Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Ostentatious Prose (Among Other Things)

I had momentary moment of panic today. I logged into blogger, clicked over to my blog to get a link and, horror of horrors...

the sidebar was missing!

I scrolled to the bottom of the page and there it was, beneath the posts. And I couldn't figure out how to get it back to where it was supposed to be.

Thankfully, I've been following The Real Blogger Status for a while now, so I clicked over to the blog to see if I could find out how to fix it.

I came across this post, which advised changing the most recent thing you'd done. Well, that was publishing my "N" post. So I saved it as a draft and republished it, and voila! the sidebar reappeared!

If you haven't already done so, I advise you to go visit that blog.

And now on to our regularly scheduled A-to-Z post

Question: Am I being ostentatious by using the word "ostentatious" to describe prose?

Don't write the way this bird looks.
What does "ostentatious" mean? It means showy, or to do something in order to show off, or to be conspicuous or pretentious.

Yeah, saying "ostentatious prose" rather than "flowery prose" does sound a little pretentious.

But hey, you all know the real reason I'm using the word "ostentatious." Because I already did a post for "F".  And besides, "ostentatious" is such a fun word to say. 

However, ostentatious prose is not very fun to read.

One of the most common bits of advice I hear for writers is "get yourself out of the picture."

In other words, you want the reader to forget about you as a writer. Don't let them even remember that you're there. You want them to forget that they're reading something written by you and just be engrossed in the story.

That doesn't mean you don't have a voice. It means that while they're reading the story they don't hear you in their heads reminding them every ten seconds "I wrote this I wrote this I wrote this! Aren't I such a good writer??"

Compare this:
When I sleepily open my stunning blue eyes to blearily glance at the rumpled, cream-colored sheets on the opposite side of the bed, not only is it inexplicably vacant, but it is also as chilly as an icicle in the far-flung reaches of the frozen north.
To this:
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. 
The first example is so overloaded with adjectives and similes that it makes the story drag, and is very stuffy and annoying. The second example (the opening line from The Hunger Games) is crisp, clear, and to the point. We are placed inside the main character's head, and inside the story, without any unnecessary fuss or detail.

So, in summation, my dear devoted readers, whenever the dreadful time comes when you are sorely tempted by the vile devils of ostentatiousness, it is much advised that you, oh peerless perusers, swiftly flee the terrible clutches of its ostentatious claws of grim death.

In other news:

Feel like giving out story prompts today? Two of the A-to-Z participants that I'm following are basing their themes around prompts given by readers.

Jessica Salyer at Just Following a Dream presents a word each day that readers must use in a sentence that will then be included in an ongoing story. You have until 10 PM CST tonight to enter a sentence that includes the word "omnipotent."

Jessica Marcarelli at Visions of Other Worlds is having a Saturday flash fiction challenge. Go leave her a comment with a prompt that starts with the letter "S"!

Have you ever had trouble with a disappearing sidebar? 

Do you have a problem with writing ostentatious prose, or does clean prose come naturally for you? Is there any specific bit of ostentatiousness that habitually annoys you?

Let me know by commenting!


  1. Great reminder to leave the pomp to the cheerleaders!
    [as in pompoms!]

  2. Sidebar: Not so far. (*fingers crossed*)

  3. Violet - haha, yes. Unless you're writing about cheerleaders, of course...

    Rissi - I hope it doesn't happen to you!

  4. Mark Twain said: "If it sounds like writing, re-write," which describes your advice and your example of the "Hunger Games." I enjoy your blog. Thank you!

  5. Wow, Thanks so much for mentioning my blog!! I've never had trouble with my side bar, thankfully. Going to see the other two blogs you mentioned. :)

  6. loverofwords - That's a great way to put it. Mark Twain has a lot of great advice. :)

    Jessica - Oh, you're welcome!

  7. Great post and I don't mean to just push it aside to talk about this other issue, but WTF? I have never heard of a sidebar just disappearing. I've also never heard of the blog that you follow that explained to you how to get it back. I come across so many websites and help sites etc. on blogs that other bloggers are familiar with and i wonder how ya'll find these helpful and useful sites. Anyway, thanks for sharing and I am definitely going to check it out now and after I am off to visit the two blogs you recommended for the prompts.

  8. I have so gotten in trouble with this! Great post.

  9. Ooh, I love your blog, first of all, so thanks for commenting on mine so I could find it.
    I've been afraid that I'm too straightforward and not ostentatious enough. Sometimes when I'm writing humorously, I'll be more flowery for added ridiculousness, if you know what I mean. But when I'm actually writing my WIP (first time using that acronym, I feel legit), I feel like I'm being too plain.

  10. Oh, blogger...always something scary going on with it :) i had troubles with my blogger album, but that problem has been solved now. Ostentatious...I am not a native, so I had to look that up and let the computer read it out laud so that I know how to pronounce it :)
    I am returning your visit for the A-Z blog challenge.

  11. I've had to work at clearing away my peacock prose over the years. Writing poetry really worked well in developing my prose style - poems can only be so long and have to have maximum punch with the fewest word choices possible.

  12. You know, I feel like there are a lot of high school creative writing classes out there that end up being terrible for writers. I remember being taught a lot of things in high school that I had to shake off eventually, and flowery prose was definitely one of them. My teacher used to love adverbs, unnecessary dialogue attribution, etc. In speaking to some other writers, it seems like I'm not alone in that. It sure would've saved me time if I wouldn't have had to spend the first year or so unlearning all of that!

    Anyways, great post!

    J.W. Alden

  13. Interesting post. I used to have a tendency to overwrite and produce flowery prose.

  14. Thank you so much for the mention! The suggestions are pouring in this week!

    I used to be flowery, as well, then realized how snappy and to the point short and sweet sounded (i.e. my writing mentor used an anonymous example of my flowery prose to a class to show them what NOT to do - you can bet I kicked the habit immediately!).

    I've had the disappearing bar, as well. And now blogger is scaring me with its "new look" threat every time I sign in.

  15. Melissa - Yeah, I'd never heard of a disappearing sidebar either. I'm glad I found out how to fix it though.

    Emily - yes, me too! Thank you.

    Lisa - Oh, thanks so much! :)Ah yes, I do like being flowery to be ridiculous.

    Marcie - yeah, blogger's not always the most reliable. :)

    Julia - Ah, yes, poetry is really good for that sort of thing.

    J.W. Alden - I learned things like that, as well. Like "never use said" or "have this many adverbs in your story." Maybe it's some conspiracy. ;)

    Jack - thank you!

    Jessica - you're welcome! Wow, that's a harsh wake-up call... You did "kick the habit" though - your stories are very clear and to the point. :) Yes, the "new look." I'm just ignoring it for now. :)



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