Japanese Writing Style


#1

We need good grammar to write correctly but good writing is also about style.

For example, the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Non-fiction text like news, papers, textbooks, and articles are straight and neutral (avoid transmitting feelings). Fiction, however, doesn’t give you the conclusion on the first page and is crafted to transmit feelings and personality.

When I started studying professional writing in English I learned the most important concept for me: wordiness.
For example, the difference between a complaint and an argument.

  • “At this point, you guys should know better than me that you can’t just study Japanese. I’m quite sure you can’t come here and expect to be reading in no time without picking an actual book in Japanese to read.”
  • "You need to read Japanese books to get better."
    Imagine an entire article of the writing style of the first example. A complaint is tense, tiresome to read, can cause an unnecessary commotion that will not resolve the issue (like making people angry or support the fight for fun), and make you sound arrogant. However, an easy to read and concise argument keep it simple, convey your point, and have chances of convincing the reader. All this by simply eliminating clutter.
    This concept plus others I study and practice improved a lot my English writing.

I’m tiring to find some guidelines of good Japanese writing styles for fiction and non-fiction but I only find how to write kanji. Nothing about text writing techniques.
For example, when reading people comments I often see sentences like that with the reason first and conclusion in the end.
このとおり丘の上にあるので、その家は見晴らしがいい。
"Because it is on the hill, the house has a nice view."
In Western languages, however, we usually put the conclusion first and them the reason.
"The house has a nice view because it’s on the hill."
In almost every text I read, they use quotations as nouns.
まだ読んでいない方は「そのパースあってる? 広角と望遠から考える背景講座」をご覧ください。
In fiction narration lines, I always see a description of the action that someone did with the name of that someone without particles in the end.
そう言ってすぐ側にある階段を慣れたように登っていく紺野さん。

Are they some kind of grammatical concept? Is there a compilation or guideline of styles and techniques to improve Japanese writing somewhere?


#2

I think the reason these things aren’t discussed in detail with learners is because learners have enough trouble just making sentences that are grammatically correct without worrying about being “good” writers in Japanese.

But these things exist… it seems obvious to me that things like textbooks for students would have that kind of stuff.

Brief googling turned up something on Wikibooks for middle school students. I believe it covers the kind of things you’re looking for.

https://ja.wikibooks.org/wiki/中学校国語/現代文/報告書の書き方

What were you searching for that only turned up kanji results?


#3

You mean something like this?

https://books.google.com/books?id=hwfn7lLCqVYC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

(Just probing, not recommending)


#4

It’s more like an academic research for linguists than writing concepts for language learners but this it’s interesting and on the subject. Thank you!

Searching in English only gives kanji/kana writing or grammar topics. I was not sure what to search for in Japanese.
An equivalence of what I was looking for in English is https://www.amazon.com/Book-Writing-Ultimate-Guide-Well/dp/0989236706 A collection of guidelines for professional writing.
Your link is a great start.Thank you!


#5

Japanese being an agglutinative language, there is a lot of room for flexibility if a lexical gap or a pressing need to express a novel idea (or a novel way of expressing an idea) arises. The Japanese writer can vary how they use particles to change the tone, like active and passive tense in English but more complicated. The many pronouns and honorifics with their myriad nuances are another opportunity for creative liberty. Like all languages, written Japanese is more conservative than spoken Japanese and has words and structures not commonly heard in vernacular. Spoken Japanese has much more 大和言葉 and 柄英語. Written Japanese traditionally has more 熟語 words which sound more “sophisticated”, like how in English French words occupy a higher linguistic register (and Latin an even higher one) than Anglo-Saxon and Norse (an adstrate which in OId English had more prestige than native Old Saxon, but this connotation has become insignificant). Also, Japanese writers may revive some archaic words for stylistic purposes. But in reality, one can be a good writer with basic Japanese and basic English. Trying to force eloquency into your writing is disastrous in any language. Think of how kids replace every nth word with a florid-sounding thesaurus recommendation. It’s really, really bad. But anyway, writing can’t be reduced to a science. It’s art. A good writer in English (or any language) can produce something genuinely great in Japanese with less training than a Japanese native that can’t write for shit. I emphasize genuinely, because those bullshit techniques like using less periods and avoiding the words “like” and “stuff” do not for good writing make. Eloquence is staying true the thoughts you want to convey and communicating them concisely and meaningfully. Of course there are cultural constructs that inhibit the appreciation of certain writing styles by the close-minded. Regarding essays Eastern writing is less linear and logical than your standard thesis-support-conclusion, my favorite style is when they introduce a bunch of seemingly unrelated points and then tie it all together at the end. But a bitchy professor would probably give them an F.


#6

Exactly. The reason I’m studying this to be able to stay true to the thoughts I want to convey and communicate them concisely and meaningfully.

One of the first things you learn when studying writing techniques is to don’t replace every word with a thesaurus recommendation.
As well as any type of creative work, how cares about their craft study techniques, hone their skills, review, consider details that other ignores, and polish things until it looks good. A great amount of effort, time, and expertise often resumed as “talent” by who only see the result.
A better body with physical training, be able to speak another language by studying and practicing that language, babies learn to talk imitating what people talk to them. We learn, practice and get better in many things in our lives but when it comes to art, personality, or communication skills, people see it as some type of hole gift that can’t be developed by practice or even worse, any attempt to develop it as faking.
Because I work with creative production, I can assure you that line of thought only stall you. It’s not about forcing, following strict guidelines or pleasing someone, it’s about absorbing knowledge, practicing it, and turning it your own. It’s all about development. Don’t waste the opportunity to improve your craft or get more from life with that mindset.


#7

I definitely respect that. I didn’t mean to imply writing can’t be improved over time with conscious effort, although the “brain as a muscle” philosophy isn’t convincing by empirical standards. I don’t want to exoticize writing talent as some nebulous “gift”, although I’m of the mind that 1. something can’t be made of “nothing” 2. the way schools teach writing is bullshit. Perhaps it’s dogmatic but I do think writing is a personal thing. Feedback always helps but IMO it’s all about the writer’s facility with the craft. Oh, and one thing thesauruses are great for: remembering words at the “tip of the tongue”. That’s actually a legit phenomena.
Perhaps what I should have said is no need to worry. :slight_smile: The best way to learn to write is to read. Read a bunch of Japanese and see what kind of styles you like!


#8

I agree with both statements. Although the meaning we put on them seems to be different.

That’s my point. Polishment and improvement are more important than anything else. When you write a book, for example, you can take 2 months to complete the story for a book as a draft in very poor quality but 5 years of polishment can turn it into an amazing piece. I’m skeptic about any type of talent concept because before learning so many things and working with it professionally I found that good results aren’t about a good idea but about the process to turn that idea into something good.

The school is very ineffectively from learning, indeed (in many fields). I was taught how to write correctly but not how to write better. Although essays are a big deal in every major test in Brazil. I always had a hard time writing texts and hated having to do it. That’s why I wanted to improve and started to study writing concepts. It turned to be super effective when I tried the same for other languages than my native Portuguese so I want to make sure I learn these things early in Japanese too.


#9

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