General Question

SherlockPoems's avatar

When it comes to writing do you think more is less or the opposite that less is more? Which makes you think more?

Asked by SherlockPoems (696 points ) February 15th, 2009

As an example: I love writing poetry, especially following specific styles and forms. Even created (I think) some new forms. I find Haiku, Tonka (Tanka), etc most intriguing from a brevity standpoint. However, I can’t seem to find a consensus about the length of these forms… is more better or is less better? hmmmm and I wonder about this concept of ‘more or less’ in most aspects of life… including life itself.

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68 Answers

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

In everything, moderation.

steve6's avatar

Does beer mean you are drinking tonight? I like less is more. I always find it more interesting in a movie if I have to figure it out rather than be told and the same holds true for some poetry. I get a warm feeling of accomplishment as if I have solved a mystery that only I have the answer to. It’s not as warm if it is spelled out for you.

DrBill's avatar

The length does not matter, as long as it is good i.e. Edgar Allen Poe wrote some really long ones.

LanceVance's avatar

I will go with “more is less”. Be it haiku, tanka or ruba’i, whatever is said in those verses, you could’ve written in one sentence. Period.

LostInParadise's avatar

In general, art uses an economy of means to express as much as possible. This does not necessarily make a poem better than a novel for having used less. The novel has more things that it wants to talk about. There is a school of thought that says that given the same quality of writing a novel is better than a poem for the simple reason that there is more of it.

hearkat's avatar

However much is needed to get your point across.

Jack79's avatar

hmm…I think it depends on what you want to say. There have been wonderful 1000-page books, as well as wonderful 2-line poems. Quality and quantity are not related, but that does not mean that they are enemies. Sometimes you need whole pages in which to slowly bring the reader into the story and describe the atmosphere (I actually find these boring personally, but many people love them). On other occasions, you may want to get straight to the point and omit things, expecting your reader to guess them (and many readers love the challenge too).

So it really depends on a series of factors. I usually write a lot (just look at my answer to get an idea), but one reason for that is that I type fast anyway. My book however is very laconic, and I realised that I’m already on chapter 9 and in reality have only written a couple of pages (if you squeeze everything together using a size 10 font). Some of my chapters are a few lines long. But they don’t need to be longer.

Bagardbilla's avatar

The latter.

Sorceren's avatar

Good writing: You always want more.

Bad writing: More is less, and even less is still a tad much.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

Well, trying to compare poems and novels (or anything in between) is sorta like comparing oranges to tangerines. They’re both in the “written art” famlily, but it really just depends on what you like, but also what you’re trying to accomplish. But I agree with @Jack79—it’s definately better to have quality over quantity.

aprilsimnel's avatar

When I write or create anything, I see myself as more the vessel for the muse, so in that sense, whatever is written will be as long or a short as it will be.

Jayne's avatar

You do realize that less is more is not the opposite of more is less, don’t you? They are just flip sides of the same coin. In any case, substituting less is less for one of those, I would still go for the original options. I don’t always obey the principle, though, and am working on streamlining my own writing, which tends towards the convoluted.

Johnny_Rambo's avatar

Personally, I have a short attention span and Less Is More—for me.

Bri_L's avatar

For me it is the quality not the quantity. I have read huge books in no time flat because they were so good. I have also read mediocre books that seemed to take ten times as long.

Sorceren's avatar

@Bri_L — Amen! Good books always end too soon. When you find yourself checking to see how many pages you still have to slog through to finish, I say put it down and walk away. It’s not going to add to your brain’s value.

Grisson's avatar

Aren’t ‘More is Less’ and ‘Less is More’ the same thing?

steve6's avatar

That the second time I’ve read that. How do you feel they are the same? It’s not an algebra equation.

Grisson's avatar

‘Less is more’ means that you get more value out of doing less. [i.e. you get better writing by writing more concisely].

‘More is less’ means that you get less value out of doing more.
[i.e. you get worse writing by writing more wordily].

Aren’t these two the same thing just stated conversely?

It’s more or less a logic equation.

steve6's avatar

they can’t be the same and converse (opposite)

steve6's avatar

I like the ending pun

Grisson's avatar

By converse, I meant they are stated backwards.
For example “My post is longer than yours” is the converse of “Your post is shorter than mine”. They both state the same thing, but they are stated conversely.

steve6's avatar

I understand all that and did from your original post but the q is should I write more or less

Grisson's avatar

How long should a man’s legs be? Long enough to reach the ground.

Write enough to get your point across.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

This all reminds me of Le Corbusier v. Robert Venturi. The latter would say, “Less is more,” while the former would say, “Less is more is a bore.” :P

steve6's avatar

The q is really unanswerable. He’s talking about short poems, haiku, etc. He can’t write more or less than x syllables so it is sort of moot. We can’t help I’m afraid.

steve6's avatar

I’m going to have to go with my first post.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

Well, hopefully s/he’ll be able to sort it out with the answers so far. I agree, the question is a little vague as to whether this is supposed to pertain more to poems in general or any sort of literature.

Another thing, though. I don’t think it’s a good idea to just pile up on words (epsecially with longer works) to get a high word count, or even try to make things sound extra flowery/poetic when simple words would suffice. In a first draft, that would be alright I think because you’re trying to find the right words. But in a final draft, every word used has to matter, and when it doesn’t and you realize this then you have to cut those useless words out b/c they lessen the quality of your work as a whole.

At least that’s what the pros will tell you, and I’m no pro, lol.

But, again, that goes back to the quality over quantity factor some people here have been talking about, which is applicable to both poems and longer works. I would think this is especially true of poems because they tend to be short, and every word’s gotta count for something.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

Depends. Personally, I subscribe to the Stephen King Theory of Description when it comes to short fiction, since I generally despise poetry. There is very little of it that is worth the words used to create it. this is an attitude that pisses off people who like/write poetry, but I have read very few poets that move me. This theory states, in part, that describing a place or environment involves creating a picture of what you want the reader to see, with nothing left to chance. If that means 3,000 words to make the setting work, then that’s what I will do. If I am describing a place, I want the reader to see it as I see it, in a specific sense. This is mostly because I like to create very surreal environments. This is mostly because the characters are left to your imagination. Not that I don’t have an idea in mind for my human/alien characters, but once you fill in the background, the rest comes easy, at least in my pov.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

@Sorceren The secret to writing a good story is simple, and I quote: “You have to grab the reader by the short hairs in the first sentence, or the cause is lost.”

Sorceren's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra — Boy, howdy! Louis L’Amour’s books’ opening lines always involve action; they hook the reader of that genre. Georgette Heyer’s works generally open with such pungent descriptive passages that the devoted readers of that genre can’t stop reading: It’s all so valuable!

I have to believe that determining exactly who your reader is, and speaking to him or her paper-to-face, gives you the handle on the bait your work’s hook needs, if it’s going to grab the reader by the short (catfish?) hairs.

Allie's avatar

I think you should write enough to say what you need to say, then stop.

On a tangent (kind of), I hatehatehate page requirements for essay papers. Give me the topic and I’ll write about it. If you make me write twenty pages about it, it will suck. Eventually I start bullshitting and adding filler where there really doesn’t need to be any. It drags the quality of my paper down… and I don’t like it. Ban page requirements!

wundayatta's avatar

I never write less when more will do! In all things, logorrhea. Excess is success, less is mere mess. This knowledge has been held in secret by the secret society known as Word Lord (word rhymes with lord). Those in the know, know the Word Lord runs the show, but those who don’t know, think we speak a form of Afghanian greek.

My advice? Let your words loose. Let them roar! Let them soar! This silly infatuation with short forms is a joke. There is nothing there for you. No one reads that stuff, and even if they do, they don’t understand.

I am not engaging in mere puffery. Nor am I holding myself aloof, for what you read here is nothing more than a pointless spoof!

Jack79's avatar

I think Grisson makes a pretty good point above. And only needs one line for it.

“Write enough to get your point across”. Anything more is a waste of time, space, energy, paper and the reader’s patience. But anything less and you have an incomple-

steelmarket's avatar

It is not the length that counts, it is the “pith”.

Sellz's avatar

I can identify with you on that. I write poetry as well. I feel that possibly less is more. Simply because when you write a haiku, is 5 7 5, and that’s it. It make you think about what the writer could actually mean and forces the imagination to work a little harder than usual. On the contrary, when you write a lengthy poem, you tend to display all of you emotions and feelings at that time. That’s how i look at it. Great question.

-Sellz

MooKoo's avatar

If you can say the same thing in few words that you can in many, what’s the point of wasting your time and other’s? Time after all is one of the most valuable resources in the world in my opinion. Less can be more, and usually is, but in all things, modesty is the key.

wundayatta's avatar

Sometimes it’s the content, sometimes it’s the delivery. Style points aren’t given out much these days, although they used to be. It’s plot first, and plot last, and plot in the middle. Sure. Be efficient. However there’s more to a story than getting through the plot. There are roses to be smelled.

TheKNYHT's avatar

If what I am writing is genuinely entertaining to me, chances are it will be for at least some others (hopefully many) and in this instance, writing more can be an asset to the over all story. On the other hand, if being concise means having good momentum, with minimal distractions or ‘rabbit trails’ that dont enhance the over all plot, this is a good thing! Belaboring issues, character over-developement, sub-plots, thematic elements, etc. may need to be edited out (don’t trash that stuff though, file it away, and use the material in a pre/sequel or a different story).

SeventhSense's avatar

Brevity is the soul of wit.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

I agree that Poe had some wonderful poems in spite of (or because of) their length. On the other hand, here’s one of my favorite poems by Anonymous: The title is Fleas

“Adam had’m”

SeventhSense's avatar

@Grisson
What else can you tell us about your post? Now that we’re talking dirty, maybe we should take a poll. :)

SherlockPoems's avatar

@SeventhSense Ah you see it is not what Grisson said but what you ‘thought he meant’ that makes you state that he is talking ‘dirty’. Perhaps then Grisson proved his point… less makes you think more?

SeventhSense's avatar

@SherlockPoems
Yes, I do have a naughty mind…And I must admit I certainly receive varying degrees of extrapolation on my prose.

2corgis's avatar

Profound thrift

Jiminez's avatar

I like all kinds of things but mainly things that simply “look good on the page”. It doesn’t have to be minimalist, or over-the-top, so long as it’s soulful. And by soulful I don’t mean heartfelt and sappy; I mean “coming from an honest place”. Hemingway is probably my favorite writer. There’s no one quite like him. It’s like every sentence was a mystery and a masterpiece on it’s own. But it also matters how they fit together. All his works were simply saturated in meaning and symbolism and irony. But, yeah.

Mr_Callahan's avatar

Less is more, more or less.

1000oceans's avatar

i feel less is more if you want to get someone thinking

ItalianPrincess1217's avatar

I’d say less is more but I think it’s all personal opinion. I prefer not to read something so ridiculously dragged out that it basically S-P-E-L-L-S everything out for you. Less gives me more to think about. More to figure out on my own.

ponderopus's avatar

It all depends on the context; keep in mind the medium, message, trust level between the information provider and information consumer, the audience, and your desired goal for the outcome of the communication.

SeventhSense's avatar

@ItalianPrincess
Yes, when we allow for subjective elaboration and interpretation their is true intercourse between the reader and the writer. It’s respectful and allows space for differences. The maniacally detailed and over expansive prose can be obsessive like a backstreet driver who insists he control your direction.

Hobosnake's avatar

Brevity is important. People have short attention spans these days, and it’s possible (and good) to be a non-starving artist. A work can be commercially successful (in that it is readable by the masses because it is brief) while still being artistic. If something is dragged out, it becomes unbearable. However, quality always comes first. Just remember this:

The defining factor of a good work of art is that everything that is used has been properly introduced, and that everything that has been introduced will be used.

Don’t waste your time writing something like “A red bird resembling a woodpecker peered from the side of a tree at the young man” (something like this was in the red badge of courage, which wasn’t that bad of a book, but it was often dragged out like this). If the woodpecker is solely an instrument to introduce a miniscule part of an unimportant atmosphere, the sentence will only annoy your readers. For something to be artistic, it doesn’t necessarily have to be inappreciable.

Hobosnake's avatar

Brevity also does provoke thought, if you are trying to turn the focus inward. If you are aiming at complete ambiguity, you may end up being very brief, leaving a lot of interpretation up to the reader, so that the reader can come up with an answer and so discover something about himself/herself. On the other hand, if you are trying to turn focus outward on human interaction, nature, etc., (especially if trying to push a point rather than have the reader come up with their own) a longer piece may be necessary for an ambiguous ending, one that gives evidence either way, but subtly more so in one way.

To reinforce my previous post: look at Pride and Prejudice. Despite the fact that it is long, it is a perfect example of both a commercially successful artistic work and a work of artistic brevity. Every element introduced in the story serves well to reinforce either the characterization of an important character or an important plot element, all of which tie together to the themes of irony and love and their odd incomprehensibility.

rwiedeman's avatar

I’m a writer. It takes more skill to say less.

Fred931's avatar

Too impatient to look through the answers, so here goes: less is more, chachacha, Charmin.

dogkittycat's avatar

Depends on the content, if you’re able to powerfully convey what it is you’d like to say in shorter words, fine if not than I see no problem in writing more. Write as much or as little as you like so long as it gets your message across.

Ron_C's avatar

@Sorceren You had the best answer form all the ones I read and I agree. Good writing leaves you wanting more, poor writing makes you wonder why they took so long in writing the prose.

ldeb's avatar

less is better… too many words… doesn’t catch my eye

snowberry's avatar

Less is more.

espearite's avatar

A good book to me is a fine balance, consistent in quality, and rare enough to keep returning to over the years.

Ron_C's avatar

Elegance in writing is equivalent to elegance of design in engineering or in writing code. True elegance is evidenced by doing or saying more using a minimum of resources.

Joybird's avatar

To me it matters not how much or how little there is in words. What matters is the content of what is written. Sometimes the language is such that I become wanton for more. And then other times the succinctness is unparalleled perfection.
It is like the difference between having Doctor Spoke as a lover and having Antonio Banderas as a lover.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

Less is more. I don’t even read posts here if they ramble on and on and on.I guess it really depends on whether the author is saying something or just trying to impress with their stunning command of the English language.

SABOTEUR's avatar

The writer should use the exact number of words required to clearly communicate whatever is being expressed.

snowberry's avatar

@Skaggfacemutt I’m with you. I don’t read long winded posts either here, or elsewhere. Something about the gray color of them, and the size. If you have a lot to say, at least put in lots of paragraphs to break it up. If you do that, you have a chance of getting me to at least skim it.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

I think many of the conveniences of the “information age” have led us as a society to feel that in many most cases less is more. Is a ten-minute drive from Point A to Point B necessarily better than the corresponding 45-minute wall? That depends. If your objective is to get there in the shortest time possible, then yes. If your objective is to find as much entertainment and enjoyment as possible during the trip, and you really enjoy walking, then the answer would be no.

I always try to say what I have to say in a concise manner, but sometimes I just have to explain in more detail. Nevertheless, I also try to keep my posts shorter than they are wide.

Inspired_2write's avatar

Whatever it takes to get your point across.

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