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Rolling Thunder
02-21-2007, 11:26 PM
While taking a break from editing my current YA WIP, I shifted my attention to a short story I’ve been writing. The differences between the two; one being for a younger market, the other for an adult market, made me take pause. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, mentions that prose is language possessing a certain musical quality all its own. I can see the difference in my two works and that is where my question begins.

Does the definition of ‘prose’ change from genre to genre?

Is there a certain measurement one must understand as being necessary to write in any given genre?

Literary seems to be a good example when compared to, let's say, main stream SF/F. How do you think prose is measured and applied to the genre you choose to mainly write?

Higgins
02-21-2007, 11:44 PM
While taking a break from editing my current YA WIP, I shifted my attention to a short story I’ve been writing. The differences between the two; one being for a younger market, the other for an adult market, made me take pause. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, mentions that prose is language possessing a certain musical quality all its own. I can see the difference in my two works and that is where my question begins.

Does the definition of ‘prose’ change from genre to genre?

Is there a certain measurement one must understand as being necessary to write in any given genre?

Literary seems to be a good example when compared to, let's say, main stream SF/F. How do you think prose is measured and applied to the genre you choose to mainly write?



Good Question. I often think about this myself because I feel the writers I really like to read (eg. Margaret Drabble up to 1978, A. S. Byatt around 1990 and Diana Wynn Jones in all her stuff) write extremely well-controlled prose where certain passages stand out as showing just how lush they could be if they really thought it was necessary. All in all good prose for a YA audience is pretty much exactly what I like to read. In terms of music, its prime characteristic would be a fairly steady rhythm with occasional melodic moments.

So I guess this ideal prose of mine does cross a few generic boundaries.

In the area of History of Science, Peter Galison seems to write in this steady mode with occasional melodic patterns. So that's a few regions of a few genres.

robeiae
02-22-2007, 01:28 AM
The best adult prose is in a key of C.

YA is best in G sharp.

Rolling Thunder
02-22-2007, 06:25 AM
What about hip hop?

MacAllister
02-22-2007, 06:59 AM
Heh. You've got a key difference here, of course--it's not that the definition of prose changes, it's that your own choices in tone and diction vary with your audience. Which is only as it should be. :D

Medievalist
02-22-2007, 09:09 AM
Here's the part of the American Heritage definition of Prose that matters:

1. Ordinary speech or writing, without metrical structure.

Except, well, really really good rhetorically clever and sophisticated prose does have meter. Take this bit from Churchill (http://www.winstonchurchill.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=393):


We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender

Now look at it:



We shall go on to the end,
we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air,
we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender

But yeah, in broad terms, prose in English means unmetered and unrhymed text.

Kentuk
02-22-2007, 09:29 AM
Prose is ordinary and lacks poetic elements? Prose the word has issues. It's meaning is opposite of its useage. It is similiar to the word ignorantwhich is supposed to mean you don't know better but usually means you should know better. Prose means fine writing not meant to be taken as poetry.

Rolling Thunder
02-22-2007, 06:00 PM
So, when King is speaking about striving for a musical quality in prose he's just blowing smoke?

Higgins
02-22-2007, 06:50 PM
So, when King is speaking about striving for a musical quality in prose he's just blowing smoke?

Musical Quality wouldn't have to be literal syllabic meter. I was thinking more in terms of overall structuring of paragraphs, sentences and the lushness of the diction, and the interlocking of imagery. You can alter these in different ways and produce rhythmic and musical effects.

In good YA prose that range of alteration/modulation tends to be nicely restrained.

Birol
02-22-2007, 11:19 PM
I might be missing something in this conversation, but the definition of prose doesn't change from genre to genre. However, it's qualities do. It's like the difference between classical music and rock. Both are music, but there's a difference in the rhythms and structure. Rock is, on the surface, a bit looser and less controlled. This is an illusion created by the choice of notes, the rhythm, and instruments used and how they are applied.

For example, my academic papers in no way resemble my fiction or the non-fiction articles I produce for commercial publication, yet all utilize the same tools. It's just a matter of how I apply them.

Am I on-topic and making sense or is it time for me to step away from the computer and grab some lunch?

Medievalist
02-23-2007, 12:01 AM
So, when King is speaking about striving for a musical quality in prose he's just blowing smoke?

No, not at all. Prose is a form of text; it's generally text that is not poetry.

Poetry in English is metered and often rhymes (but does not have to).

Rhyme and Meter = Poetry

Meter = probably poetry but could be prose.

If you look at Shakespeare's plays, you'll notice that the stuff people tend to remember is poetry; it's metered. But there are, in several plays, big chunks of prose, and it is poetic though it is not poetry.

The style of prose, the choice of words, the arrangement of the words, the sounds of the words, all of which create style, can be poetic without being poetry.

Things like metaphor and simile and other kinds of rhetorical figures/patterns/ornaments/sound and syntax effects, work well with prose and they create style too.

Rolling Thunder
02-23-2007, 12:59 AM
I might be missing something in this conversation, but the definition of prose doesn't change from genre to genre. However, it's qualities do. It's like the difference between classical music and rock. Both are music, but there's a difference in the rhythms and structure. Rock is, on the surface, a bit looser and less controlled. This is an illusion created by the choice of notes, the rhythm, and instruments used and how they are applied.

For example, my academic papers in no way resemble my fiction or the non-fiction articles I produce for commercial publication, yet all utilize the same tools. It's just a matter of how I apply them.

I think I might have erred by using the term 'definition of prose' in my OP. Maybe it would have made better sense to ask 'quality of prose' instead, as Lori has stated.



.... Prose is a form of text; it's generally text that is not poetry.

Poetry in English is metered and often rhymes (but does not have to).

Rhyme and Meter = Poetry

Meter = probably poetry but could be prose.

If you look at Shakespeare's plays, you'll notice that the stuff people tend to remember is poetry; it's metered. But there are, in several plays, big chunks of prose, and it is poetic though it is not poetry.

The style of prose, the choice of words, the arrangement of the words, the sounds of the words, all of which create style, can be poetic without being poetry.

Things like metaphor and simile and other kinds of rhetorical figures/patterns/ornaments/sound and syntax effects, work well with prose and they create style too.

Okay, these two posts, combined, make sense to me now. I've wondered why so many writers refer to 'prose' as if it were a special, not an ordinary, style of writing. So I take it that metaphors, similes, figures/patterns/ornaments/sound and syntax have to change from genre to genre in best keeping with the expectations or competency of understanding of the reader?

Basically, what works well for a reader of literary writing isn't best suited for YA or SF because the reader might not fully understand or appreciate the difference of the styles.

Birol
02-23-2007, 01:32 AM
Basically, what works well for a reader of literary writing isn't best suited for YA or SF because the reader might not fully understand or appreciate the difference of the styles.

Right. It's also about audience expectations and a shared literary history.

By "a shared literary history," I'm not talking about literary writing as a genre, but about what's come before within a genre.

Poets do this sometimes. Where a poem written in the 1960's might be a reply or a variation of one written in the 19th century. Both poems are stand-alone pieces and you don't have to have read the earlier one to appreciate the more modern piece, but knowing the first one adds meaning and layer to the second.

In the science fiction genre, Asimov's Laws of Robotics are part of the fabric of the reader expectations. The fans may never have read Asimov, but they are as aware of the existence of those three laws as a Christian who has never studied the Bible is aware of the Ten Commandments.

Medievalist
02-23-2007, 01:55 AM
There are lots of styles of prose, just as their are lots of styles of poetry.

ColoradoGuy
02-23-2007, 02:53 AM
Then there is the "prose poem," which I take to mean metered prose, with or without line breaks. Medievalist cited Churchhill, a good example of that. Some of Lincoln's speeches are other good examples, such as his second innaugural address.