Hooptedoodle and Flim Flam
An old man shouts at clouds adventure.
Nothing bothers me more as a writer and, more importantly, a reader, than hooptedoodle. We all do it. Vocal is rife with it. You do it, and you, and you at the back thinking this doesn’t mean you, you’re the worst for it, but we all perpetrate it under the mistaken apprehension that we’re “writing”. What is it? Do you need it if you don’t have it? Is it expensive? Am I actually doing it now? Take it away, Elmore Leonard:
Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
I bring this up because I read a bit of writing advice on this very site recently that annoyed me more than it should have. The otherwise great collection of advice here: https://vocal.media/education/the-writer-s-workshop features a great example of hooptedoodle. Scott Wade suggests that:“Three thousand feet below, spread over miles, thousands of lights failed to emulate the celestial stars that spanned the heavens overhead…” rather than, “I drove past the valley below.”
What? Can we spot the hooptedoodle? When I read the line: “I drove past the valley below” I get all the information I need as a reader to visualise the event; I see the car, and the valley. In a split second I create the image in my head and might even add a bit of cinematic flair for good measure. I don’t need the writer to do the work for me. The alternative “writer” example actually stops me dead in my tracks trying to work out what the writer is on about. The narrative has ground to a halt in order for the writer to strut his stuff.
Now apply this to a short story, on Vocal, where we’re fighting to keep the attention of a reader, any reader. I have to admit, like our friend Elmore Leonard, I glaze over when I see paragraphs of prose and skip ahead looking for dialogue. It’s great that you can fill a hundred words describing the clouds in the sky (stupid purple clouds challenge) but I’ve lost interest already and have moved on to read someone else’s story.
Of course, this could very well just be me. I have a Batchelor of Arts degree in English and Film, and see the world cinematically. I write like a screenwriter - short, punchy scene description and heavy on the dialogue, so I pray at the church of Elmore Leonard. I may also have a short attention span and be quite arrogant but I’ll leave that for you to decide in the comments :)
Having said all this, if you’re a poet, then hooptedoodle ’til your heart bursts. I don’t know how you do it but I like reading it in that form. Everyone else, don’t give up the hooptedoodle completely, just save it for the big moments when you want your reader to stop and devour your delicious word salad. Just get us hooked first, reel us in, and when we’re caught - hooptedoodle away. Even I’ll keep reading. Promise.
Addendum: Some readers have taken this as a personal attack on Scott Wade as a writer. This is as far from my intention as possible. I simply used the excerpt as presented in the article. Scott’s full story is here and he’s rather good.
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Damn it Shane, you made me do homework. I see your point, especially when it comes to fitting everything into a Vocal challenge and the sentence your referred to was a good example of over explaining. I guess, when it comes to explaining loss as this story does, when your emotions are hyper-aware and you're looking for reason in the unreasonable, you are allowed to get a little poetic.
At least I am self-aware enough to catch myself even half as much as it happens! I blame my favorite authors for weaving decadent scenes scored with detail and leaving their everlasting impressions on my methodology. Oh well! All I can do is put forth the honest effort and try!
Interesting. Left a heart💖
After realizing that I had not read the last four paragraphs of this article I now have a reassessment. Shane did a great job with this article and it is actually well written and brings up some very interesting points. Excellent job Shane.
Wow, this one is tough. First off, you brought us to a mixed idea conversation, or lively discussion and for that I thank you. We are all guilty at one time or another of d being over descriptive and using too many verbs, adverbs etc. I personally enjoy trying different methods of writing and yes I enjoy being over descriptive, I also have been known to be bare bone and to the point. I think it all has to do with how I feel that day, or what I read earlier. Like music I do not have one genre. I do not believe you meant to throw Scott Wade under the bus, but you did use him as a reference. Therefore , controversy. Many of us like his works so even if we have never met him we feel he is a fellow writer and friend, and we jump to defend. Once again I think your article brought a lot of us to thinking, which is never a bad thing.
Hi Shane. I took some time to read the article you refer to in your piece and the source of this contention. The excerpt that was quoted is part of a larger sentence that reads: "Three thousand feet below, spread over miles, thousands of lights failed to emulate the celestial stars that spanned the heavens overhead and illustrated the temporal attempt to be that which we are not, gods." Taken in this context it is clear that this was not to describe a mere drive past the valley below, but to highlight humanity's fragile and trasient nature. If Scott Wade wanted to describe a drive and only kept the first part of his sentence, I would have to agree that the description should be simplified. But since this was crafted to convey a more complex message I would have to disagree and argue that the description should remain. Could the sentence have been tightened or split into two, perhaps. But it was not meant to be pure hooptedoodle. I've asked Rick to add a link to Scott Wade's story: Dia de Los Muertos, where the sentence appears. For ease of reference, I will also leave a link to the story below. I hope this helps clarify things. https://vocal.media/fiction/dia-de-los-muertos-mxaqfp0w9z
I have been a reader since I was three. I don’t look at stories and poem that way. Reading take me to another place where I am not especially stories that captivate my interest like no other. I am glad I did not take formal education because I will be reading stories in a systematic way . I have subscribed because ….
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I've got some really bad news for you...you're probably going to cringe when you see the next article in the series. Just a head's up. LOL. But I agree there are times when description is needed and other times where the reader should be free to let their mind fill in the blanks.
I agree in that I also have short attention span & am probably quite arrogant, but I too get bored with too many words - even writing them - my difficulty is in making the word count minimum. 🤷♀️
Great perspective and I would have to agree. I think it comes from us being taught that we should "show, not tell" but we are not taught when to show and to tell, let alone how to do both. I admit I fall into the showy type (trying to wean myself off) and am now trying to simplify my writing. Anyhoo, ❤'d and subscribed 🤗
Some great thoughts here! Though I certainly enjoy a detailed descriptive passage, there are times when this can get in the way of the story. Sometimes, less is more!
Hooptedoodle away! 🤣 Your cinematic style comment makes sense to me. I really enjoy those fluffier passages when I’m listening to an audiobook (as long as the reader is a great one and can keep it going) or a physical book even…but when I read online and on vocal, especially, I don’t like it so much. The format of reading here (on a screen in general, maybe?) just makes it even harder to keep track of a story for me.