 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 16, 2016 - 6:07pm

Wow... I mean... Geez, uhhh...

Can I just say...

She had full lips and tits so perky I almost recited poetry.

 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 16, 2016 - 6:08pm

For me, minimalism is all about precise words to produce the desired effect. So, again, where do we want this to go?

Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding...

 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated July 17, 2016 - 3:11am

Over the cliff?

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like July 18, 2016 - 2:09pm

[Been about a month since I logged in. Howdy.]

So, minimalism. One needs to differentiate between mere "economy" and true "minimalism" (that is, if one wishes to posit "minimalism" as anything but a relative term). Hemingway was more "minimal" in his writing than some people, but he could be descriptive. One could say he sometimes wrote more than he absolutely had to, regardless of his whole "iceberg" concept. Providing the minimum of plot or expository details is not the same as using truly minimal language. One can describe an object with one word, or one can talk about a praline for two pages using short, minimal sentences all the while. Two pages of minimalist writing on a praline: Is this possible? Could you get to two pages and still be writing in "minimal" style? In a way, perhaps yes; in another way, perhaps no.

Need "minimalism" be minimal in both language choice and in aggregate arrangement of those choices?

There's the question as I see it. If not, one could say a plot is minimal though the language employed is not, or vice-versa.

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voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Chelsea Cain! July 19, 2016 - 9:00am

Minimalism is all about unpacking your sentences in a simple way that cuts all the unnecessary such as adverbs, latinates and abstracts, yet still shows rather than tells and uses devices such as on the body and burnt tongue. It avoids thesis statements and topic sentences.

Sometimes to rewrite a sentence in minimalism means using more text than was originally there, so in that regard minimalism isn't always about being the shortest piece of writing, more about saying as much as you can in the most economical yet powerful way.

And that purple prose sentence is just horrible so I'm not going to rewrite it :)

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel July 19, 2016 - 10:04am

"Minimalism and the Short Story" by Cynthia J. Hallett, Studies in Short Fiction. Fall96, Vol. 33 Issue 4, p487.

In literary analysis the term "minimalism" refers not only to a certain understated style of fiction writing, but also to an assembly of characteristics that are particularly ascribed to the short story, for both minimalism and the short story are governed by an aesthetic of exclusion. Generally in such texts, distraction and clutter are stripped from the depiction of human commerce until the reader encounters the whole of society reflected in slivers of individual experience. Here, the unstated is present as a cogent force.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 19, 2016 - 11:09am

^

see that's the esoteric stuff that just kills these conversations. for me, anyway.

an esthetic of exclusion, the whole of society reflected in slivers of individual experience, present as a cogent force...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IN8SkvXn-o

 

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel July 19, 2016 - 11:17am

We can break it down for Trump supporters, I suppose.

:-)

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 19, 2016 - 1:42pm

Now that's a noble goal that will make it easily understood to nearly anyone.

...

Which just might be one point of utilizing minimalism.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami July 20, 2016 - 12:31am

Suppose I were to analyze this:

Her mouth was intensely ovoid, an almond mouth, of citrus crescents. And under that sling, her breasts were like young fawns, sheep frolicking in hyssop – Psalms were about to pour out of me.

I suppose it's minimalist enough, but for me simplicity is better.

A mouth that gives an almond to my lips. Under embrace feeling the soothing words, I drift off into my own mythical Eden searching for Adam's fruit.

To me minimalist is about poetic directness, as specific as possible as one can make it. Now with that said, minimalism has become a touch harder for me in switching to pantsing novellas. I suppose that skillset is nirvana of a different fruit.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated July 21, 2016 - 3:31pm

You can use minimalism without being a minimalist. 

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Steven Barritz from Long Island is reading Etgar Keret and Robert Sheckley July 23, 2016 - 12:27pm

If minimalist can be broken up into two things, minimalist-language and minimalist-plot, is minimalist-language the same thing as plain-spoken?  

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Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 23, 2016 - 12:46pm

Ooo, what a question...

I think there's a lot of overlap, but not necessarily. Plain spoken is about not using esoteric terms, among other things. But I think you could have a very minimalist style that is not plain spoken. Anyone agree/disagree with that?

Also, I wonder what minimalist plot would be?  Because on the face of it, sounds awful. 

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helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman July 23, 2016 - 2:25pm

But I think you could have a very minimalist style that is not plain spoken. Anyone agree/disagree with that?

That's an interesting question. But yes, I agree with you. 

When I think about it, I think you could have minimalist language that doesn't sound plain spoken. For starters, we've got two subjective terms right next to each other, so it's hard to imagine that this is impossible.

I think of Cormac McCarthy. Maybe not perfect examples, but that's who comes to mind:

War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.

This works as a sentence, and it's clever, but I don't know that I'd call it plain spoken. It's a little too perfect. Or maybe I just hang out with inarticulate people.

Perhaps in the world's destruction it would be possible at last to see how it was made. Oceans, mountains. The ponderous counterspectacle of things ceasing to be. The sweeping waste, hydroptic and coldly secular. The silence.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 24, 2016 - 12:06pm

Well... shit... what are we going to call plain spoken?

I think that was actually plain spoken, or pretty far on that side of the spectrum. When I think of plain spoken, I think of how I usually talk, or how most people usually talk, and how most people can understand with ease, concepts and messages notwithstanding. If you're using a bunch of esoteric words and terms, to the point where even intelligent people might have to stop and think before understanding, you're not plain spoken. You might be elitist.

But you can certainly be plainspoken without being minimalist. I'll refer you to every Brit I've ever heard host a radio talkshow. 

As for that last quote, I'd call it mostly plain spoken, until words that aren't instantly recognizable show up.

(Others should chime in if they disagree. Or agree, I guess.)

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helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman July 24, 2016 - 5:26pm

I thought about this quote from a Michael Kimball book last night:

I didn't want to lose my wife. I wanted to see my wife lying down in a hospital bed. I wanted to see my wife breathing again. I wanted to see her get up out of bed again. I wanted to see her get up out of our bed again. I wanted my wife to come back home and live there with me again.

This gets me thinking. Because this is certainly plan spoken. And I think it has a minimalist tone to it, even though you could certainly strike out quite a bit of text and still get the same information:

I didn't want to lose my wife. I wanted to see my wife lying down in a hospital bed. I wanted to see my wife breathing again. I wanted to see her get up out of bed again. I wanted to see her get up out of our bed again. I wanted my wife to come back home and live there with me again.

I certainly don't prefer the second version, and I think the top is a better example of minimalist writing even though the bottom uses fewer words. The top example tweaks the same structure with small word changes, and the effect of those small tweaks is magnified because it's those small tweaks that break up the repetition. While the top version doesn't have the minimum number of words, it makes good use of small changes, and the small changes have big effects.

Economy of writing isn't just about using as few words as possible, but getting the maximum value from a small number of words(?) By simply adding the word "our" to the sentence, "I wanted to see her get up out of bed again," we get a lot of oomph from that "our."

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel July 25, 2016 - 7:04am

I don't think plain-spoken is minimalist language. This is bringing together two different terms that are specific to their different context.

Minimalist language is specific to the art form. It is delivering a complicated idea in as few words as possible, but doesn't mean explaining the idea. It is just another way to say it complicated, and leave it complicated.

"This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but with a whimper." T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

Plain spoken has more to do with ease of understanding. It would be taking a complicated idea, but saying it in a way that makes it easily understood to anyone.

"The first draft of anything is shit." Ernest Hemingway

It is a matter of what we are doing with the content. Are we explaining it so it can be understood (plain spoken), or presenting it to be considered (minimalist)?

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V.R.Stone from London is reading Savages by Don Winslow July 25, 2016 - 8:34am

As I understand it, minimalism, or at least the writing style of Chuck Pahlahniuk, Tom Spanbaeur and Amy Hempel isn't minimalist simply because it uses precise language or short sentences or anything like that. It seems to me like it's an anti-Victorian novel style. First person POV and on the body descriptions rather than third person omniscient to make the stories very personal, for example. We're very much in the protagonist's head, getting everything filtered through them, rather than reading lush descriptions of the landscape or pages or page after page of historical events.

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Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel July 25, 2016 - 9:04am

@ V.R.Stone

I agree with most everything you said, except the getting into the protagonist's head. Chuck has an essay specifically about staying out of a character's head. By doing that, it forces the writer to show the emotion and thoughts on the body. What does anger look like ... to this character? What does sadness look like ... to this character? When they see a woman at a funeral, can we guess at her emotional state based solely on how she looks? And then, the funnest part, is the character looking upon this person making the correct inference?

Is she weeping because she loved him and he's dead? Or possibly is she weeping for joy that he's dead? Possibly both? Or neither? Maybe she's weeping because she realizes she never really loved him and wasted 20 years of her life?

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V.R.Stone from London is reading Savages by Don Winslow July 25, 2016 - 9:11am

@ Jose

Agreed - you're not in their head in the sense that you're just reading their internal monolgue, you are experiencing the things that happen to them so that you feel what they feel rather than read what they think.

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Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 25, 2016 - 9:32am

@ Jose-

So, it's another take on show-don't-tell? I'm a big believer of showing-don't-telling in that way, it always produces such better writing.

I dunno... I might disagree with Chuck about his own writing? Maybe half-disagree? Because he very much does the unreliable narrator thing, and in that we infer even the first-person-narrator's emotions. But then again, we are very much in their heads at the same time. But... hmm...

I need to read this essay.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like July 25, 2016 - 2:44pm

I like the Hallett description. An "aesthetic of exclusion" is exactly what "minimalism" could display. If it weren't about using "less", it wouldn't have been accurately called "minimalism". Chekov -> Carver -> tons of people. Chekov's moonlight reflecting off a sliver of broken glass is a way of "showing" the moon while excluding the moon itself. By analogy, a character's momentary behavior is the "sliver," their mental state and overall experience is the "moon."

This doesn't address the concept of "minimalist language" unless whatever language employed in such writing becomes "minimalist" by way of its author's agenda.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 25, 2016 - 3:10pm

Okay wait, should we start distinguishing (every time) whether we're talking about minimalist language or something else?

And regarding the somethign else... is it not less minimalist to "show" the moon in the sliver of glass rather than just show the moon? I think I might be missing something here.

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel July 26, 2016 - 6:39am

I think as soon as we say "minimalist language" we can only refer to economy of words. And the Hallett description works well for minimalism as an artistic style.

It works the same way as cubism in writing, which is about providing multiple perspectives on a single moment. The same for surrealism and magical realism.

We don't have cubist language, nor surrealist language, etc.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 26, 2016 - 7:23am

... but we can have minimalist prose, right?

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel July 26, 2016 - 7:32am

I can't, but you can, so we can't, but they can, and them, but not us. 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 26, 2016 - 8:29am

Annnnnd we're off the rails...

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated July 27, 2016 - 6:54am

It is possible to have minimalist use of words. 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 27, 2016 - 8:22am

I'm starting to like the term sparse more and more when it comes to prose and description.

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel July 27, 2016 - 11:01am

I prefer exact more and more when it comes to prose and description.

Also, because I'm actively against anything Thuggish says. Everyone deserves an antagonist.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 27, 2016 - 2:01pm

Awww, you're the yin to my yang!

Except I don't disagree with exact. But minimalist/sparse/whatever prose doesn't have to be exact.

Good minimalist/sparse/whatever prose probably does to a large degree...

 

PS jose f diaz is an amazing writer with awesome opinions. (bwa ha ha).

smithreynolds's picture
smithreynolds from Spokane, WA USA is reading The writing on the wall. July 27, 2016 - 5:28pm

 Makes me think of Picasso's bicycle seat bull, where the wide ass of the seat is the top of the bull's head and the handlebars create the horns, the nose of the seat pointed to the earth, arms of the handlebars raised to the sky. This arrangement of the fewest elements to express the most complex, is a sculptural example of minimalism, for me. A coagulation of one of the senses, in this case sight, where seeing an image of such simplicity leaves one speechless, joyful, and in awe.

Were I blind an example might be the chime of a guitar harmonic. It is the  transfer of  data from one brain to another via the fastest possible route and conveyance,

in the nature of Helen Keller's explosion of understanding when Annie taught her to spell water. it is what must be present for understanding to occur, no more to confuse, and no less to baffle, using what's at hand.

I just explained minimalism to myself. Tomorrow it will be something different. What fun was that.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like July 28, 2016 - 6:31am

RE: "minimalist language" --- There can be capital M "Minimalism" as structural approach, and also "minimal/-ist" anything (including sentence-level prose). I'm pretty sure I have read language described as "surreal" even when the text itself might not altogether be considered an example of "Surrealist" literature. Not sure I've seen same thing for "cubist/Cubism" regarding text, but I guess it's plausible. A fully "Cubist" novel could be a different thing from occasional "cubist" moments within a more conventional narrative.

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel July 28, 2016 - 7:00am

This begins to remind me of Shakespeare and how he used different language in his plays so the audience knew things about the speaker outside of the actual prose.

He used iambic for nobility and the wealthy; he used simple prose for the commoner; and he used rhyme for when people were under a sort of spell, which was often because he considered love to be a spell.

It was really telling in some places. If someone was expressing their love, but they didn't speak in rhyme, then the audience could tell that the motives were false. And the opposite, if a character desperately wanted to hide his/her feelings, they would still speak in rhyme.

So, with that in mind, I'm sure we could use minimalist language, surrealist langauge, even cubist, if we wanted to develop a work................... (I have an idea....bye).....

 

EDIT: And Thuggish is right. I am an absolutely horrible writer who knows nothing, never knew anything, and will rightly go to the grave forever in obscurity. Forever the reader, never the writer. I am the person people tolerate, just to be nice, and it's what jesus would want.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated August 8, 2016 - 9:20am

You two should just kiss already.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal August 8, 2016 - 10:34am

In the naaaa-vyyyyy...

Jose F. Diaz's picture
Jose F. Diaz from Boston is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel August 8, 2016 - 11:39am

....where you can sail the seven seas....

RevFenian's picture
RevFenian from Chicago-ish is reading Invisible Monsters Remix, American Gods (again), Less than Nothing August 19, 2016 - 2:57pm

Little late to the party here but my working definition of minimalism in prose, poetry, even oratory is that each and every word has to count. Each one has to have a direct role in carrying the message or theme of the piece to the receiver. So yes the craft rules of stripping out adverbs and the like are useful BUT sometimes you need adverbs and adjectives galore to convey the point.

Cheers,

Chris 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal August 19, 2016 - 5:16pm

^ To that point, I'd say it's not about finding the fewest words anymore than it's about finding the fanciest word. It's about finding the precise, right word(s).