Styles of Composition — Writing

This is a piece I’d writ­ten in 1991, with minor edits. I’m not sure what ‘cat­e­gories’ I should post this in. When I read it today, it sounds too sim­plis­tic and I could be jus­ti­fi­ably accused of over-sim­pli­fi­ca­tion and gen­er­al­iza­tion. How­ev­er, I think it is still a hum­ble and worth­while exer­cise in the ten­u­ous con­cep­tu­al process of abstrac­tion.

Styles of writ­ing vary between two extremes.

Conceptual Style

At one end is writ­ing that is suc­cinct, heavy, and read and writ­ten slow­ly. Indi­vid­ual sen­tences in this style encom­pass ‘heavy’ con­tent, com­plex con­cepts, and have an air of inde­pen­dence in rela­tion to oth­er sen­tences. Each sen­tence har­bors a com­plete unit of infor­ma­tion, and the writ­ing is a con­glom­er­a­tion of such units. This entails the devel­op­ment of more and more com­plex and broad­er con­cepts built upon the units of infor­ma­tion con­veyed ear­li­er, which in turn con­sti­tute con­cepts built upon the pre­ced­ing ones.

In this style, the read­er has to grasp the pre­vi­ous con­cepts before he can grasp the lat­er ones. If a read­er skips some con­tent, the lat­er con­tent doesn’t make sense. For exam­ple, read Godel, Esch­er, Bach — An Eter­nal Gold­en Braid.

Since such writ­ing deals essen­tial­ly with the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the devel­op­ment of high­er con­cepts, I call it as the style of writ­ing on the con­cep­tu­al lev­el.

Perceptual Style

At the oth­er end is writ­ing that is elab­o­rate, sim­ple, and read and writ­ten rapid­ly. Indi­vid­ual sen­tences in this style encom­pass light obser­va­tions, sim­ple descrip­tions, and do not pos­sess an entire­ty in them. Instead they ‘belong’ to the text and form an inte­gral insep­a­ra­ble part of it.

This style of writ­ing has a unique flow, which lends it favor­ably for rapid read­ing, since one can usu­al­ly antic­i­pate the sub­ject of the fol­low­ing con­tent. Even if a read­er skips some con­tent, he can usu­al­ly “catch up” to what’s being said lat­er.

Since this style deals essen­tial­ly with the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of per­cep­tu­al mat­ter through elab­o­rate descrip­tion of the per­cep­tu­al expe­ri­ence of the writer, I call it as the style of writ­ing on the per­cep­tu­al lev­el. For exam­ple, read Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat.

Words are con­cep­tu­al in nature, hence con­vey­ing per­cep­tu­al mat­ter through con­cepts is a reverse process. The extent to which read­ing such con­tent stim­u­lates the per­cep­tu­al expe­ri­ence depends on the abil­i­ty of the writer.

From anoth­er per­spec­tive, the con­cep­tu­al style of writ­ing involves the read­er and writer on an intel­lec­tu­al plane, where­as the per­cep­tu­al style of writ­ing involves them on an empir­i­cal plane.

The style of writ­ing is deter­mined, among oth­er things, by the intend­ed audi­ence, the sub­ject mat­ter, and the psy­cho­log­i­cal state of the writer.

Intu­itive sens­es, event nar­ra­tives, and expres­sions of feel­ings dom­i­nate the per­cep­tu­al style of writ­ing, where­as con­cep­tu­al style is dom­i­nat­ed by expres­sions of thoughts and ideas. Hence per­cep­tu­al style is the result of a rapid and quick process and engulfs the read­er in its rhyth­mic flow, where­as con­cep­tu­al style is the result of a con­scious, care­ful­ly planned process, and needs the con­cen­tra­tion of the reader’s cog­ni­tive fac­ul­ties.

Anoth­er dimen­sion is that con­cep­tu­al style of writ­ing involves left-brain activ­i­ty; per­cep­tu­al style of writ­ing involves right-brain activ­i­ty.

Superlative Style

Superla­tive writ­ing is a har­mo­nious syn­the­sis of these two styles of writ­ing. It involves the great­est effort on the part of the writer and the most reward­ing expe­ri­ence on the part of the read­er.

Here, the writer com­mu­ni­cates com­plex con­cepts in such a fash­ion that the read­er is pre­sent­ed with a com­plex chain of con­cepts along with the per­cep­tu­al expe­ri­ences that moti­vat­ed the writer. Hence, the read­er is led through the devel­op­ment of con­cepts in a man­ner as if he were him­self devel­op­ing them.

The result is that the writ­ing devel­ops wider and an evolv­ing set of con­cepts yet has a unique flow and an enjoy­able rhythm. The text is heavy, yet sim­ple to grasp, the sen­tences are inde­pen­dent, yet they belong to the text. Com­plex con­cepts are com­mu­ni­cat­ed, yet the text can be read rapid­ly. Mat­ter is ratio­nal­ly thought out and planned, yet the read­er has an intu­itive feel of what is to come.

It is this uni­son of the mind and heart of the writer and read­er that makes such writ­ing a reward­ing expe­ri­ence for both. Isn’t the sense of ful­fill­ment that pre­vails after such com­mu­ni­ca­tion what every writer and read­er seeks?

Ayn Rand offers a clas­sic exam­ple of superla­tive writ­ing in her non-fic­tion­al works. ‘The Roman­tic Man­i­festo’ is a mas­ter­piece exem­pli­fy­ing how the superla­tive style of writ­ing can be employed to com­mu­ni­cate com­plex con­cepts. The read­er expe­ri­ences a pleas­ant jour­ney through pro­found sub­jects deal­ing with the psy­cho­log­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal impli­ca­tions of Art.

Expand­ing the hori­zons of this analy­sis leads us to the appli­ca­tion of this prin­ci­ple to music…(con­td.)

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